Although the circumstances are different, Birgitta can relate to youths who have been separated from their families.
Sometimes, she tells the youths about what happened to her son. Other times, she counsels them about their futures.
She tells the young men: "Don't go home and make babies. Go home and get a good education."
There is similar advice for the young women: "You don't need a boyfriend in your life right now. You need an education."
Birgitta is stepping away from her volunteer duties to devote more time to caring for her husband, who has cancer and is in hospice care.
Among the "thank you" gifts given to Birgitta Tuesday were a handmade scarf and giant card signed by the youth.
One girl wrote, "I appreciate you teaching me how to crochet and for being so nice."
Another wrote, "You are a LEGEND!"
One of the teenage girls in the program pulled Birgitta aside to say "Thank you for being here."
Even though Birgitta was the guest of honor Tuesday, she brought chocolate for the staff and clients, said Lisa St. Louis, program coordinator. "That's Birgitta for you."
Reflecting on the past decade, Birgitta said giving back — even as she was going through tough times — was its own reward.
"I learned so much from the kids," she said. "It goes both ways, I hope."
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