Pubdate: Sun, 26 Dec 1999
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 1999 PG Publishing
Contact:  34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Fax: (412) 263-2014
Author: Gary Rotstein, Post-Gazette Staff Writer 


Eula Mae Broughton gathered her five children this weekend to take them to
church, give them presents, serve them a special ham dinner and shower them
with holiday hugs. In other words, she did what millions of other moms have
done across America, and that is what makes this Christmas so special for her.

The Allentown woman, 35, has rebounded from crack cocaine addiction, from
arrests and jail time, from losing her children to foster care placement by
Allegheny County Children, Youth and Families. And it all began with a
chance meeting on Sept. 3, 1997, when she delivered her last child in a
stranger's subcompact car.

The motorist was the Rev. Mike Gestrich of Hilltop Baptist Church in
Banksville. The story of their encounter on a dark Hazelwood street has
appeared before. Broughton flagged down the first passing vehicle as she
began having labor pains blocks from where she lived at the time. No one
was around to assist.

Gestrich offered to drive her to the hospital to give birth. She accepted,
but her impatient baby wouldn't cooperate.

While Gestrich and his two teen-age sons went briefly to her home to gather
her belongings, Broughton's fifth child came into the world as she reclined
in the front passenger seat of the small two-door automobile. The minister,
in his three-piece suit, returned just in time to unwrap the umbilical cord
from the boy's neck and help him breathe.

The white pastor from the suburbs then prayed with the young black woman
from the city before paramedics arrived to take mother and child to
Magee-Womens Hospital. Gestrich and sons returned the next day with
flowers. Newspaper and TV reporters showed up to cover the story portrayed
as divine intervention by its participants.

What has not been publicized previously is Broughton's troubled history
before that night, or the forced removal of the newborn son from her care
by child welfare caseworkers the day after she appeared on the newscasts.

Broughton had spent 1991 to 1996 on and off drugs, in and out of court, and
was deemed an unfit mother by the county agency. Her tale since then, since
the night Andre was born, has been one of rehabilitation, redemption and,
finally, reunification with all of her children just before Thanksgiving.

It's a story Broughton doesn't mind telling.

"It's getting easier each time I do it. ... The pain lessens, and each time
I'm able to come forth and talk about it, I'm able to add a little more to

Broughton, a Schenley High School graduate, said the wrong kind of
acquaintances led her into a drug addiction while she was living in
Oakland, working in fast-food restaurants and raising her first two sons
with the help of her mother and husband, the father of all of her children.
The search for money to support her habit led to multiple convictions for
theft, receiving stolen property and forgery. She served a five-month jail
sentence in 1996 after receiving probation for her initial offenses.

Because of Broughton's history, her mother has long cared for her oldest
son, Nathan, 15. County caseworkers placed her next three children in
foster homes during and after her incarceration and temporarily removed
Andre despite the positive publicity surrounding his birth.

Andre was returned to his mother quickly when she agreed to enter a
nine-month residential drug rehabilitation program at The Whale's Tale in
Allentown. She has undergone weekly counseling and drug testing since then
at the Center for Assessment and Treatment of Youth in Homestead.

Her caseworkers and counselors are not permitted to discuss her case
publicly, but Gestrich, who has been present at various Family Court
hearings to support her, said court officials had praised her dedication to
rebuild her family.

Broughton's willingness to follow the step-by-step program expected of her
by Children, Youth and Families enabled her to regain custody of son Paris,
8, in January, then daughter Malia, 5, in June, and, finally, Tyrone, 10,
just before Thanksgiving after 30 months in foster care. Nathan, still
living with his grandmother in Carnegie, will spend this weekend with his
mother and siblings.

Broughton is raising the children on her own because their father has
continued struggling with drug dependency.

"There was a time I felt I would never get to where I am," Broughton said
this week in a small living room made even more cramped by the Christmas
tree in a corner. "I thought that once they took my children away, I would
never get them back."

She's thankful to Hilltop Baptist Church, whose members and spiritual
leader she credits with a big role in saving her family.

And she gives much credit to Gestrich, who has six children of his own and
believed her at the hospital when she tried to convince CYF personnel that
she had stayed off drugs during her pregnancy with Andre. He urged her to
enter The Whale's Tale program and made regular phone calls to bolster her

He recruited congregation members to help her move to a better apartment
when she finished the program. He baptized her last year before she joined
the congregation of 550, housed in a church building made of logs near
radio transmission towers high atop Banksville. And he handed her a cash
gift from the congregation last Sunday to help her buy Christmas presents
for her children.

"I think we both know he was sent to me for a reason," Broughton said of
the energetic, 40-year-old minister whom she and others call "Pastor Mike."
"He believed in me when no one else did."

Gestrich said she deserved the credit herself, but the congregants have
been moved by her story and helped whenever possible.

"She never asks for anything, but we sense when she has a need."

Broughton is relying on Social Security disability benefits for income now
because of a long-ago hip injury that makes it difficult to do any standing
work, and she receives cash welfare payments from the state for her children.

She hopes, however, to try to become a drug rehabilitation counselor in the
near future. Those who know her say she has a perceptive ability to assess
people and situations that would make her good at such work.

"When you have someone like Eula, if someone has the desire to take that
which is broken and fix it, God will bless that," Gestrich said.
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