Former Edgewood Youth Finds Success
February 3, 2017
Virgil Bourgon finds a path to success despite an adverse childhood
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We were pleased to recently hear from Virgil Bourgon who, along with his sister, received care and healing while they lived at Edgewood in 1948.
Virgil recently shared his incredible story of triumph over adversity with us so that other youth who may be exepriencing dark times, could be inspired and hopeful for the future.
To say that Virgil Cobb-Bourgon and his sister Verdelle had tough childhoods is an understatement. They began their lives in San Francisco in the tough times of the 1930’s, at the end of the Great Depression and just before World War II. The two grew up poor with uneducated, alcoholic parents in a home environment where domestic violence was a common occurrence.
A defining moment in their lives came one night when their parents left their home and didn’t return. Alone for two days without food, they decided to go for help. Hungry and scared, 12-year-old Verdelle and 9-year-old Virgil set off on foot to seek food, shelter and safety at their estranged grandmother's home a few miles away. Verdelle was invited in but their grandmother turned Virgil away, back onto the streets. Her reason: “He looked too much like his father.” She despised his father. As night fell, Virgil wandered the streets of San Francisco alone in search of food and shelter. The police picked him up and delivered him to juvenile hall. Virgil didn’t understand why he was there. He wrote notes to his mother every day and cried a lot when no one could see him.
Later, a judge ruled his parents incompetent and turned Virgil and his sister over to the state. Neither of their grandmothers, who lived in San Francisco, offered to provide them with a home. So, the state sent Verdelle to Edgewood Center for Children and Families and Virgil was sent to live with a “foster family” in Sharp Park 15 miles down the coast.
Virgil learned quickly about what happens when foster care does not work. The “foster parents” housed him and a child with Down syndrome in their garage. He was physically and emotionally abused for nine months. He missed his mother and sister. He grew to distrust adults, especially those in positions of authority. Through it all, he was able to focus his anger and emotional pain on something new to him. He got his first job/money delivering newspapers in Sharp Park. He realized later that this job gave him something he needed badly; it enabled him to gain some form of personal power and control over his life.
Eventually, the courts decided to bring the siblings back together again and Virgil arrived at Edgewood's doorstep in 1948. “Good” had returned to Virgil’s life. Everything that was wrong in Sharp Park was right there. The adults cared and the food and shelter were great.
"One of my favorite memories of Edgewood was the parties - particularly Halloween and Christmas," explained Virgil. "The celebrations and plentiful gifts gave me a sense that there were people in the world who cared about me; Edgewood made me feel like I mattered."
After nearly two years at Edgewood, Virgil and Verdelle were returned to their mother and her new husband. Family life was still difficult for the siblings. Virgil continued his work delivering newspapers pushing his homemade orange-crate-cart up the hills of San Francisco.
GROWING UP AS A TEEN
Photos courtesy: Virgil Bourgon
The family moved to Southern California to find work for his stepfather, an unskilled laborer. His mother looked for work as a waitress. Along the way, his French Canadian stepfather (a wounded WWII veteran) taught Virgil some great skills that helped build a sense of self-reliance within him. He learned how to change brake linings and clutches and to tune up their beat up old Ford. He grew vegetables and raised rabbits for food in the backyard of the small house they rented in a community just west of Watts.
Throughout his junior high school years he continued to deliver newspapers, but this time on a bicycle he bought. His savings enabled him to often loan money to his parents during the hardest of times. He was fueled to be successful through the incentives he received along the way by hitting subscription sales milestones. Virgil excelled academically and athletically in high school, favoring math, science, football and gymnastics.
After graduation, he was accepted into UCLA to study engineering. One problem; he didn’t have the money needed to pay for UCLA. So, he applied for a job as a tool designer trainee at Douglas Aircraft. With the drafting and math skills he had learned in high school, he had landed a plumb job earning $1.86 per hour.
With an undergraduate degree in hand, Virgil began work as an aerospace engineer at Douglas Aircraft Company. Within 3 years Douglas awarded him a full scholarship to return to UCLA where he received an MS in Engineering and began work on his PhD degree. He later moved on to Space Technologies Laboratory (renamed TRW) where he worked on the Apollo Space Program, doing his part to put a man on the moon.
After 10 years, he left his career in the aerospace industry to found Syndicated Equities, Inc., a real estate investments company. He went on to create many other very successful real estate companies. As a result of confronting his fears, developing his entrepreneurial spirit, and exercising his tenacity over adversity, his adult life was met with much success.
Now at 78, Virgil is still working as hard as ever, this time as an inventor/researcher. He hopes that his current project, a “flying car” called RAPPER, takes off. He lives with his wife Jan in the Southern California desert, and is passionate about giving to others to help them overcome their childhood traumas and succeed at their own personal challenges.
"You have gifts big and small. Discover your gifts. Appreciate and be thankful for them. Use your gifts! Unused gifts are a terrible waste.”
DID YOU KNOW?
- In California, more than 62,000 youth live in a foster care environment (source: Kidsdata.org)
- Approximately 26% of children in the US will witness or experience a traumatic event before they turn 4 years of age (source: National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, "Childhood Trauma and Its Effect on Healthy Development," July 2012)
- People who experience trauma are 3 times more likely to experience depression, be absent from work, and experience serious job problems (source:Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)