by NICK GILBERTSON
New Jersey woman Zeneida Torres has adopted her three nephews after her sister’s untimely death due to coronavirus in December.
Already having raised two sons and a daughter, Zeneida Torres, 44, of Bethlehem, New Jersey, was not necessarily expecting any more children, “but God had other plans” said Torres. The weekend after Thanksgiving last fall, her sister, Jackie Gonzalez, 36, became severely ill with coronavirus.
Gonzalez was seven months pregnant and she was also diabetic, which is one of the underlying conditions associated with more severe cases of coronavirus. Her condition worsened as she lay in a hospital bed worried about the future of her two sons, four-year-old Jacob and ten-month-old JT, and their soon-to-be baby brother whom she carried in her womb. On December 3, the decision was made to perform an emergency cesarean section on Gonzalez who had been ventilated by that point.
The following day, Jackie Gonzalez passed on. In the days leading up to her death, Torres promised her sister Jackie that she would look after her children if Jackie were to lose her battle with the illness. “I promised my sister — I said ‘If you have to let go, let go. I’ll look after the boys.’ And I can’t break a promise I made her,” Torres recalled.
In a note left behind by Gonzalez for her boys, the mother wrote, “Mommy have always loved you unconditionally, and I’m so sorry I failed you.” The note ends with Gonzalez explaining that the children would have a great mother and protector in their Aunt Zeneida:
I could make sure you’d be safe with Aunt Zeny. She will protect you. You’ll find the answer to a long and happy life.
Sadly, the boys’ father does not participate in his sons’ lives, and Jackie’s brother has a hectic work schedule. “It was either I take them or the system takes them and separates them and I never see them again,” Torres explained, so she decided to adopt her nephews.
To make matters tougher, all three of the boys have developmental disabilities in one way or another. The oldest Jacob is autistic and nonverbal, while his younger brother JT has also exhibited signs that he is on the autism spectrum. Now-nine-month-old Justin suffered brain hemorrhaging during his premature birth that has caused partial paralysis on the infant’s left side.
Torres’s husband Jose Serrano explained that the baby is “not rolling or turning.” Even though Justin faces problems due to his paralysis, Serrano stated that “he’s the happiest baby ever.”
Zeneida’s newfound responsibilities as a mother to her nephews make it impossible for her to work, and Jose is coming off of his third surgery after suffering an injury at work. Needless to say, the family has been tight for money as a result of some trying circumstances. The family owns an unreliable old Toyota, which forces the family to spend much of their money on Uber rides to and from doctor’s appointments.
The Youth Advocates Program (YAP), a nonprofit group that aims to help families find structure and helps to locate community resources, now works with the family. Under the “What We Do” page on their website, some of the organization’s services are described:
We partner with families to build and strengthen essential skills and resources needed to thrive throughout life, such as increasing their ability to safely problem-solve their needs, developing their social, emotional, academic and career competencies, and building their network of community support.
YAP family support specialist Cheryl Hopkins laid out the course of action the nonprofit group has taken in order to assist Torres and her family:
We were able to help with things like diapers and detergent. The big need the family had was to get a vehicle so they can transport the children together. What we came up with was the [GoFundMe online fundraiser], but the vehicle hasn’t come through yet.”
So far, the GoFundMe page, titled “Help the Serrano family get a vehicle,” has accumulated $13,409 in donations, which is just shy of the $15,000 goal.