HIV-Born Teens Face New Problems

"This [dating] is something we've really struggled with," said Carolyn Castro, executive director of ICC. "We very much want to make this a homelike environment. We've never done anything like this before. We set up a time limit, age limit, all the types of things you'd find in a family situation."

ICC administrators stress that their children do participate in school events like parties and junior proms, enjoying events that their classmates may take for granted.

When Hardened Eyes Collide

As "Lady X" grows up, so does The Incarnation Children's Center. She is preparing to attend high school in the fall and says she wants to be the first lawyer in her family.

However, a social life is still high on X's priority list. A week before her first date, X went on a trip with the younger children to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She was already planning for her big night.

"I can't wait until Friday," she said to a group of volunteers and nurses, ringing her fists with glee. "I told them I can't be hanging around all the time with these little kids."

Once inside, X's smile melted when Madison Square Garden attendees wanted to seat her in a special handicapped section.

"Tell them I can climb up the steps and sit with everyone else," she said. "I climb steps all the time when I'm in school."

So X pulled herself out of her wheelchair, and with one hand on a handrail and another on a nurse's aide's shoulder, she climbed up the steps and found her seat. Despite the noise at the circus, X borrowed a cell phone and managed to hold a conversation with her "peeps." No matter where she was, she had to stay in the loop with her friends.

X finished using the phone by the time the performances ended. While waiting for a chartered bus to arrive for the trip home, X sat in her wheelchair with her chin in her palm. She said she had an appointment to get her nails done.

Then she saw "Baby" waddling next to her. "Baby" was not yet two years old and one of the newest arrivals at ICC. With her white furry coat, she was living baby doll.

But like X, "Baby" also had hardened eyes. She smiled sometimes but it was rare. She was a tough audience for the Ringling Bros. clowns.

"Come on … come here to me," X said as she held her arms out. "Baby" slowly reached out to X and let her take her up into her arms.

Lady X bounced "Baby" to Robert Palmer's "Simply Irrestible" blaring in the background. Soon, a bouncing "Baby" began to smile. Her eyes didn't seem so hard anymore.'s Bryan Robinson has been a volunteer at The Incarnation Children's Center since March 2001.

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