Curtis Preston’s recent streak of good luck began May 25 when a Good Samaritan reached out to St. Francis House after finding some of his personal effects, including an ID card for the Boston day shelter, on the Boston Common.
The previous evening, Allston resident Heidi Chase and her teammates from the BGMC BassRunners, a team in the Beantown Softball League (www.beantownsoftball.com), the largest athletic organization in New England open to LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies, were playing a game on the Common when something beneath the bleachers caught her eye. Strewn along the ground there were what appeared to be the loose contents of someone’s wallet, including a Boston Public Health Commission identification card, a St. Francis House ID, and a social security card, along with various personal papers and business cards.
Chase and her teammates gathered the personal effects of, as it turns out, Preston, and the next day, she sent out three emails to addresses she found in his possessions that she hoped would put her into contact with him. The first person who got back to Chase later that day was Chei Williams, an employment coach with St. Francis House who has known Preston for several months, and the two women made arrangements for Chase to stop by the shelter at 39 Boylston St. to drop off Preston’s belongings.
“I felt really responsible,” Chase said. “You can only imagine how he was feeling after losing these very valuable items. I just imagine him in a state of being helpless and me being responsible to get the items back to him.”
Preston, 42, was born in New Haven, Conn., and at 3, he was placed in foster care, along with his brother, Louis, and sister, Karen. Three years later, when Preston, the youngest of the three, was 6, he and his siblings were featured on TV’s “Sunday’s Children.” Dorothy Preston was watching the segment from her Stratford, Conn., home and decided to adopt all three kids on the spot.
Both of his siblings left Dorothy Preston’s household within a year – Louis went to live in a boys home, while Karen went with to live with their grandmother, Gloria, in Milford, Conn. Only Preston stayed with Dorothy, whom he described as a kind Sunday School teacher who taught him to love and respect others. About two years later when he was in the fourth grade, Preston and his mother relocated to North Carolina.
In 2005, Dorothy died, and from then on, her adopted son was out on his own. Preston, who dropped out during his junior year in high school, worked hard at a series of jobs until about eight years ago when he was operating a forklift in a Hampton, Va., shipyard.
Despite his steady employment and income at the time, Preston eventually found himself in a position where he didn’t have enough income to cover his rent. That was what first put him out on the streets. Since then, Preston has experienced homelessness in various places before landing in the Boston area about two and a half years ago.
Meanwhile, when Chase dropped off Preston’s belongings with Williams at St. Francis House on May 25, she also included a $50 Target gift card for him, knowing that such a small gesture could go a long way for someone in Preston’s unfortunate position. At first, Chase considered buying him a wallet, she said, but decided against the idea since she wasn’t sure that he would necessarily like the one she picked out for him.
“It was a feel-good moment for me, too,” said Chase, “and as much as it helped Curtis, I was just happy to play a small part.”
Williams echoed this sentiment in saying, “I think it’s totally awesome what she did and a great way to pay forward, and for him, I look at it as a blessing.”
For Preston, this seemingly small gesture on Chase’s part proved to be literally life altering. Not only did he need his social security card back to rent an apartment, open a bank account, or even get a job, but he also was able to use the gift card he received to buy himself some new clothes.
“Without that [social security card], even securing a job or opening a bank account would’ve been really tough,” said Preston, “so I really appreciate [Chase] coming forward with [my belongings].”
Afterwards, Preston wrote Chase a thank you letter, and a St. Francis House staff member also reached out to thank Chase for returning the items, and to tell her what a profound impact her kind gesture had on Preston.
And after learning about St. Francis House, Chase decided she wanted to get involved with them. So when her softball team wraps up its season at the end of July, the next step for Chase and her teammates will be to take a tour of St. Francis House to learn more about the organization, as well as about volunteers opportunities there, either as a team or on an individual basis.
“I’m really grateful to have gotten those items back to Curtis,” said Chase, “and to have now learned about his other recent run of luck.”.
On May 27 – two days after he was reunited with his belongings and was given the gift card – Preston was walking along a path on the Common. As he passed two women, Preston, who was carrying sleeping bags and a backpack, politely excused himself. The women then engaged Preston in conversation and asked him about what he was carrying. Preston explained to them that he’s homeless and had slept in the park the previous night.
The women told Preston this simply wouldn’t do and took him out to dinner at Mare Oyster Bar in the Seaport, where he feasted on salmon with zucchini flowers, olives, and asparagus.
Afterwards, the women, whom Preston refers to as his “angels,” gave him some pocket money, and one of them named Roberta also pledged to do what she could to help find him a job.
Fast forward to June 9 when Roberta met up with Preston again at St. Francis House and made good on her promise with an offer of a job for him at a friend’s painting company.
Roberta then took Preston to get a cell phone and pre-paid for its first six months of service. She also gave him some money to buy new clothes, and to ride the ferry, since he would be working in Cohasset.
On June 10, Preston started his new job working for the painting company, and he’s been sleeping on Revere Beach while saving up to rent an apartment.
“It just really just made me see there are good people out there,” said Preston of the whole experience, “and no matter what your situation is someone is willing to look beyond that and help out.”
Of his “angel,” Roberta, Preston said, “She’s really genuine, and has been willing to do anything to help me out.”
In the end, Preston can’t express enough gratitude to Roberta and her friend, or to Chase and her teammates.
“It really touched my heart and touched others around me that know me as well,” a clearly emotional Preston said of the kindness and good fortune recently bestowed upon him.