Camille Geraldi, a 68-year-old former nurse living in Ellijay, Georgia, does not have what most would consider a normal life. Over the course of four decades, she has taken care of 88 mentally and physically handicapped children with her late husband, Mike. No, this is not the premise of a hokey reality TV show, but the real-life story of how one couple was able to give dozens of children another chance at life.
Geraldi’s passion for adopting handicapped children began prior to her marriage to Mike. Working as a nurse at a hospital in Miami, Camille would spend her after hours sitting by the bedsides of children who were severely ill and abandoned. She knew from that point on that she wanted to care for these children. Mike was a pediatrician at that same hospital and when he saw Camille’s boundless compassion, it was love at first sight. Before the two married, Camille had already adopted three of the kids. Thankfully for Camille, Mike shared her passion.
“When Mike asked me to marry him, I told him I want to make a home for handicapped kids, and he said ‘I want to follow your dream’,” said Camille Geraldi according to CNN.
From the time they were married up until today, they have been legal guardians of 88 children and adults, all of whom had some kind of physical or mental handicap. They also had three healthy children of their own.
The Geraldi’s did not intend to create a special needs home, however. In spite of their kids’ handicaps, the couple was determined to create a normal home environment for their children. Their home was not much different than that of any other nuclear family. The kids would go to school, do chores, go to church, play, sing, and dance. Many of them have become certified dog trainers. Over the years paid child care workers and community volunteers have been helping the Geraldis take care of the children.
“We want them to be as independent as they can be,” Camille Geraldi said.
This life was not easy, though, but the couple were no strangers to hardship.
“The children I took in were expected to die,” Geraldi told CNN.
Over the years, 32 of their children died due to their conditions. But because of their intensive care and attention, many of her children were able to live and thrive.
“One child was born with only a brain stem,” Camille Geraldi said. “We took care of him. He lived to be 25 years old and never had a bedsore.” Another little girl who was born to a cocaine addict was blind and deaf as an infant, but she’s now performing a grade above her level in school.
Their strength of character and limitless compassion pushed them to persevere even when they were also tested by the forces of nature.
On two separate occasions, in 1992 and in 2011 their homes were completely destroyed. Their first home was totaled by a hurricane and their second home was set on fire by a lightning bolt which burned the house down while the family was on a camping trip.
Thankfully, no one was harmed, and not only were they able to find their new home in Georgia, they also continued to adopt and look after their special needs kids through it all.
Sadly, in 2015, Mike was diagnosed with lung cancer, and after a brief fight he died a year later. His loss hit Geraldi hard but, in keeping with her dream, she continued to fight for her children.
“I couldn’t cry, or my children would have fallen apart,” Geraldi told CNN.
Geraldi is still following her dream today, and is currently taking care of 20 children. She is motivated by the knowledge that she continues to make an impact in their lives, and she is comforted by the fact that she’s not growing old alone.
“I can tell you for sure that I’ll never have to go to a nursing home because my children will be taking care of me,” Geraldi told CBS. Most of the family’s funds now come from donations they receive through their charity organization: Possible Dream Foundation.