In the 1930s during The Great Depression, jobs were hard to come by, remembers Helen Danish of Brentwood, Md. Then a high school graduate who had to make it on her own, she was frightened.
Danish found a job as a "mother's helper, where you live in with the family." She began working for the Cochran family -- James Sr., Ila Louise and their 2-year-old retarded son James Jr. -- in Alhambra, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles County. Her duties included household chores and helping out with James Jr.
Although she eventually found another job, Danish stayed with the Cochrans and adopted the family as her own. When her employers moved to Maryland she followed them, and when they died -- Ila Louise in 1974 and James in 1975 -- she took over the responsibility for James Jr., who is 46 and has the mind of a child.
But there were problems in running the household, and she turned to the Prince George's County Legal Aid Bureau for help.
Cochran has vision problems -- he has had two cornea transplants -- as well as other physical ailments, and he depends on medical assistance to pay his bills.
Last year, however, the assistance was almost cut off. An attorney with the legal aid bureau helped iron out the problem, and Cochran was able to continue receiving assistance, much to Danish's relief.
"The thing that has scared me with Jay is that he has had a lot of illnesses throughout his life. . . . It frightens me to think of his losing this (assistance). I don't know what we would do," Danish said.
Danish had to call on the legal aid bureau again when she received a $900 property tax bill from Prince George's County. Her income had been added to Cochran's, making him ineligible for a refund. Again, she received the necessary help and eventually Cochran got his refund.
Danish, who is 64 and has never been married, never imagined that her job during the Depression would turn into a lifetime commitment. But she says that she has enjoyed her adopted family more than her own.
"There were always happy times in the Cochran home," she said. "There were laughs and a lot of warmth and lots of fun. They've been like my family. Mrs. Cochran was like my mother or my sister."
Danish, a retired travel assistant for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, said she knew she couldn't leave young Cochran when his parents died: He would have been put in an institution.
"It was just expected that I would take care of Jay if the time came," she said. "We had talked about it. It's been quite a change for both of us. Well, it's been lonesome. He's done well losing both his father and his mother."
Cochran, who enjoys listening to records and watching television, has found happiness and security with Danish as his legal guardian.
He says he is happy; Danish is like a mother to him now.
"I miss my parents a lot," Cochran said. "I think she's like my mother. . . . If I didn't have Helen, I may end up staying there (at Great Oaks Center, a residential home for the retarded, which he attends every afternoon)."
"I really have tried to do a good job with Jay," Danish said. "I feel like he's my little brother. He needs somebody, and of course I need somebody too. And there you have it.
"If you've never been married and don't have a family, you feel like you haven't accomplished anything in your life. I think taking care of him makes me feel like I've accomplished something. It makes me feel like I've done something. It's a responsibility I didn't have before."