Seymour Lansdowne Sr. was always the person who took care of everyone else. During the years that he coached youth football in Manassas, Va., Seymour was the one who provided rides for the kids who didn’t have them, bought shoes for the kids who couldn’t afford them.
He doted on his own children, including his son Seymour Jr. — known as Sey-J (pronounced “CJ”).
Anytime Seymour witnessed the dilemmas that pulled other families apart, he vowed that it wouldn’t happen to his family.
“Then when it did, it was like the floor completely dropped out from under me,” he said.
Seymour lost his job, then his house, and then, worst of all, his son. Homestretch, a Falls Church, Va., charity that is a partner with The Washington Post Helping Hand, helped him pull his life back together.
Sey-J was 4½ when he was diagnosed with cancer. At the time — in 2006 — Seymour had a good job as a retail manager. In the beginning, his employer seemed understanding about the time he needed off to be with his son in the hospital. But that changed as Sey-J would again fall sick after going into remission.
“I was called in and told I would be let go,” Seymour said, remembering the day he was fired.
The stress of a critically ill child is hard on any marriage. Seymour’s ended in divorce. He had custody of his children but no job and soon fell behind on his mortgage. When he lost his house, he sent Sey-J’s three siblings to live with other family members. Seymour took to practically living at Children’s National Medical Center, where Sey-J was being treated.
“I was an extremely proud person,” Seymour said. “Prior to this I wasn’t one that was going to go out and ask for help or anything like that.”
Seymour first found help with a children’s cancer charity called Teardrops to Rainbows (T2R). Its founder, Lois Lyons, connected Seymour with Homestretch, a nonprofit that provides housing for distressed Fairfax County families for up to two years.
“They were able to get me into a townhouse in Centreville,” Seymour said.
Homestretch requires its clients to participate in the broad range of services it offers. Seymour didn’t need English as a second language classes, but he was deeply in debt and benefited from the financial counseling provided by Homestretch’s credit counselor, Heather Lynskey.
He attended Homestretch classes on life skills and on re-entering the workforce, where he was usually the only single dad amid the single moms. And Seymour met regularly with a trained therapist who was at Homestretch to help him sort through the stresses of caring for a seriously ill child.
“It seemed like every June or July his cancer would come back,” Seymour said.
It did this for four years. When Sey-J was healthy he would attack life with gusto, especially sports — and especially football, at which he excelled.
“When he was playing flag football he had a mediport,” Seymour said. “We just taped it and he came out to play.”
When he was being treated at Children’s Hospital, Sey-J seemed to care more about how others were doing. He saved up the little chits given to young patients to use at a toy store on the cancer ward, and when he had enough, he bought a present for his little brother.
Sey-J died in 2010. He was 9.
“It’s taken me till last year to really grasp everything about my son, who he was, what he stood for,” Seymour said.
With the help of Homestretch employment counselors, Seymour prepared a résumé. He landed a job in the produce department of a Wegman’s in Fairfax. It’s a job he loves, since it allows him to demo different products and interact with customers.
“Every customer I see that comes through those doors, I greet with a smile and I ask how their day is,” he said. “You never know what someone else is going through.”
Seymour is 55 now. He’s back to coaching football, something he couldn’t do while Sey-J was sick.
“I’m starting to find myself again,” Seymour said. He said that when he’s at work or on the football field, people notice a positive energy around him.
“It’s Sey-J. That’s what I choose to believe.”
Homestretch stabilizes families that are in danger of coming apart. It provides a place to live and the critical coaching that can prevent them from falling back into homelessness.
Your tax-deductible gift to Homestretch can help with this important work. To give online, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to “Homestretch” and mail it to: Homestretch, 303 S. Maple Ave., Falls Church, Va. 22046, Attn: Nan Monday.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.