NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) — The only thing they really know about the barefoot boy with the beach bucket is that he ran away from his home in Willimantic with an eye toward Ocean Beach in New London.
A note on the back of the aging photo tells the folks at the Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut something they might have figured out anyway: that a New London police officer picked the boy out from the crowd once he got here, then brought him to the City Mission. The year was somewhere around 1924.
The mission was a predecessor to today's agency, and the people there took care of the boy until his parents were contacted and the boy was sent home.
Now, Thomas Gullotta, the agency's CEO, is hoping to learn more about the boy in the photo and his story. Gullotta doesn't know who he is, nor the stories behind many of the other photos that an unidentified woman recently dropped off at the B.P. Learned Mission, which is part of the agency.
Gullotta's curiosity about the photo comes as the agency celebrates its 200th anniversary this year and is planning events to mark the occasion.
Founded in 1809 as the Female Benevolent Society of Hartford, the agency grew, morphed and branched into a number of agency operations that today include the mission, one of several child care centers run by the agency; family resource centers; parent and child counseling; and school health centers.
The agency reports an annual operating budget of $10 million and a staff of 162 people at 28 service centers. It served more than 13,000 children in New London and Middlesex counties last year.
But Gullotta wants to return to the boy in the photo.
"The story of the last 200 years is not a story of institutions," he said, before launching into another of the stories he likes to tell about the people who ran the place and their generosity.
Gullotta is nearly finished writing a history of the organization, and he is captivated by the boy's photo and others, which he has had blown up into posters that will be used as part of the anniversary celebrations.
Gullotta calls him "Every Child." He has another favorite, this one of a girl in the late 1950s, dressed in a Girl Scout uniform and holding a sign at a mission event. He calls her "my sweetheart."
The mission ran the Girl Scout group for children whom they called "exceptional" at the time but today would be considered "challenged." For all Gullotta knows, the girl in the photo could still live in the region today. She would be in her 60s, and he would love to know who she is and what has happened to her.
The bicentennial, he said, is all about the boy and girl in the photos and the people who kept the organization running for 200 years.
"It's going to be a year," Gullotta said, "of celebrating the stories of people."
For more information, call the agency at 860-443-2896.
Child and Family Agency of Southeastern Connecticut: www.cfapress.org
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.