POTOSI, Wis. — Joel Hirschhorn led the family under a large grove of trees, across a creek and through thick prairie grass.
“Watch out for the thorns,” the Florida attorney said this week, as he trampled a thistle.
The air was sticky, and cicadas hummed.
Elizabeth Toledo followed, documenting the landscape on her cellphone. After the death of her 13-year-old son, Adam, this place a mile west of Potosi represents her hope.
The party came upon a crabapple tree, and Adam’s brother Anthony, 12, and his cousin, Layla, 7, inspected the tart fruit.
Hirschhorn climbed up a hill to the fence line and pointed out a bean field that stretched into the distance.
Hirschhorn purchased the 70-acre property in July, where he intends to create a home for at-risk boys from inner-city Chicago and Milwaukee.
It will be known as Adam’s Place, a nonprofit organization formed in honor of the Chicago boy whom a police officer fatally shot on March 29.
Protected from the streets and gang violence, up to 10 boys will tend farm animals and gardens, building their self-confidence.
Fifty acres of the farm are being rented for cropland. The remainder will serve as pasture and the location of a 5,000-square-foot, split-level residence along with an apartment, barn and office.
Tromping back to the entrance at Dutch Hollow Road, Elizabeth clutched two apples to her chest.
“I love the creek part,” said Adam’s aunt Lucy Perez. “I don’t know if they are going to leave the apple tree, though.”
“I hope so,” Elizabeth said.
The day prior, with trepidation and excitement, Elizabeth and her family came to Potosi in hopes of winning over the community.
Hirschhorn had organized a forum in hopes of dispelling the rumors that have circulated since he unveiled his plans in May. The project is his way to give back after a decades-long legal career in criminal defense.
The Toledos have maintained their silence following the shooting. Hirschhorn said it was only the creation of Adam’s Place that could evoke a spark in their eyes.
“I don’t want them to think that we just want to take over (the community),” Elizabeth said. “We just want to be part of it.”
Police said the night Adam died, a gunshot detection system alerted officers to a spot where a gun had been fired several times.
When they arrived, an officer spotted Adam and the man they later said fired the weapon. The officers chased them.
Authorities said Adam, who now had the gun, ran into an alley. Body camera video showed a portion of the chase and the instant when an officer shot Adam in the chest less than a second after he either dropped or tossed the gun aside.
The Toledos hired attorney Adeena Weiss Ortiz, who invited Hirschhorn onto the case. They are assembling a lawsuit against the City of Chicago.
When members of Adam’s family talk of him, they often turn to the subject of animals. He loved caring for his rabbit, Snowball, and turtle, Michelangelo.
Adam played with Hot Wheels cars, Legos and Minecraft almost daily with his cousin Jael Cholico, 11. Adam seemed to know people wherever he traveled, Elizabeth said.
“We used to go to the laundromat or to the grocery store,” she said. “He’ll say, ‘Mom, look. There goes my friend.”
Adam dreamed of becoming a YouTuber and famous. Adam also wanted to become a cop.
“To protect his family and keep the bad people from the streets,” Elizabeth said.
Sitting beneath stage lights before an audience this week, Elizabeth folded her hands into her lap, thinking of Adam’s face.
More than 150 people gathered at Potosi High School for the community forum, where Hirschhorn fielded questions.
“I think everyone here believes that every child matters,” he said after welcoming the crowd. “Some of you are skeptics. Some of you are critics. Some of you are supporters.”
Before seeking state approval, Hirschhorn must obtain a zoning variance to construct the home, a $2 million to $3 million endeavor to launch.
Potosi residents expressed reservations.
“We may look like we live in Hooterville,” said Brenda Reuter. “We have crime here in Hooterville. We have drugs, a large amount of drugs. We have family trauma. We have domestic problems. We are not just a pretty little place.”
Patty Gobin, who would be a neighbor to the home, questioned the potential costs to the local school system, which the boys will attend.
For years, district and village officials have pined for new families in hopes of boosting student enrollment, which is tied to local, state and federal funding.
“That would be a happy situation,” said Potosi School Board President Curt McMahon. “If we had a family with four to six kids and we had to hire another teacher, that would be a great problem to have.”
It would be no different with the youth from Adam’s Place, but McMahon believes the community’s concerns pertaining to their backgrounds and needs are valid ones.
How much money will taxpayers be on the hook for if the boys require special education or English Language Learning assistance, many asked. Will the district need to hire a police officer?
“I can’t even imagine having one of my children go three to four hours away from me and not thinking that child is not going to have behavioral issues,” Gobin said.
Weiss Ortiz assured the community that the boys will be prescreened and will be referred from religious organizations, school counselors and social service agencies.
“They want to be here,” she said.
Two house parents will supervise the youths, and those who cause ongoing problems will return to their families.
Hirschhorn expects to hire seven staff, whom he hopes come from the community. After the forum, Hirschhorn provided the Telegraph Herald with multiple emails from residents interested in working at the home, assisting with construction and serving on the organization’s board.