Joey Eulo was a hungry, brash 9-year-old with no father and an absentee mother. The streets of Ocean City were his home in the early 1980s, and he walked every crack of the island, avoided school, and tried to earn money for food to feed his sister.
Eulo worked odd jobs such as selling newspapers. One day he wandered into Mark Soifer’s public relations office at Ocean City City Hall, and fate wandered into his wayward life.
There, Eulo found the identity he so greatly needed.
"Mark gave me a firm handshake, sat me down and talked to me like I mattered," Eulo said. "He gave me his undivided attention. No one had ever done that for me. I was searching for that attention. He acted as a father figure to me. He believed in me, said I was a smart kid."
Mark Soifer remembers Joey Eulo as an “endearing little boy,” always well-mannered and full of bravado and street smarts.
"He was very polite, and it was humorous to see a little kid like that who could take care of himself," Soifer said. "He had practical survival skills, because he had no choice. (The late) Agnes Cox and I helped him out, everyone helped him if they could."
Eulo is 39 now and a college student only eight credits away from a bachelor’s degree at The New School in Greenwich Village in New York City. He has a few prestigious film awards under his belt and is getting ready to make a movie based on his childhood in Ocean City: Chasing Shadows. The movie, set in Ocean City, is about a day in the life of Anthony Heavens, who ditches school in search of his own identity and his father.
"It’s a dark movie—with a glimmer of hope," Eulo said.
The dark images in the movie are those from Eulo’s childhood, and they haunt him still. But among the terrible loneliness that framed his childhood, he also remembers vividly the help that Soifer gave him.
"Mark brought me to Stainton's and bought me a brand-new coat," Eulo said. "It was a London Fog jacket, blue-and-white. I remember the label of that jacket so vividly. I remember thinking that it was a strange name for a jacket. He also bought me shoes on a separate occasion, since my shoes were very 'religious,' very 'holey.' He always had something to give me, always."
As a young child, Eulo was undisciplined and unwatched. He ditched school regularly, buying fresh Italian rolls with his lunch money and feeding them to his friends, the seagulls on the Fifth Street jetty. He carried grocery bags for old ladies, often putting half of his earnings in the box at St. Augustine Church and feeding his sister with the other half.
One day he disappeared, and didn’t return. Soifer figured he had moved. But that was the time when the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) came and took him away at the age of 11.
“I remember the day DYFS came and took me away. I was across the street from Scrub-A-Dub. Foster care was a controlled environment, tough for a kid like me not used to barriers and rules.”
Eulo’s first foster care experience was in the summer, and with his olive skin and Italian heritage, his skin darkened quickly.
“I matured quickly, which affected me to my adulthood. My first foster care was in the summer. I got dark from the sun, and was teased about my dark skin.”
Even in school, he was unaccepted.
"Even the teacher ignored me," Eulo said. "So I threw a chair at her to get her attention and let her know I was there. I was put in special education."
Five years later, when he returned to Ocean City to live with his mother, Soifer helped him once again.
“He got me a job as the Easter Bunny on the Boardwalk. I was 16, after I lived with my dad and came back living with my mom in Ocean City.”
The idea Joey had of himself as stupid and worthless carried through to his high school education.
“I attended Ocean City High School from 1989 to 1990. I dropped out before '91. I thought I was a stupid kid.”
After a brief stint in the Army, Joey matured and realized that his anger needed to be redirected.
“I had my fair share of potholes. But I knew I had to learn a new way of thinking. I went back to school, got my GED and went to community college. I got my first A in Union County College, and had a 3.98 GPA. I discovered my interest in storytelling.”
Joey was inducted into the Honor Society, and made a short film about the Oedipus complex.
"It was all stills with video clips from Ocean City," Eulo said. "It won an American Psychological Association award in 2010."
He gives credit to Mark Soifer as someone who not only provided for his emotional and physical needs, but also his creative ones.
“Even when I go back to see him, he still gives me stuff. He gave me a card with $100 in it. And even though I have a love/hate affair with writing, and even though this story is very painful for me, Mark was my inspiration to write. He was a prolific writer of columns, essays and poems.”
Soifer even wrote a story about Eulo titled “The Waif of Ocean City,” which Eulo has been unable to find in the archives.
Eulo has made peace with the memory of his father, and with his mother, who lives in Somers Point with his sister.
“She was a young girl, who still had a life and dreams of her own. It was tough on her,” Eulo said.
Chasing Shadows is a tough story for Joey Eulo to tell, but an important one. Filming takes place from April 21 to 22 in various Ocean City locales.
The filmmaker is still seeking a few actors, production assistants and grips. This is a volunteer project but you're guaranteed to have fun working with Joey and will gain valuable experience. Call Soifer at 609-525-9300 for information.