Love shows up

Sophia, 13

ZoZo, 7

And nobody gets left behind.

Love means being there when someone needs you.
As foster parents, Brittany and Sam knew they’d teach this lesson to any child who came to live in their home. It’s just who they are.
Then cancer flipped the script.

The diagnosis came about six months after Sofia and ZoZo moved in – Sam had brain cancer. Then, another hit – he had a mini-stroke during surgery to remove the cancer. Sam was paralyzed on the left side of his body and faced a long stretch of recovery.

They’ve always been a silver-linings family with a strong faith community, Brittany says. When the word went out, love showed up.


This is what love does.

Brittany remembers standing in the kitchen with Sofia as someone from their church dropped off meals. Sam was still in the hospital and the enormity of it all sank in.

“Sofia – she looked at me and was like, ‘Wow. People really love us.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, they do. This is what love does.’ ”

The church’s meal train fed them for months. People built a wheelchair ramp over the front steps. They picked up the kids from school and took them out for ice cream. “We have a lot of people who’ve loved on them and made sure they feel cared for,” Brittany says.

The siblings’ adoption plan was never in doubt – and when the day arrived, Sam was walking and driving again. The family celebrated in matching T-shirts with a line from Lilo & Stitch, one of their favorite movies: Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.


Because – this is what love does.





Kamryn

The place won’t open for 30 minutes but cars are already lining up. Inside, Kamryn stacks empty buckets, getting the ice cream shop ready. This is his first real job and it’s important to him. “I’m saving for a car,” he says. “Right now I’m looking at a Toyota 4Runner, but that could change.”

“His first car will probably be our old Pontiac out there.”

That dad comment comes from Jeff. And even though he and Marie have been Kamryn’s parents for only a few months, all three are comfortable in their roles – and they’re happy.

Like so many others, Marie and Jeff came to us in hopes of fostering or adopting children. Young children. Toddlers. “From the beginning we said ‘no teenagers,’ ” Jeff says. “But the first weekend Kamryn came for a respite visit – and the rest, as they say, is history.”

History. Kamryn’s now includes Marie, Jeff, six cats, and Grace, the dog. Their story together will stretch far beyond Kamryn’s last two years of high school and well into the future. It will include the college years, career choices, marriage advice, and – someday – maybe even grandchildren.

As they talk about what it means to become a family at this stage, Jeff says, “Kamryn has a good head on his shoulders. We are here to help provide boundaries, keep him on track.”

Marie adds, “I think he’s further along than a lot of people his age. He knows what he wants to accomplish in the next few years and he has a big-picture mentality of his future.”


Shemar

Life is a song.

Music is his love language.

Shemar has a tune on his lips and a song for everything: His plastic tools – there’s a song for his wrench when he “fixes” things around the house – and the lotion his dad rubs on after bath-time.

“You can get him excited about anything if you make up a song about it,” his dad, Jeremy, laughs. “He’s adorable,” says Jadie, his mom. “And he knows how cute he is, too.”

Shemar came to Jeremy and Jadie three years ago – not long after their boys started asking when they’d get a baby, since their preschool friends were getting siblings. At 2 years old, Shemar was not the baby Davis and Kannon expected – but he was old enough to wrestle, and that was a plus.

Besides tumbling with his brothers, Shemar loves family dance parties and jumping on the trampoline. His adoption was finalized earlier this year, so he has a big extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and – because there’s always room for love – his birth mother and younger sister.


John

When John came to us, he was 14 years old and hadn’t been in a classroom for years. In fact, we searched and never found middle school records for him. Testing revealed he was working barely above an elementary grade level.

John was angry and discouraged when we met, and we understood. He was living unparented in a house without regular meals or clothes for school. He’d lost his mom when he was 4 and his father, remarried, was in and out of his life, serving time in prison or traveling to construction jobs.

We knew John needed a lot of help academically – but before that could happen, he needed to know somebody believed in him. That’s where Ms. Mary begins her work. She’s the full-time teacher in his group home, and she understands how kids like John are resigned to failure, afraid to try. “We all told him you can do this,” Mary says. “You can do this. Every day we said, we are going to make sure that you have food to eat, you have clothes to wear, you have a shower, you are going to school – and you are going to do what you need to do.”

Mary started by giving John work she knew he could handle. “When he realized he could do it, he got that success experience. He lost a little bit of his fear. Then he tried something else and moved up, building on that success and starting to believe in himself.”

John is in high school now, with plans to go to culinary school – and we are delighted to see him working toward a dream. It’s because of you that children like John are able to learn, love, and discover their God-given talents. Your compassion, prayer, and gifts give them hope.


Jarel

There was a promise Jarel’s mother always made to him, growing up. She’d say, “One day we’ll get our own place to live.”

But she was an alcoholic and never delivered on that promise, even when she had the money, so Jarel slept on the sofas and spare beds of other peoples’ homes. By age 15, he had nothing; he felt like a nothing. He was failing in school and he made a mistake – the biggest of his life. He stole a car.

That mistake brought him to us and it might well have saved his life because this is what we saw right away: Jarel has a debilitating learning disorder, and he can’t do basic math or read beyond an elementary-grade level. The inability to keep up in class and the chaos of his life had pointed him to the streets – a place that preyed on his vulnerabilities.

Jarel was trying to fit in somewhere as life was leaving him behind. “He’s the sweetest kid; there’s not a mean bone in his body,” says Tiffany Powell, program manager for our boys’ transitional living home. “But he’s gullible, and he’ll do what you tell him to do. If he gets around bad people, he’ll do what they say.”

When he came to us, Jarel had no understanding of nutrition or cooking – he thought he could live off the McDonald’s dollar menu. He had no familiarity with table manners. He didn’t know how to adjust his behavior when time and place called for it. He had to learn the mundane rules of life and skills for his own survival – how to apply for a job and be reliable; how to save money, budget, and write a check.

Today Jarel works in a fast food restaurant. He is struggling to pass the GED with his learning disability and years of education missing, but he’s trying, and if he succeeds he might go for a welding certification.

Later this year when Jarel turns 18, we’ll have to send him out – but we won’t let him go. We’ll help him get an apartment with furniture and a roommate, a place where he can catch the bus to work, and we’ll stay in touch to keep him accountable.

It won’t be a lot, but it’ll be a place of his own, and in Jarel’s experience that’s a huge step forward. Life has never been better.