Thursday, February 16, 2017 open heart

I had never met 15-year old Ryan.

Our shoot was set up for 2 o'clock in the afternoon at the Big Rock Fun Park. I never know what situation I may be stepping into or what a child may or may not be like when I meet them for the first time.   DHS typically sends me an information sheet about the child. It includes things they like, whether they have siblings, and a little about their background.

So I'm always a little nervous.

I can't imagine how hard it would be to be a foster child. Much less up for adoption. Much less the feature and focus of a news story to help me find a family. So, as a television journalist, when I walk into these situations I'm always very sensitive to that. I want the child or children I'm interacting with to feel comfortable and not intimidated by me or a television camera.

But in some cases the children are in tears. In some cases, especially younger children, they don't fully understand, and they are just excited to play. In any case, it is nerve-racking, to say the least.

So it was Monday afternoon, and I walked into the fun park to meet Ryan. I was told he was 15-years old and loved to play games. I had seen a photo of him, and that was it. You can imagine my surprise when he literally ran up to me and gave me a giant hug before I could even walk through the front door! It was me this time who was nearly in tears.  Here is a child who had grown up in foster care, with nothing but a smile on his face. He was so excited to meet me and to play.

The first thing he said was, "I already have my tokens, are you ready?" Little did I know he was going to beat me at every single game we played. Basketball, air hockey, every game you can imagine, he won. What I noticed most about Ryan, is that from the time he gave me a hug until the time our afternoon was over, he never stopped smiling. Even when he talked about having to go into foster care and now being up for adoption.

For me, it's always such an awkward question for me to ask. "What kind of family do you want?"  Because for most of us, it's not a question we have to answer.  We have our family.  But these are children who think about getting a "new one" from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to sleep at night. All because they were failed by their own blood. Ryan's response to that question echoes among so many in his situation:  " have a good home that takes care of me and always loves me.  I really don't care, as long as I have a home to go to."

I wanted to cry for him again. And just between you and me, in many cases I do go home and cry. Because for every Ryan, there are 500 more in our state in his exact shoes. To see a boy who is so loving, so sweet, with such polite manners, working through the difficulties of his situation and navigating the world, a world which has not been pretty for him, to see him still smile --- this is what inspires me to do the work that we do every day through "A Place to Call Home." It leaves a gratitude in my heart to be in a situation in which I can play a small role at a critical time.

So what I hope for now is one open heart, one set of eyes that sees his story, one family that opens its arms, says "yes," and welcomes Ryan home.