Ted Haynes, current campaign chair of the Tulsa Area United Way, encourages staff, volunteers and donors by telling his story. Well, it isn’t his story. It’s Sara’s story (name changed for confidentiality), in which Ted and his family played a part.
When Sara was 16 years old, her parents dropped a box off at school and told the counselor she could not come home. At the time, the Haynes family was hosting a Finnish exchange student, Mari, who had befriended Sara. Mari asked Ted if her friend could stay the night. So Sara came over. The next day, when Ted called the local social services office, he learned not only that Sara was not eligible for foster care, but that no services for homeless youth existed in his small Texas town.
Ted and Shiela weighed the option of providing a permanent home for Sara.They had two young daughters, Shiela was pregnant on bed rest, Ted worked an hour from home, Mari would return to Finland long before Sara graduated, they would not receive funding from social services, and what did they know about raising a teenage girl anyway? Then they weighed the potential impact on Sara if they declined. Since she was not eligible for support from the state, she would become homeless, mentorless, unlikely to graduate high school, and vulnerable to prostitution among other risks. Perhaps she would move to Houston looking for a charitable residential facility; perhaps she could find a low-wage job and a roommate. Probably not. After praying about the decision, the answer was clear.
Sara lived with the Hayneses until she moved to her college dorm room. Anytime she needed a bed or a ride or parental guidance, she knew who to call. Ted recalls that guiding a girl with a troubled past was not always easy. “When we decided to ask Sara to stay, we didn’t just say ‘You can stay;’ we sat down with her and I spent a lot of time writing down the rules about not being a bad influence on our kids, not smoking, and not getting in trouble. Of course, she made all those commitments and broke them all. But when she did brake those rules, at least she was breaking a rule that we had talked about. It’s not like I just didn’t talk about what the rules were and then got mad at her when she did something bad. So she agreed with us.”
Sara was an impressively independent and resilient girl. Her experiences had made her steadfast not rash and strong but not hard. Some of her decisions did not line up with what the Hayneses thought best for her, but they learned flexibility and unconditional love. “You cannot change a young adult’s character.” Ted says, “That has already been set. You can only offer your help and hope your example rubs off on them.” The Haynes’ path was not without trials, but neither Ted nor Shiela would say they regret walking Sara into adulthood. “I think about her a lot now, 20 years later” says Ted. “She lives in Europe and has three daughters of her own. She is doing well. I’m proud of her.”
A common concern among couples considering taking in children older than their youngsters is safety and influence. I cannot say I have not heard some far-between hard stories because I have, but I can say more confidently that my own experience as Ted and Shiela’s oldest daughter is purely positive. Sara was always kind to me. She drew pictures for my sister and me and watched cartoons with us. She pulled my first tooth gently on a family vacation, helped me with my math homework and made rice krispy treats. I do remember her getting in trouble from time to time. I remember Dad being distressed at times as he and Mom stayed up late in the kitchen talking about things I didn’t understand. Mostly, watching my parents taught me a lot about selfless love and sacrifice- that I was not more important than other kids just because I was theirs and that people are meant to help one another. At our house, Sara’s friends always had food and a couch to sleep on if they needed it. I remember one friend had green hair and piercings. I watched my mom treat him no differently from the other guests that day and as I watched, I learned. Dad says, “Having Sara prepared me for having teenage daughters of my own because I had to face some of that stuff sooner than I otherwise would have. She didn’t pick on y’all and she was nice to you always. I don’t think it took away your childhood.” and I agree.
A note in my high school Bible beside Hebrews 12:13-14 reads, “Dad’s favorite verse.” Dad chose not just to like this verse, but to live by it.
Take a new grip with your tired hands, stand firm on your shaky legs, and mark out a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall down and hurt themselves but become strong.
Since they took in Sara, I have watched my parents take in another struggling youth and give mentorship and support to college students with single parents. They are role models not only for the young people they have helped, but for their community, and for me and my siblings as well. I admire their commitment and their kindness.
Now, as board members of local nonprofit organizations, Ted and Shiela both have the opportunity to help the hurting and influence their community. Ted tells his story to express his thanks to Tulsans for their generosity (the city has the highest financial support for NPOs per capita) in supporting Tulsa’s youth programs and to encourage those who work hard serving that desperate population. Homeless youth are “the least” that Jesus compares Himself to in Matthew 25 and we can answer the Romans 12:13 call to extreme hospitality by inviting them into our lives.