It is typical hot and muggy early summer Sunday afternoon in Columbia. Ryan* rushes from his cottage to the church on Epworth’s campus, hurrying to get there on time because he has MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) duties, and he does not want to be late. Ryan is the type of child who loves a job, and loves to get involved on campus. It was a natural fit for him to be selected as one of the two children on campus to represent the entire Epworth population on the MYF leadership team. However, the campus leader that Ryan is today is different than the boy he was when he first arrived at Epworth.
Ryan was adopted by a family early on in his childhood, and his adoptive family provided him with a safe, stable home in his early childhood years. When he became a teenager, however, his adoptive parents were overwhelmed and one day reported him to the police for a very minor incident. As a result, Ryan landed in the juvenile justice system. When it was time for him to be released back to the care of his adoptive parents, they decided not to welcome him back into their home. Heartbroken, confused and angry, Ryan entered the DSS foster care system for the second time in his life. It was at that time that Ryan came to Epworth.
Upon arrival, Ryan’s cottage staff and case manager helped Ryan work through and overcome the events in his life that lead him to Epworth. Understandably, he held a considerable amount of anger and distrust for adults. Not only was there emotional work to be done, but Ryan had missed so much school during his tumultuous teen years, that there was no way he would be able to graduate by the time he would age out of school. Christy Mooneyhan, Epworth’s Vice President for Academics, recognized that the best course for Ryan was to enter the GED program. As Ryan worked towards his GED, he started to open up to his friends and staff. He set a goal for himself to earn his GED and was steadily working toward it. Along the way he gained confidence and learned trust in the adults around him.
Soon Ryan began to think about his future. He began think about what kind of jobs he would enjoy, both while he was studying for his GED and also as a career. He started applying for local jobs off campus, but he hit another stumbling block. As is often the case with children in the foster care system, Ryan did not have a copy of his birth certificate or social security card. Without those documents, no one would hire him.
As Epworth worked with him to complete document requests, he had to put his job search on hold. Not letting that hurdle stop him from moving forward, he asked if he could shadow the Epworth operations and grounds team on their daily tasks around campus. He quickly started learning about building maintenance and general repairs that happen every day around campus. It became increasingly common to see him riding around on the maintenance golf cart, accompanying the staff on their duties that keep the campus running.
As he became more involved with the operations of campus, Ryan decided that he wanted to get involved in the church at Epworth by joining the MYF leadership team. On his application he wrote “I would like to help our community flourish and to spread the word about God…Helping the community makes people smile.” It was an easy choice for Pastor Meg Cook, our campus Minister, to appoint him to the leadership position.
This spring, the day of his GED test finally arrived. Ryan was nervous, but he knew he had put in the work in preparation for the test. “He set a goal for himself and met it, and was determined to do well,” Ms. Mooneyhan said. He easily passed his test, and everyone on campus was extremely proud of how far he had come.
Since his arrival at Epworth, Ryan made tremendous strides both on campus and off. With his GED in hand, Ryan turned his energy to deciding what to do for a career in the future. As he weighed his options, Ryan enrolled in Epworth’s Independent Living Program. Located on Epworth’s new second campus, the Independent Living Center is designed for young people who are “aging out” of the foster care system and high school to live in a more independent setting that both supports them and provides them with the skills needed for independence.
Ryan now has a job off campus at a local restaurant and still helps the Epworth operations team when he is able. Physical activity and also being part of a team working towards a goal appeals to Ryan, and he has always had an interest in the military, so he is considering a career in the military. With Epworth’s support and helpful guidance, he has been speaking with a recruiter and plans to enlist in the fall.
The boy who came to us who was so hurt and angry because of the trauma he experienced in his childhood has made a true evolution into promising young man. He is a hard worker, who cares about his community, and a natural leader. As he steps forward into young adulthood, Ryan has made major strides and is ready to go boldly into the future.
*Name and identifying details have been changed