2022 has brought Ohana unexpected growth and change.
Ohana has been stretched. I have been stretched as a leader and a foster care advocate in ways I never imagined. I feel like we are a rubber band being stretched to its limit and it is by God’s grace it didn’t snap.
We started this year with 15 homes, serving 50 foster kids and 35 special needs adults. We focused the year on developing deep roots of quality programs, not numeric growth. But God had different plans. I had no idea by the end of this year we would be providing housing to over 220 foster kids and special needs adults with over 500 employees. Gulp.
For those of who missed our surprising fall update, the Department of Child Safety reached out to Ohana because of an immediate closure of a long standing group home agency. This abrupt closure would have displaced 112 foster kids in 16 homes throughout the Phoenix area. Ohana was asked if we could take over operations of the 16 homes, assume all staff, and help ensure the kids weren’t displaced. Many of these kids have been in the same home for almost 10 years with these homes being their source of love and safety. After some quick prayer and consideration, Ohana committed to help stabilize the homes and transition all 112 kids to Ohana. We had only 3 weeks to do this, however, through the support of DCS and the former agency we got it done.
Now as I walk throughout our offices, our halls are filled with presents, stockings, 200 bikes, and even a PS5! The response from our community for Christmas has been overwhelming. We are filled with gratitude of what each gift represents.
Every Christmas gift represents a child.
Every child has a name.
Every name has a story.
And every story matters to God.
I wish I could share the story of each kid but here is one that has changed my life this year.
Alberto is a grade boy and is celebrating his second Christmas with us along with his 5 siblings (ages 1-14). Alberto’s baby brother celebrated his very Christmas a year ago and now he thinks he’s the king of the house running around and using the couches as his personal trampoline.
Alberto’s youngest sister is now 3. She is developing quite the vocabulary (even though many experts were worried she may have a speech delay) and she finally feels safe enough to sleep in her own bed. For 6 months she had to have a staff member lay on the floor next to her bed but now she walks confidently to her bed and she has no problem telling her youngest brother it’s time to go to bed too! She has clearly found her voice.
Alberto’s oldest brother is now in middle school. Those middle school years are always filled with anxiety and stress. This is especially true for a kid being raised in a group home. But just last week I was spending time with him and he pulled out a wadded piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to me. It was his report card. He couldn’t make eye contact with me but his half smile showed his pride as it reported his As and Bs and at the bottom the teacher wrote he is a leader in his class. We are all so proud of the young man he is becoming.
Alberto and his brother play on a club soccer team that the Ohana assistant house manager found accidentally at Cesar Chavez park a year ago. The assistant manager walked up to the club asking if they had any openings. Alberto and his brother have been on the team ever since and they both have grown and developed some serious talent. One of the players on the team has a sister turning 15 and they just got invited to their first quinceñera! The nervous smiles on their faces when they got that invitation was priceless. I told them….they WILL be attending that quinceñera and they will wear a dress shirt and not gym clothes. They deserve to be normal preteens and I will guarantee my boys will be the best dressed ones there!
Two weekends ago, Sara and I took our kids to go cheer on Alberto and his brother at their soccer game. We wanted to be certain that they had the loudest cheering section on the sidelines. Afterwards we stopped by Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. My wife Sara had tears in her eyes as the boys had no idea what a Blizzard since they had never visited DQ! My kids have had hundreds of them but these boys haven’t been afforded that same opportunity.
My highlight of Alberto is that every Saturday he calls me to ask if I am going to church. He has been wanting to learn to play football and so I run routes with him after church when he comes. He says he comes to church to play football but I am willing to bet its more than just that. Now on Sundays after church I take the boys to the gym to workout, it’s a highlight of my week. Alberto keeps me grounded on the most important things in life. Family. Relationships. Instilling hope. And Living as Ohana.
This Christmas I am thankful for Alberto, his brother, and the rest of his siblings. No kid should be raised in a group home. Every child should have a mom and dad but that is not their reality. Regardless I am grateful God has brought them to Ohana. I love watching them grow and thrive. Alberto’s life is changing before my eyes.
And he is changing mine.
Thank you to all our Ohana supporters. We couldn’t do this work without you. Your donations pay for the soccer club Alberto is in and the snow trip to Flagstaff they are doing next week.
We couldn’t do this without you. Thank you for standing in the gap.
Dr. Ryan Senters
P.S. None of our incredible Stories of Ohana are possible without your prayers and financial support. Consider making a year-end donation to Ohana. If you're an Arizona resident, you can claim a dollar-for-dollar credit on your 2022 taxes—up to $1,000. Click here to give now.