“I love it here. I don’t want to be anywhere else. This is the best place I’ve ever been.”
The sentiment above was recently shared by a 14-year-old named Wesley*. At first, we were thrilled to hear it. We were so glad that he felt safe and comfortable here at the Shelter. That means that we’re doing our job well. That means that we’re fulfilling our mission.
But then, as what he said began to sink in, it actually made us very sad. Shouldn’t this young man want to be in a home? Shouldn’t he want to be part of a family? So, why, out of all the places he has been, does he want to be here?
His understanding of home and family is so much different than ours. A home, to him, means conflict and struggle. It means constantly being hyper aware and ready to fight or flee at any moment. It means feeling alone and frightened, but never being able to show fear or weakness. It means growing up way too fast.
At the Shelter, Wesley is surrounded by people who care about him, 24 hours a day. He has a routine and knows what to expect from day to day. He never has to question whether he will have clean clothing or enough to eat. He knows that his education is important and that his teachers will do everything they can to keep him on track. He knows that we want him to have the best future possible.
We wish every child in Arkansas had a loving, supportive home. We wish we could close the doors of the Shelter forever. Unfortunately, there will always be children like Wesley. To him, the Shelter is more of a family than he has ever known. So, we will keep our doors open, and our arms open even wider, for the children who need us.
*name and image changed to protect privacy