Devin is 18 years old and a senior at Federal Way High School. He is an honor student with a 3.83 GPA. He is an athlete who has been recruited to play soccer in college. He bravely ran for ASB Vice President and won. Devin has been accepted to many colleges, but recently accepted a nearly full ride scholarship to attend UW, where he plans to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
The parenting journey is not easy for any parent, but it was particularly difficult for Penny, Devin’s mom. Penny has not only done an amazing job raising Devin, but Devin’s two siblings as well.
Penny was raised in the projects of Boston by a single mom. Penny’s childhood was rough. At the hands of an abusive mom who was always on government assistance, Penny found work as an escape from her home. The final beating occurred when Penny was in her late teens. Enough was enough, and she bought a one-way ticket to Washington. Penny, free of her mom, soon entered into another abusive relationship - one that involved lots of alcohol and drugs. She had three children in three years. Though Penny herself was not involved with substance abuse, the effect on her and her children continued to create an unhealthy and unsafe environment for them.
When Devin was two, and Penny was pregnant with her third child, her neighbor called Robyn with Step by Step, because she was very concerned with what was going on in Penny’s home. Step by Step was just getting started at the time and Robyn took Penny a meal, a meal that opened the door that Penny needed. Not only did Robyn bring a meal, but she brought her son Austin along on the visit. He was 4 months old. Penny immediately felt a bond, someone cared, and Penny caught a glimpse of healthy interaction between a parent and child, and Penny soaked it up like a sponge. She still has the business card that Robyn gave to her 16 years ago.
Penny felt that Robyn could relate to her, and she felt accepted by Robyn. But, most importantly, she said “I wanted better than what I saw and had always seen around me and I thought Robyn could show me a better way.” Penny often says that the kids she grew up with are all either dead or in jail, but Penny had the grit needed to do better for her children. She just needed some good examples, some healthy support and help to make better choices.
Penny took advantage of everything Step by Step had to offer. The bus pass Robyn provided for Penny was her gateway to school and work. Penny attended Step by Step’s very first Christmas Party in 2000 and has volunteered at almost every one since - kids in tow. Penny went on to later purchase her own home and started her own housecleaning business.
Penny recently said that the “company she keeps is intentional.” She learned to surround herself with healthy people who could show her/teach her what she didn’t learn or observe while growing up. She wanted better for herself and her children, and she got better. And, she is raising amazing kids!
This is what we at Step by Step are striving for: a healthy baby, bonding and nurturing early in life, and positive parenting in a safe home that allows children to grow and succeed. While everyone has times when they need help, our goal is that our moms would get to a place where they can give back and become producers and not always consumers.
We know that Devin will be successful as he enters college, gets his degree, and ventures into his adult life. He will be a contributor to society, and we are proud of that. But what we are most thankful for is that Devin, at 18, can honestly say that he is most thankful for his mom and his family. Devin, although he has not been free from hurt, knows what it is like to be loved and cared for by his mother, who has been there fighting for him, every step of the way.
From Devin: In His Own Words.
A fountain of curses spouts from my father’s mouth. The temperature of the air singes my ears as I sit in the passenger seat. My younger siblings sit shrunken in the back seat, tears pouring from their eyes. My father’s rage grows as he takes his own possessions from the trunk of my mother’s car and places them on his lawn. My mother tries to calm my younger siblings as each new curse rises in volume and harshness. But it was the final curse that cut deepest. “They’re dead to me. You’re all dead to me.”
These words have been branded into my memory. Even to this day they still resonate in my heart and mind. My parents had been separated for a number of years before this awful event, but it was at this moment that I officially lost the male figure in my life. Before, I didn’t have much respect for my dad because of how he mistreated my mom, but after this cruel event I simply hated him. My anger prevented me from speaking to my dad for almost three years. Hearing those bitter words was a knife in my side, but the sight of my broken siblings was the twist of the blade. I will never forget the expressions of sorrow and loss I saw that day.
Although I still have hard feelings for my dad, and continue to have a disconnected relationship with him, I’ve come to realize that without this happening I might not be where I am today.
This verbal crime increased the communication between my mom and me. I learned more about my parents’ relationship and what she had endured through the years. It took this incident for me to come to realize how much my mom had sheltered my siblings and me from the harsh reality. After learning of the sacrifices my mom had made for me, I felt called to assist her by helping to raise my siblings. So, I took on a father figure role within my family.
I devoted myself to my family much more, especially towards my siblings. It’s a father’s job to be a protector, inquirer, and teacher within his family. This is why I lock down the house each night, and why I ask my siblings about their education and how I can help them. Being the eldest, I tell them of my life experiences that they have not yet gone through, preparing them for life’s challenges. However, the most important role for a father is to be a positive example for his family. I drive myself to be this example for my siblings, and my decisions in life have been made with this in mind. I ran for school office to inspire them to become leaders within their school. I push myself to earn good grades to cause them to desire to not only get good grades, but exceed mine as well. Through striving to be a positive example for my siblings, I have driven them to be even more successful than myself.
The essential thing that I have learned from this experience is the power words possess. Nine words, “They’re dead to me, You are all dead to me” can forge a new trail in a kid’s life. Before those nine words, I was not one to share with people how I envy the relationships my friends have with their fathers, nor did I go out of my way to take on the lead role in anything. But it was those nine words that have shaped how I am now. I have become responsible through caring for my family. I have become motivated by my call to be the positive example for my siblings. And above all, I have become considerate; not only with the words I say, but also with all of the actions I perform.
As you can tell from my story, my family and I have demonstrated resiliency, and it is this resiliency of single parent households that I really appreciate. When one parent is absent, whether physically or emotionally, the other has to decide if they are going to step up. My mom has been this type of parent for me my whole life. My mom became a part of Step by Step when I was only three. I don’t know all the ways that Step by Step helped my mom, but I guess I don’t even know my life without Step by Step in it. They are like family and they have shown us how to be family.
I am thankful for Step By Step, for being a part of my story. The support Step By Step offers to moms opens many doors to learning, to connecting, and ultimately to changing the course of a child’s life.
I am also thankful for the supporters, volunteers, and people who donate to Step By Step. Your support is changing lives and helping moms put their best foot forward for their children. You are giving kids like me a better chance and a better future. And your generosity helps make sure that Step By Step will continue to be a part of many stories to come.