Three years ago, Rhyann arrived at the Lakeland campus of the Florida Baptist Children’s Homes, feeling a bit like little orphan Annie and expecting to find an orphanage and a hard-knock life for her and her two younger brothers.
Arriving at the FBCH shelter, Rhyann, then 10, was highly protective of her two brothers Derek and Zackery, then 9 and 8. Although they had each other, they also arrived with an underlying distrust of adults. Rhyann was used to being the parent and taking responsibility to care for Derek and Zackery. Even if she couldn’t count on adults, she knew she could count on herself, and she worried about what this new home might mean for their futures.
Ryann envisioned “a large building with beds all along the wall and where we would be put to work and never be allowed to go outside or do anything.”
Derek saw all the classrooms and playgrounds and thought he would be living at a fun school where he would have free run of the campus. The concept of rules and playtimes was a surprise and an adjustment for him.
Zackery wasn’t sure what to think, but he wanted to explore. Andrew Kennedy, Residential Case Manager said, “When Zackery first came, he climbed everything, even the light pole out front.”
The three siblings had lived with little supervision, structure, or school, and they had problems knowing how to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Slowly, however, the siblings began experiencing the simple joys of being children who can go to school, learn, play, and let adults take care of them.
Rhyann is thriving at school, where she likes reading and poetry. Houseparent Jaimee LaFave said, “Rhyann is unique. She is very creative, adventurous, inquisitive, and likes to learn.”
Learning to trust other people, especially adults, has been a process for Rhyann. But she has been delighted to discover that she and her brothers don’t have to live life the hard way and that they can be safe with people who love them.
“Most of all, I no longer have to be a parent. I can be a child, or really a teenager now,” she says with a broad smile.
Derek and Zackery share a room and both enjoy riding their bikes and being active.
LaFave says all three siblings are very creative. Derek, who enjoys drawing and building objects, wants to one day be a Lego engineer. Zackery likes working more with electronics like computers and cars. The children are doing very well in school, and Zackery just tested into the gifted program.
Derek enjoys the sense of a regular family life and all the people who love him. “It can sometimes get a little rowdy with all the kids here, but we are like one big family. You should see the waiter’s face when we say we have a family of ten. It’s hilarious!”
Zackery’s eyes light up when he describes the special events like Christmas that he now gets to anticipate and enjoy. Watching the growth and transformation of the siblings in the last three years has been amazing for the Lakeland campus.
“The boys were like little pieces of coal that have been polished into sparkling diamonds, and Rhyann was like a caterpillar in a cocoon that has emerged as a beautiful butterfly,” said Area Administrator Pam Whitaker.
“They are fun. Right when you meet them they will capture your heart,” LaFave said.
Although they may have come to FBCH with fears about a hard-knock life, these three precious siblings have learned how the love of God and caring adults can transform their lives and their futures. And instead of a place of fear and distrust, they discovered a place of trust, safety, laughter, and fun.