Several weeks ago, caregivers Mike and Terri Igleheart received a message from the elementary school principal at Tunica Academy about their resident, Thomas*. The principal had arrived late on a day when she was supposed to drive the school bus. Thomas had assisted her by sending text messages for her to alert parents of the delay. Then when a child became ill and she had to pull over, Thomas kept order on the bus while the principal tended the sick child on the side of the road. For the rest of that bus ride, Thomas sat beside the sick child with a wastebasket “just in case.”
The principal said to Thomas’ caregivers that she couldn’t have made it through that trip without Thomas.
However, that story may never have happened had Thomas not arrived at Palmer Home two years ago. Like many residents, Thomas was the product of a broken home. He was frequently left to himself and was not kept accountable when it came to behavior or schoolwork. In areas where he most needed structure and encouragement, his parents were often absent.
By the time he was in junior high, he had a well-developed anger problem that manifested itself in frequent outbursts. He was also failing most of his classes at school. But in 2012, after years of familial neglect, he and his sister Lillie arrived at Palmer Home.
And things began to change for the better.
Mike and Terri said that at first, Thomas had a very difficult time being gentle with the other kids in the home. But when he was younger, his stepmother had worked in a daycare and he had been called on to help her. So his ability to relate naturally and kindly with younger kids eventually became apparent. They say this ability has only increased in the years since Thomas became a part of the Palmer Home family, and this is clearly evidenced by his recent helpfulness with the kids on the school bus.
Palmer Home staff say that the first thing you notice about Thomas is his infectious smile and his polite attitude. Last year, he was even given the President’s Award for his positive attitude and willingness to go beyond the minimum of what was expected. When it comes to school, Thomas has also made great strides, elevating his former F average to a C in less than two years. His favorite subject is Spanish, and his favorite sport is football.
Thomas will be a senior at Tunica next year. If all continues to go well, he hopes to receive a football scholarship to a community college and to eventually become a coach. All who have gotten to know him say that because of his gift for working with younger kids, he will make an excellent coach.
Mike and Terri say that much of what has driven these changes in Thomas’ life has been his receptiveness to spiritual education and growth. As his surroundings have become safe, his heart has been more open to a relationship with God and with those who can help him become closer to God. They have noticed a dramatic increase in his ability to love others and control his temper as this growth has taken place.
The hope that grows at Palmer Home is based upon the belief that better days are always possible, no matter how dark the beginning of a child’s life. Sometimes changes are small and incremental, but sometimes a series of those small changes can lead to profoundly bigger ones as we can see if the life of Thomas, who can now face his future with a softer heart and a better capacity to live the life he has imagined.
May those better days come and keep on coming for Thomas.
*name has been changed to protect identity