I had the honor of being a member of a judging team for the 2016 Students of Distinction. We met at Harbor History Museum with Peninsula High seniors Erika Hettick and Emily Frier and Gig Harbor High seniors Riley Paul, Max Battanian and Alyssa Stephens — all outstanding promises for our nation’s future.
Alyssa “Aly” Stephens’ description of her dealings with children at a children’s home in Ensenada, Mexico, really hit me. Under the auspices of her church, she and her family journey there twice annually to help kids who are products of abusive environments.
“I was raised knowing that compassion and serving others is one of the most beneficial pieces of life,” Stephens said. “Going 14 times to an orphanage in the hills of Ensenada, I found a home. Children of this orphanage became family. Spreading hope and happiness to people who feel hopeless creates friendships unlike anything else.”
One of her greatest bonds is with an 8-year-old boy, Kevin (for whom there is no known last name). Three years ago she met Kevin, and that day changed her life.
“He is the sweetest, funniest, most loving, selfless, and bravest boy I know,” Stephens said.
Kevin came from a traumatizing background. With no stable parents in his life, Kevin and his sister were sent to the orphanage. On arrival Kevin instantly became a troublemaker. He would lash out at others, never listen, and cause mayhem everywhere he went. At his young age he has already experienced far greater pain and sadness than most will ever feel.
“I felt called to reach out to him,” Stephens said. “After being rejected many times, something changed in him. He and I became best friends. I became the only person he would not try to pick fights with, that he would listen to, that he trusted. We were inseparable. Everywhere I went I had a little shadow. We became each other’s family. Family is something ‘Kev’ grew not to trust, until we met.”
Stephens could always count on Kev to wake her up outside her tent with a loud “Ma!” (short for madre, mom) and a huge hug.
“There’s something special about having a little kid running into your arms and completely trusting you,” she said. “It’s a love felt by a parent. And a parent is what I became to Kevin.”
Stephens’ world was shaken last summer when she learned Kevin was leaving the orphanage to live with his grandmother. She knew her week with him that July could be the last time she’d ever see him. Her heart sank thinking about not waking up to the smile that changed her life. She put everything she had into making sure Kevin knew that no matter where he goes, she will always love him and he will always be her little boy.
“Little did I know that after almost a year and a half of not seeing him, I would find my way back to my wild child,” Stephens said.
On an impromptu Mexico trip with her father, the two tried to find him. They went out searching, asking door to door with no luck.
“All of the sudden, I heard my name being yelled from the top of a hill in the neighborhood, and there he was,” the Gig Harbor High senior said. “Sprinting into my arms — it was a moment that will forever be locked in my heart. I found him, he is safe, he is happy, and he still loves me just as much as I love him.”
To Stephens, community service is about building relationships, showing those who feel hopeless that they are loved. No matter what it takes.
“Showing Kevin he has someone who will always come back for him and take care of him is something that changed his life and my life for the better.” Stephens said. “It is my greatest achievement. This little 8-year-old boy will forever hold a huge part of my heart. He will always be my little boy, and I will always be his Ma. Por siempre (forever)!”
Now that’s a love story!
Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.