Fourteen years ago, the children’s home received a call from a secretary at a local church. She said she knew of a 17-year-old boy in her daughter’s class who was homeless. The boy’s father had thrown him out of the house, because his new girlfriend did not “like” him.
The boy visited the children’s home and knew it was right for him, but his father refused to sign the admissions paperwork. The woman kept the boy for a few months, but with church secretary wages, it was a financial strain. This boy’s name was Kenny Henry, and on his 18th birthday, he signed himself into the children’s home.
When staff took Kenny to his father’s house to collect his belongings, Kenny was saddened, but not surprised, at what he saw. “My stuff was in black trash bags in the driveway,” Kenny said. “I walked in and told my father that I signed myself into the children’s home, but he didn’t care. He and his girlfriend told me I was useless and would never amount to anything. He never came looking for me.”
Upon moving to the children’s home as a high school junior, Kenny had one goal: to prove his father wrong by graduating and making a life for himself. “I didn’t have to worry where I was going to sleep at night or what I was going to eat,” Kenny said. “The staff invested everything they had in me. Their sole purpose was to help me grow and break the chain.”
Kenny improved his grades at the children’s home, thanks to personalized academic tutoring, and graduated from high school. He then decided to serve his country in the military. “I wanted to be an upstanding and contributing member of society, and I didn’t want to let anyone at the home down. They put so much into me,” he said.
Kenny served in the U.S. Army for more than six years. He was deployed twice to serve in the Middle East. After arriving home from a tour in Iraq, Kenny came back to our campus dressed in his military uniform. On this day, more than 300 members of his children’s home family and Masonic brothers were waiting to greet him and let him know he was loved.
“The home gave me a foundation for the rest of my life,” Kenny said. “You come from a terrible place, and they help wash that part of your life away. It felt good to know that everyone still cared for me. To see that I made that big of an impact on other people was heartwarming.”
In 2012, Kenny was medically retired from the Army after experiencing an injury while deployed. He now works as a natural gas construction worker to support his wife and their son, Carter.
Carter is about to turn 2 years old, and Kenny has already made the choice to be a better father than his own.
“I used to use humor to mask things that happened in my childhood before I learned that you can’t let a situation define you,” Kenny recalls. “You define the situation. The home and its donors gave me a moral compass to live by, and that’s what I want to teach my son.”
Kenny often thinks about the direction his life would have taken, if not for the children’s home. “I could have made a lot of bad choices – drinking or drugs,” he says. “Even though I didn’t choose those things, I don’t think I’m successful yet. Success to me means you’ve made it. I will always have work to do.”
Part of that work is teaching his son how to treat other people and make good choices. “I am not my dad. I will give my son everything he needs,” he says.
Fourteen years ago, donors and staff changed the life of an 18-year-old boy who found himself at a crossroad. Those donors are staff are now affecting the life of little 2-year-old Carter. The love and support at the children’s home reaches multiple generations, giving children a chance to break the cycle and become the parents they’ve always wished they had.
Pictured is Kenny with his wife, Alisha; son, Carter; Joseph Murphy, CEO of Masonic Villages; and Mark Kurzenknabe, assistant director of the Masonic Children’s Home. Kenny credits Joseph and Mark for being instrumental in his success at the Masonic Children’s Home 14 years ago.