Children’s home alumna Brenda Ryan Drawbaugh grew up in what she calls a “dysfunctional” situation.
“My parents were uneducated, poor and suffered from mental health issues that negatively impacted me and my six siblings,” Brenda said. “I didn’t have much in the way of material things, but I do have some good memories with my siblings and family. I also grew up having good friends who helped shape who I am.”
At the age of 14, Brenda and three of her siblings were told they’d be moving to the Masonic Children’s Home. Brenda was old enough to know her living conditions could no longer provide for her needs or give her the opportunity to become the person she wanted to be. Regardless, she felt devastated.
“I had friends, and I felt like I was leaving my home,” Brenda recalled.
Even though she was reluctant to move, Brenda was immediately put at ease knowing three of her siblings would be by her side. She also knew they’d all be fully cared for and no longer face worries a child should never have to face.
“I could lay my burdens down and just be a kid again,” Brenda said.
Brenda remembers her and her siblings being welcomed by children’s home staff with open arms. They were “quickly accepted into the pack,” and began school in Elizabethtown.
Now having two grown children herself, Brenda doesn’t recall all the details of her transition, but she does have a few vivid memories.
“The house parents took us shopping for school clothes, as we had so little,” Brenda said. “This was a new and exciting experience for us. We were also able to eat well with meals and snacks provided daily.”
Brenda’s story proves what’s taken for granted for some means the world to another.
“I felt like God gave me a second chance to grow up and do something new and different with my life,” Brenda said.
In 1984, Brenda graduated from high school and the children’s home.
She decided to continue her connection to the place she knew and loved and began working as a certified nursing assistant in the Masonic Health Care Center on campus. She rented her own apartment and attended barber school part-time.
Eventually, after discovering her true passion, Brenda applied to college in her mid-20s to study psychology. After meeting and marrying her husband, Brad, the couple had two children. For a few years, while her children were young and Brenda was finishing her degree, she worked as a house parent at the children’s home.
“It felt like I was returning home,” Brenda said.
In 2003, she graduated from Penn State Harrisburg with a bachelor’s degree in applied behavioral science.
Brenda and Brad have remained in Elizabethtown, and for the last 14 years, Brenda has worked in the mental health field as a certified family-based therapist.
“I work with families who are in crisis and at risk for out-of-home placement for their child or children,” Brenda said. “I’ve referred a few children to the children’s home and was happy to see them get a second chance, as well.”
Brenda’s own children’s home experience has influenced how she’s parented her children.
“My experience allowed me to observe different parenting styles,” Brenda said. “I’ve worked hard to provide a healthy and safe environment where my children can grow into the adults God wants them to be.”
Brenda’s son, Alec, earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and is employed in a microbiology laboratory. Her daughter, Nicole, holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing and was a recipient of the Children’s Home Alumni Association’s scholarship for descendants of children’s home graduates. The scholarship helped Nicole purchase textbooks and, for Brenda, served as a reminder that the children’s home is always there for members of its “family,” even as they create families of their own.
“I knew I wanted a very different life than where I started,” Brenda said. “This became a possibility, thanks to the children’s home staff and donors who give unselfishly to continue to provide a second chance for many children who need it and wouldn’t get it any other way.”