President and Co-Founder of Eagledancer Youth and Family Services, Inc.
I was born May 2, 1946 in Sacramento, California, to alcoholic parents. I was the seventh of eight children. I am a Native American of the Miwok Tribe which is located in Yosemite and the Sacramento Valley Area in California.For much of my young life, I was homeless. I lived with my Mother, brothers and sisters down by the Sacramento River. My Mother would often walk 10 miles with her small children to the pig farm, because the owners would let her search through the bags of food scraps to find some bread that was not moldy for her little family to eat.
I remember being left with my brothers and sisters in the car all night in front of the bar while my parents went in to drink. I remember being really scared when drunks would come over by the car to throw up. Many times when I was a child, my parents left us at the all-night movies or at other people's homes. We didn't know when or if our parents would ever come back to pick us up. Most of the time they did, but sometimes they didn't and then we would end up in shelter homes until they decided to come and get us.
By the time I was three years old, my Dad had long since left home. Life was hard. My Mom thought we would be better off if the state stepped in and took us away, so she finally gave up and took us to my Great Grandma's place. She left us there and disappeared. Great Grandma's one room home was a cleaned out chicken coop with cardboard on the walls, a double bed, a wood stove, and a table. Behind the wood stove and underneath the bed were the cardboard boxes that we kids slept in.
As children we were really frightened of any strangers coming to our house because sometimes we were taken away and put in foster homes by the county social workers or the police would come to take away our Dad, Mom or other relatives. In front of Great Grandma's house was an old wrecked car with no wheels. There was just enough room for me to crawl underneath and hide. Whenever we saw an unfamiliar car coming up the road, we would all run to our own special hiding places—mine was underneath that old car.
Finally when I was six years old, the state court stepped in and took all of us away for the last time. By this time, one of my brothers and two of my sisters were already dead. My other two sisters were then adopted and we three boys were put in orphanages or foster homes.
I was placed in an orphanage in Sacramento. Every Sunday the staff would dress us up and then send us into a room while prospective parents came in and looked us over for adoption. I was never chosen.
Through the years I was placed in and out of the orphanage as well as many different foster homes. Too often I was hungry, threatened, beaten, and locked in dark closets. While being dragged to the closet, I was told about horrible spiders living there. Terrified and screaming, I was locked in for hours at a time. In one home the oldest boy was left to tend me. Once he locked me in an animal cage all day while he teased and poked at me with a stick. I was constantly told that I was dumb, stupid, and would never amount to anything, and that the only reason they had me in their home was for the money they received for housing me. I was told I was a stupid, dumb Indian who would always be drunk until the day I died.
From the age of three I was stricken with polio. I remember when I was older and living in foster homes I had to wear leg braces, I was supposed to wear them all of the time, but as soon as I got out of the site of adults I would take off the braces so I could run and play. It hurt so badly at night I remember hiding my face in the pillow to cry so no one would hear me, because then I would get in trouble for taking the braces off. The doctors said because of the polio I would probably be confined to a wheelchair; however I grew up active and even played football in high school and still have no significant effects from the polio.
When I was twelve years old, my Dad was killed in a street fight on skid row in Sacramento. Someone came up from behind him and hit him on the head with a beer bottle. He fell on the sidewalk and lay there for two hours dying while people just walked around him because they thought he was just another drunk Indian. I remember when they told me I stopped whistling long enough to think that I was proud my Dad died fighting like a warrior, I did not cry, instead, I swore vengeance and wanted to kill whoever killed my Dad.
At the orphanage I caused so many problems by being mean and hateful that they were going to put me in juvenile prison. It seemed to me that nobody wanted me or would help me. I thought I was going to prison. Even though I was only 14, I was ready for that, but when my probation officer came, he took me out to another foster home for one last chance. After all the negative experiences in foster homes, I would rather have gone to prison. I knew how to deal with that kind of situation. All I had to do was beat up the toughest guy in there and then I would be the leader.
The foster family had five little children and was expecting another baby. I decided to go ahead and stay with them because I wanted to get even with some kids in their neighborhood who had beaten me up when I was younger. I wanted to be there just long enough to get even; but, later I decided to stay because there was something different about this family. They were kind and took good care of me. It didn't matter what I said or did to them, they still loved me and kept me. They just wouldn't send me away. When I decided they really cared, I finally began really listening to what they taught me and began applying these principles in my life. I started getting my life straightened out. The family helped me to bring God into my life. This and the unconditional love that this family had for me, made all the difference.
I graduated from high school and went on to college. I worked at many different jobs before I served as Indian Education Director to the 55,000 students in the Mt. Diablo School District, the ninth largest school district in California. I left this position because I wanted to become a home parent on a boys' ranch where we worked with 10-14 delinquent teenage boys at a time.
Throughout my bad experiences as a child, I dreamed of becoming a father and being able to give my children the kind of safe and secure home that I never had but always wanted. I am married now and have twelve children of my own and have adopted 3 more children.
During the past thirty years, my wife Charla and I have had over 250 foster youth live with our family in our own home. Over the years, many have kept in contact with us—sharing their lives with us. The majority of them have stayed out of trouble and have not been adjudicated for any other offenses. About one-third of them have been Native American youth.
When I was little, living in foster homes and orphanages, I always dreamed of someday having my own program to work with youth. My dream has come true as my wife and I created successful youth programs like Eagledancer Youth and Family Services, Inc. It has not been easy. The financial and emotional struggle has been extremely difficult. Through perseverance and the determination to never give up, we have developed successful programs which have helped many youth and their families.
One of my favorite sayings is:
"Blessed are those who dream dreams and then are willing to pay the price to make them come true."
The price that I paid was all of the sacrifices and the many difficulties that we have gone through to start these youth programs. I have paid the price and my dream have come true, I love teaching and working with youth. I love giving them opportunities so that if they will pay the price of hard work and not give up, they can make their own dreams come true.