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Anthony's Village

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I tried to do this in a video, but I kept crying. And you all know how much I treasure my tough persona. So instead, I’m writing up a little backstory for my friend, Anthony. I asked permission to share his backstory, but I don't think he realizes how many people would end up reading this. Maybe he won’t find out right away. ;)

I met Anthony about a year and a half ago when he would come to The Bookworm Box. If you aren’t familiar with The Bookworm Box, it’s a charity I started with my family, which grew into something that could no longer be housed in my living room, which then turned into a non-profit physical bookstore in Sulphur Springs, Tx.

Anthony used to come visit our bookstore. We have free Wi-Fi, so he’d bring his computer and sit there for hours. My husband and I would make small talk with him. He told us he was 19 years old, living with his grandmother. Occasionally he would volunteer for us and join our packing parties, where we ship out thousands of boxes for charity.

But after several months, things with Anthony weren’t adding up. He always had a backpack with him. We’d always see him downtown, sitting at Muddy Jake’s or at our bookstore or at a table outside other businesses, despite the weather being cold or sweltering hot or rainy. Always in the same clothes. And my husband would ask him about himself and he’d always change the subject or skirt around it. 

Fast forward a couple months. Anthony showed up in the rain one morning to help our charity for volunteer day. When we have our packing parties, we always take our volunteers to lunch afterward. I was on a book tour in Europe, so Anthony got the distinct pleasure of riding with my sister, Lin, to lunch that day. If any of you know Lin, you know she’s not going to let you sit in her car without finding out your whole life story. Which is exactly what she coerced out of Anthony.

When he was 15, Anthony and his mother moved to Hopkins County. His mother, from what we understand, had substance abuse issues. She left to go back to Oklahoma, informing him that she would be back. Well…she never came back. Anthony, at 15-years-old, had nowhere to live. He stayed with friends for a while, but that didn't work out long-term. Eventually, he ended up with no place to go.

He hid it for a while, sleeping where he could, when he could. He still showed up for classes at school. He was occasionally given help from people in the community, but with Anthony being so guarded, he wasn’t forthcoming with the severity of his situation.

Eventually, he was helped by the school and given an apartment. But he was young. He had no identification, no way to get a job, no transportation, no understanding of how to pay bills. So he soon ended up in the same predicament he was in before.

He made average to high grades in school, but with living on the streets and not sleeping at night, he couldn’t keep up with his coursework. So, he stopped going to school. His life became a game of survival. By eighteen, he had learned that if he wore all black, he could blend in to the bushes at night and not get caught sleeping in the alleyways between the stores. If he carried his 70-pound backpack around at all times, it wouldn’t get stolen. He had a bike, but that was stolen, so he walked everywhere for an entire year.

Last year during the winter, it rained and sleeted for several days. He had no change of clothes, so he wore the same socks, but with the rain never letting up, his feet could never dry.  

He was at a restaurant here on the town square when he passed out. They called an ambulance and he was taken to the hospital, only to find that his feet were rotting from being so cold and wet for so long. He now has permanent nerve damage to his foot, hindering his capability of walking/biking too long.

It may seem easy to place blame on the community for not helping him more, or on Anthony for not trying harder, so let me explain a little more of the situation.

People in this community have gone above and beyond for him. Businesses downtown have fed him when he was hungry. They’ve given him work when he needed money. They’ve allowed him to sit at a table in their restaurants to give him shelter from the weather. One business would open early and allow him to catch a few safe hours of sleep on one of their outdoor tables. But as much help Anthony has gotten in the way of a meal and a few odd jobs, nothing can replace the permanence of a family. A mother, a father, someone to guide him. Teach him basic things, like how to shave. Give him basic things, like food, shelter or medical care.

Temporary assistance from people in this community has probably saved his life, but he’s been hanging on by a thread. Once Lin found out more about his situation, we started working with a sweet soul who owns a business downtown. Marsha has been a godsend to Anthony, and to us, as well as many other members of the community. But as much as we all wanted to help him, we were met with so much resistance along the way.

Anthony had no identification. Without identification, you can’t get any documentation. Without a birth certificate you can’t get a social security card. Without a social security card, you can’t get a state I.D. It took months of back and forth between the state he was born in and government offices here to finally, FINALLY get this kid some documentation. It took meeting with the high school superintendent, the city manager, the police station and pulling his medical records from when he was taken to the ER last year. With as many phone calls and in-person appointments we had to go through to do all this, there’s no way Anthony could have done this on his own without a vehicle or the basic know-how.

A few months ago, we found someone with an available rent house. It’s very tiny, probably not even 200 square feet. They very graciously sped up the process of getting him into it and have been wonderful to him. It’s the first secure and long-term shelter he’s had in over five years.

We started out slow with the help of a few others in the community, like the workers at Caps & Flasks, The Secret Garden, etc.  Helping him with basic things like groceries and rent in exchange for small jobs at our businesses. Marsha and Linda Christian found out he’d been wearing the same pair of glasses since fifth grade, so they arranged him to go to an eye doctor and got him new glasses. Now we’re working on teaching him the basic skills needed to survive comfortably on his own for the long-term.

He signed himself up for GED classes and has been attending those weekly. We got him signed up for food stamps until he can find a full-time job, but there’s still a long way to go before that can happen, especially with his physical limitations. We aren’t sure if the condition of his foot will allow him to obtain a driver’s license, so that’s our next challenge.

This morning he texted me and asked if I wouldn’t mind picking him and his bike up from the workforce commission after lunch. He was there filling out some paperwork for a job, but he wasn't feeling well and worried he couldn't make it home on this bike in this weather.

I had no idea he had an appointment this morning. He woke up early in the morning. It’s cold and raining out. And rather than bother anyone for a ride, he got on his bike and rode in the rain all the way from one side of town to the other so he wouldn’t be late for his appointment. He rode miles in the rain and then apologized profusely when I went to pick him up because he was scared he inconvenienced me.

That’s the biggest point I want to make with this post. This kid, who was abandoned at fifteen, is the nicest, most gracious person I have ever met. He is always in a good mood. Always willing to help out. Always smiling. And he has never blamed anyone for the situation he’s been in these last few years. He never makes excuses. And he tries. He tries so hard to get out of the situation he’s been in.

I’m not writing this to get recognition for helping him. There are plenty of people in this community who have given far more of their time and heart than I have. I’m writing this because Anthony is an inspiration to me. Daily.

I have three boys, and every day I look at them and wonder if they would have survived all Anthony has been through.

I wonder what it must have been like to have no family, sleeping in the alley on Christmas Eve. Or on his birthday.

I wonder what it must have been like the time bullies stole his bike and his clothes—his only possessions.

I wonder what it must have been like when the cops were called on him because someone found him sleeping under church steps.

I wonder, when people said, “Where do you live, Anthony?” what it must have been like to be too scared to tell them the truth.

He doesn’t steal. He doesn’t beg. He doesn’t make excuses. He only knows how to be gracious and appreciate what he has, which is very little.

Anthony doesn’t see why we’re so impressed with him. Let me give you just one small example.

My husband and I took him to watch the Dallas Stars play a couple of months ago. It was his first time ever in an arena of any kind. I gave him $20 so he could buy something to eat and drink while we were there. When the game was over, he handed me back the change. I told him to keep it, knowing how much difference a couple of dollars makes to him.

When we were outside the arena, walking to our car, we passed a homeless woman. Anthony took the few dollars he had left, plus the free taco coupons we won during the game, and he handed them to the woman. He said to her, “I’ve been in your situation before. I don’t have much, but I want you to have it.”

Anthony has a good heart and he wants to do good things with his life. But this boy has some serious obstacles yet to overcome. He has to get his GED, he needs a thorough medical checkup, he needs to find a way to get a steady income so that he can continue to have food, clothes and shelter. And he’s doing everything he can to get there and that isn’t the reason for this Go Fund Me account. I’m perfectly confident that Anthony will get back on his feet and be an asset to this community. More so than he already is. 

I’m creating this Go Fund Me account because I truly feel that nothing good has ever happened to him. Just crap piled on top of more crap. And despite it all, he is so good. He's the type of human I hope my boys turn out to be.  I want nothing more than to get him out of that 200-square foot rent-space and into a normal home with walls. I want to see him be able to afford a real mattress that will help the back issues he has from sleeping for years on the ground. I want him to be able to buy groceries that fit inside a normal refrigerator and not the mini-fridge he’s been trying to live out of for months. I want him to be able to afford a car payment if we find out he’s medically able to obtain a driver’s license. I want him to be able to go to the chiropractor, to pay for insurance. I want him to be able to afford new clothes and textbooks for when he starts college.

If you’re a member of my CoHorts group, you know I’m a big believer that we should repay kindness with kindness. I've seen you guys raise $2,000 for a puppy in one evening. I've seen you guys raise $15,000 in a week for child refugees. I'm hoping we can raise the $ to start Anthony a type of trust fund for his future. So I come to you now, selfishly asking you to help a kid who would never ask for a thing for himself. 

Anthony is one of the kindest people I have the pleasure of knowing. If you can spare $1, $5, $100, then donate it along with a message of encouragement for him. Anthony has been failed many times in his life. I would like to remind him that good people exist. I would like him to be rewarded for, if nothing else, just staying so positive and kind through it all. May we all live life with a fraction of that #AnthonyAttitude.

It takes a village to raise a child. Anthony is no longer a child, but he is still in need of a village.

*We've been asked by many of you if there's a way for you to send Anthony a card of encouragment. Feel free to send it to our bookstore and we'll get it to him. 

The Bookworm Box
c/o Anthony H.
PO Box 1400 
Sulphur Springs, Tx 75483

Organizer and beneficiary

Colleen Hoover
Sulphur Springs, TX
Anthony Hayes

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