JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
As a U.S. Air Force first sergeant, Chief Master Sergeant Henry Hayes’ job is to take care of others, and whether or not they are in his chain of command, he provides support to those in need.
As a first sergeant for Air Combat Command and an ordained minister , Hayes not only shapes the lives of Airmen, but the lives of the children he and his wife, Stephanie, have fostered or adopted.
Deeply rooted in faith, the Hayes’ said they have always gravitated toward serving those who are, at times, helpless.
“Giving to those who cannot give back is what the true essence of giving is,” said Hayes, who has fostered 13 children and adopted two. “We know society does not produce great and glorious things for everyone, and if we’re able to offset pain or discomfort and reshape the future for someone else, why not.”
For the Hayes’, the motivation for adopting 10 year old Jaylan and Shania, and foster care of others, wasn’t to fill an empty nest after their biological children went to college. The reason was, and still is, to either provide safety and wellbeing until a family is ready to be reunited, or provide a new home for those who would otherwise fall into an institution.
“This family is the model of some sacrifice; I can’t skirt around that,” said Hayes. “With Jaylan, he’s special needs and he had been in our home for quite a while and he had significant health issues. At the time that we were running into the state time limit, it was apparent that reunification was not going to take place, so for him the question was posed, ‘if we don’t have a home for him it would be an institution type situation.’ He had come so far and made so many strides. He was ours so there was no way we were going to do that.”
According to Hayes, some of that sacrifice also came in the form of adjusting to the children’s needs due to their backgrounds, such as drug addiction, abandonment or physical danger.
“The things you have to endure potentially could be challenging,” said Hayes. “We’ve had some children that had some unique difficulties to navigate through; big picture, we provide a safe haven.”
For two, that haven will last a lifetime.
“Some stayed a few days, some stayed a few months, and obviously, these two stayed several years, but they have their permanency now,” said Hayes. “There are some people who are too afraid that they’ll get hurt or too attached, if you don’t, you’re wrong.”
Since making the choice to adopt and foster, the Hayes’ found many challenges obsolete compared to the reward of not only helping others, but strengthening their family as a whole.
“Our older two are very compassionate,” said Stephanie. “They had to learn a lot--they had to share mom and dad and their homes. Our youngest daughter used to say that she had ten siblings because we still counted the kids even after they left.”
For Stephanie and Chief, it was the same; they saw every child that came through their door as their own.
“They’re our children, even the ones that didn’t stay,” said Stephanie. “Every child that came into our home, it was like we birthed them as our own.”
From taking multiple trips to Disney, to helping their kids with homework, the Hayes’ provided a feeling of belonging. However, that support didn’t end with these foster parents.
“The military does make it easier; you have that comfort and acceptance,” said Hayes. “Our church (also) accepted them and loved on them. Every place that we’ve gone has been like that – these are our children and our faith plays a big part in that.”
With spirituality and strong values, the Hayes’ continue their journey in helping the helpless, and urge others to do the same.
“One of the things that pains my heart a little bit is that we talk about what we don’t like in society, but we don’t do enough to mitigate it,” said Hayes. “With bringing a child into your home, I’ve heard ‘you’re taking a chance, you don’t know what you’re going to get’ – well, same with birthing a child, you don’t know what you’re going to get.”
As for the gamble of having biological children and adopting children, the Hayes’ found love, family and faith in both.
“If you’re going to do foster care and do it right, they become yours,” said Stephanie. “You open up your heart and accept them as your child whether they’re there a day or there for life. I told Shania one time, that with the other two we had no choice, these two we chose, so there is something special in that.”