LAFAYETTE — Elijah Evans easily and effortlessly tells the story of his early life — life before he found a home and a feeling for what the word “family” meant.
“I’m not uncomfortable sharing it because it was negative and positive. It was a negative experience that became positive because God put me in a better place. Now, I get to do something in the community, and make a difference,” said Evans, now a confident young teen, weeks away from his 16th birthday, about the abuse he survived at the hands of the woman who gave birth to him.
Evans’ early childhood memories are ones no child should have, that no child should have to retell.
“When I was 2 years old, my biological mother burned me from the waist down,” he said.
Placed in a bathtub filled with scalding hot water, he suffered third-degree burns on the lower part of his body. He lost all the toes on his right foot and the toes on his left foot are now permanently webbed together. He was removed from his biological mother’s home and placed with his grandmother, who did not provide proper wound care. He was then placed in a foster home, where he stayed for the next two years. The nurse who cared for his wounds during that time, Lynore Harding, instantly bonded with the young boy and adopted him when he was 4.
“She was the one who stretched my legs and did all the nursing stuff,” Evans said. “She decided she wanted to adopt me, and I was perfectly fine with that. Until that day, I had never experienced a feeling of: ‘this is my family.’ ”
When she first met Evans, Harding and her then-husband were trying to conceive a child.
“Once I met Elijah, after a couple of weeks, I never went back to specialist,” she said. “I started the adoption paperwork three months later. I didn’t think about having another child.”
That was until she met 3-month-old Alora about 10 years ago — another child she cared for who had been placed in foster care. The three are now family.
The story of Evans’ early life has a happy ending and he says he shares it to give other kids who have been abused and who are waiting for families the same hope.
That waiting can be especially difficult around Christmas, so Evans decided he’d bring a sense of family to children in foster care. At 13, he began raising money and organizing a Christmas party to fulfill foster children’s wish lists. For his first Christmas party in December 2011, he raised $5,000 in donations to provide gifts for 72 foster children.
“Christmas is the time where a lot of kids, especially kids in foster care, don’t feel that they’re part of a family per se,” Evans said. “I feel like I have to give them that family love and attention. I want them to feel like I’m that person that they can go to. I want to have them as part of my family.”
He now has his own organization, No Use For Abuse, which he hopes to organize as a nonprofit and to expand his outreach to include scholarships for high school graduates in foster care.
Evans’ outreach hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Oct. 9, he’ll be recognized for his work helping children in foster care during the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s annual Angels in Adoption awards gala in Washington, D.C. The coalition is a nonprofit adoption advocacy organization. Its awards program, started in 1999, recognizes the acts of people across the country who work to make a difference in the lives of those awaiting adoption or in foster care.
Evans will be in good company at the gala. Other Louisiana honorees at the event will be Willie and Korie Robertson, of the reality TV series “Duck Dynasty;” Rita Benson LeBlanc, owner and vice chairman of the board of the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans; and Crossroads NOLA, a faith-based nonprofit that helps children in foster care.
Evans is the youngest person recognized by the coalition, said Allison Cappa, the coalition’s director of programs.
“Typically, our awardees aren’t as young as Elijah and, typically, they’re couples and organizations. It’s really special to be able to honor someone who is 15 years of age,” she said.
As part of the Angels in Adoption program, honorees spend a few days in Washington, networking with each other and meeting with members of Congress, Cappa said.
“Our awardees will travel to different offices and put a face to the issue for these members, elevating adoption and foster care issues,” Cappa said.
Evans didn’t have quite the initial reaction that his mother had hoped when he read the coalition’s letter announcing his recognition. A busy sophomore at Comeaux High School, Evans was rather distracted by worries over not receiving an answer from a potential date he wanted to take to the homecoming dance.
“I didn’t really read it because I was sad. She hadn’t answered me for two days,” he explained.
His mom gave him a sideways glance, and they both laughed at the memory. “I asked him, “You’re not happy?’” Harding said.
“I had to read it again and did get excited,” Evans said. “I feel like I’m going to meet a whole lot of people who do the same things that I do.”
Later, he got good news about his date to the homecoming dance: She said yes.
The dance is the weekend before he leaves for his first trip to D.C., which he views as a learning experience.
“I’m really excited about listening and learning part,” he said. “The award is an extra thing for me, basically.”
Evans said he’ll continue to tell his story. Not to tell it means that others won’t know what some children face and won’t know the need for others, like the woman he’s called mother for the past 11 years, to step up and claim a child to love.
His story, he said, is really for those children waiting for families.
“That’s what I’m trying to show the children, that just because you’re in foster care or waiting for adoption, it doesn’t meant that you can’t do what you want to in life,” Evans said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t go to Duke, Harvard, Yale or UCLA. It’s a bump in the road. Go over the bump. Take the right path, not the wrong one.”
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