Imagine being 13 years old and riding through Florida with your mom and stepfather. Your stepfather pulls into a bus station in Pensacola and tells you to get out of the car. While you get out of the car, you see your mom crying as she digs through the trunk. Your stepfather tells you to get your clothes out of the trunk. Then, they both drive away, leaving you alone - with nothing.
That is exactly what happened to Jimmy Wayne, country music singer/songwriter and author.
“I thought they would come back for me, but they did not,” says Wayne. “From that point forward for three years, my life was a living hell. Couch surfing, moving from one foster family to the next, going up to complete strangers asking for food.”
When Wayne was 16, he was going down the road on a ‘borrowed’ bike looking for work so he could get something to eat. He rode past a wood shop and saw a man working. He asked the man if he had any work, and the man replied, “You’ll have to ask the boss,” nodding toward his wife, Bea.
“She looked at me and said, ‘If you cut grass, come back at five and you can cut our grass.’ I was back at five,” Wayne says. “I was their lawn boy for the rest of the summer. Toward the end of summer I was getting scared because the lawn would not need to be mowed anymore. That’s when Bea asked me where I lived. Not wanting to tell her I was homeless, I told her I lived up the road. I didn’t want her to know anything about me because who would want to be around someone like me?”
Russell and Bea ended up asking Wayne to move in with them. For six years he lived with them, graduated from high school, completed college, and pursued his dream of being a musician.
Finally, Wayne made it big as a country artist – think I Love You This Much and Paper Angels. He recalls playing Madison Square Garden on his birthday. When he finished performing, he walked off stage to a birthday cake made by The Cake Boss. Times certainly had changed. He remembers checking into a detention center on his 15th birthday with no cake, just a guard saying hurtful things to him.
“While living in a group home, I promised myself I would not forget where I came from,” Wayne says. “Right after playing Madison Square Garden, I was reminded of that promise. I made the decision to use my fame to bring awareness to children in foster care by walking halfway across America.”
Wayne spent seven months walking, meeting people and sharing his story about foster care and the number of children who age out of foster care and become homeless. In 2012, he helped pass a bill to extend the age of foster care to 21 in California and Tennessee. Wayne continues to raise awareness for kids by writing, singing and speaking. His book, Walk to Beautiful, is a story worth reading. It's a beautiful reminder of how every person can make a difference in a child's life.