Just like a basketball player, life twists and turns. Melvin Jones is not only a basketball star, but also a top student at Portland State University — and all because his high school coach, Kasey Poirrier, thinks of him as a little brother.
Kasey's mom, Jennifer Annable, was five months pregnant when she moved to Seattle with 50 bucks in her pocket. She worked long hours, struggling to become a teacher. Eventually she became director of a school for children with special needs, but her marriage ended in divorce before she could give Kasey that little brother.
One night Kasey asked his mom: “How would you feel about Melvin coming to stay with us?”
Melvin Jones had just been shoved out of two other high schools and had entered Kasey’s with zero credits. At age 16, he was drifting on the streets of Seattle. “Every time I took him home, I was taking him somewhere else,” Kasey recalled. “We drove around to four or five different places and there were no adults."
Melvin’s mom was dying of AIDS. “He was loved, but not parented,” is how Jennifer put it. So she made up a room for him.
Why would a single mom take on such a challenge? Jennifer’s father grew up in foster care; her mother in an orphanage. Jennifer had opened her home to kids before: Five, in fact, during Kasey’s childhood.
“My dream was always to run an orphanage,” she explained. “When I was a little girl, I had a hundred dolls and I used to line them up on the back porch. Those were my kids.”
Her mom was almost adopted three times, but each time, the couple sent her back. “To think that somebody would take in a child, then give them back,” Jennifer said. She simply wanted to help children like her mom.
Still, she recalled: “Taking in Melvin was one of the hardest things I ever did in the beginning.” He did not trust her. He stashed the groceries she bought him under his bed, afraid some one would steal them.
Melvin resisted Jennifer’s every attempt to become his new mother. “I did not like it at all,” Melvin said. “I fought it.”
Jennifer told Melvin: “ ‘I'm not trying to take anyone's place, but you need a mom!’ ” And she had love enough to help another child.
Still, Melvin's little sister, Marika, was not happy. "Why you wanna go move in with her? She's not family.”
“He was with me,” big sister Lasheka Bousley insisted. “I was trying to figure out why he’d want to go with someone else other than me.”
Melvin simply wanted someone to show him how to study. "Jennifer was like a gnat, like you slappin' at a gnat and it just won't go away."
But he’d never had a curfew, never had to do homework, never had to get up and go to school. He desired a better life, but the reality was hard. “In order to graduate he had to go to night school and he had to go to summer school, every summer,” Jennifer told him.
Melvin rebelled. “I tried to leave the house 1:30, 2 o’clock in the morning, and I’d get into fights with Jennifer.”
Kasey had second thoughts: "Melvin was putting so much strain on my mother that it was kind of breaking her.”
Then Jennifer did the unexpected: She gave Melvin her ATM card and PIN number. Melvin now held her life in his hands just as she held his. "I don't know if I've ever had that number!” Kasey laughed.
"I didn't want to be responsible for Melvin not making it,” Jennifer explained.
There could not be two more different people in the world, and yet they clicked. “Different on the outside, not different on the inside,” Kasey pointed out. “Once he bought into the hard work, to the long hours, to the family, to the changes in his life, he made it."
And now that high school sophomore who came to Jennifer without a single credit is set to graduate from college this spring with grades so high, he's thinking about graduate school. And his sisters now understand what Jennifer and Kasey were doing for their brother.
“I call Jennifer ‘God mom,’ ” Lakesha said with a smile. “No one will ever be able to replace my mom,” she added — but what Jennifer did for Melvin makes her family.
“We never, ever wanted him to leave his family,” Kasey said.
Melvin nodded, thinking of all the hands that have guided him. “I’ve only got two. I could not have done it by myself.”
Just like a basketball player, life twists and turns. Sometimes you simply have to close your eyes and try a long shot, as Melvin did a couple of years ago — a 75-foot toss to win a basketball game at the buzzer. In a sense, that's what Jennifer has done to help him win the game of life.
"She threw a Hail Mary pass,” Melvin smiled. “I guess I caught it"
And together ... they won.
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