Airman provides family, haven for orphans

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
  • 633rd Air Base Wing
As an Air Force first sergeant, Chief Master Sgt. 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, Henry 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 family has always gravitated toward serving those who are, at times, helpless, said Henry. The family has fostered 13 children and adopted two.

“Giving to those who cannot give back is what the true essence of giving is,” he said. “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 family, adopting 10-year-olds Jaylan and Shania, and fostering more than a dozen other children, wasn’t about filling an empty nest after their biological children went to college. The reason was, and still is, to provide safety and well-being until a family is ready to be reunited, and to 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,” Henry said. “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 Henry, some of that sacrifice also came in the form of adjusting to the children’s needs due to their backgrounds, which have included drug addiction, abandonment or physical danger.

“The things you have to endure potentially could be challenging,” he said. “We’ve had some children that had some unique difficulties to navigate through. (The) big picture (is) 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,” Henry said. “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 family found the rewards outweighed the challenges, and their bonds became even stronger.

“Our older two are very compassionate,” Stephanie said. “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 10 siblings because we still counted the kids even after they left.

“They’re our children, even the ones that didn’t stay. Every child that came into our home, it was like we birthed them as our own.”

From taking multiple trips to Disney World, 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,” Henry said. “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 family continues to help the helpless, and they 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,” Henry said. “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 couple found love, family and faith in both.

“If you’re going to do foster care and do it right, they become yours,” Stephanie Hayes said. “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.”