Any way you cut it, becoming parents when you’re in your teens is tough. Sometimes, life throws in some curves that can make it even more challenging. With the birth of their first child, Phoenix; Patrick and Kaili’s story demonstrates how determination, and some extra support along the way, can make all the difference in taking those challenges in stride.

The young parents first heard of Futures Unlimited’s Early Head Start program from a family friend when they were living with family in Wichita, Kansas. An opportunity to move into another shared housing option opened up in Wellington, a smaller community just south of Wichita. So the family made a move. But the continued challenges of not having their own space, and feeling indebted to others made Patrick feel almost desperate to find employment so the family could become self-sufficient. Being new to a community with few connections, finding the right employment match proved to be more challenging than Patrick was expecting when one particular position he enjoyed, and felt confident doing, suddenly did not work out.

Since their move to Wellington put them in the Futures Unlimited service area for Early Head Start services, the family began meeting with a home visitor from Futures. They soon discovered they were expecting their second child. “The home visitor came to the house and worked with Phoenix and made sure I had OB care,” says Kaili. A few months after Easton was born, Phoenix, at 18 months, was diagnosed with autism. “I was relieved at first because then I knew what kind of services he would need and it explained a lot,” says Kaili of the diagnosis. “But I was also worried that he might not talk or have what I thought at the time was a ‘normal’ childhood.”

One of the key supports Phoenix received initially was speech therapy. “Heather came to the house to work with Phoenix. She would always include Easton, who was not yet a year old, and invite him to participate too,” says Kaili. “Once Phoenix began preschool and had progressed to the point of no longer needing speech therapy, Heather would still check on him and his progress. “If we had a concern, she would stop by and see him. We really appreciated that,” says Kaili. During this time, the home visitor, who had personal experience with autism, would give the family ideas on understanding and helping Phoenix and his interactions with others. “There was fighting because the boys were so close in age, it was like raising twins,” Kaili remembers. “Phoenix didn’t ever want to play with anyone and Easton was always trying to get his attention. The ideas and suggestions we were given helped a lot.”

Patrick would eventually land a job at Wal-Mart, which made their goal to rent a home of their own attainable. Their home visitor would drive around town and let them know if she came across a rental she thought would work for their family. Finally, the family of four found a home and moved in. At first, their excitement was dampened by the lack of electricity and furniture—luxuries they couldn’t yet afford. “Our home visitor encouraged us to celebrate our new home and not feel embarrassed,” shares Kaili. “She made us feel good that we had accomplished that goal.”

While the family settled in, their home visitor continued to meet regularly with the family. They worked on child development, budgeting, and goal setting. “The kids loved the activities brought into our home,” says Kaili. As a devoted father and husband, Patrick attended these meetings as well. “We knew this was important and that it was helping our family,” Kaili shares. “We chose a set time each week and tried our best to commit to it. But if we forgot, we were never made to feel bad about it.”

As the years went by, Patrick received promotions at Wal-Mart. The couple began serving on parent committee and Policy Council at Futures Unlimited– where their boys attended preschool. It was about this time Kaili’s own goal began to resurface: to complete her high school diploma—having missed most of her senior year due to her pregnancy with Phoenix.

Kaili began retaking steps toward her diploma. But those efforts were temporarily sidelined when she changed jobs and found she was expecting their third child, Athena. And soon after, Patrick’s five-year-old sister, Christyna, came to live permanently with the family—these two additions doubling their child count.

“Sometimes it was VERY overwhelming to take care of the kids, work, and do school, because the kids needed so much of my attention. We were getting by financially, but my entire paycheck was going toward daycare expenses,” says Kaili. “My mom’s a CPA so I asked her, ‘mom, can you help me do the pros and cons?’”

Together they decided it was best, for the time being, for Kaili to be a stay-at-home mom. So once again, Kaili started working toward her diploma, except she discovered she was more tired than usual. A pregnancy test confirmed the birth of their fourth child, Reid, would soon be upon them. So, once again, her educational goal was put on hold for a bit. She also took a job at a local daycare, giving her more options to manage her daycare expenses.

With Patrick’s continued success at work and the ever-growing demands of an active family, he decided it was time to get a driver’s license. “I had to make the decision. Did I want to carry on driving without a license, risking being pulled over with my kids in the car and being fined with possible jail time?” Patrick recounts. With testing anxiety derailing his previous efforts for his license, Patrick set a goal to give it another shot. Not long after—and even while pushing through the same nerves and aversion he experienced before—he nailed it! “This was such an accomplishment and helped our family so much,” Kaili affirmed. “Obtaining my license has given me a new perspective,” Patrick shares. “Before, I felt it was my right to drive, not necessarily a privilege. But I now feel my license shows a sense of responsibility and liability. If you drive, you need to be liable for any decisions you make.”

Fueled by the forward progress Kaili felt her family was making, and with Reid now six months old, Kaili thought, “I’m going to get my life together and get this done to show my kids that even adults do school and we can get it done.” At the encouragement of her home visitor, Deana, and with a supportive teacher’s help, Kaili began again. Working diligently night after night, Kaili accomplished her goal in March 2021. “We are really proud of her,” says Patrick. “It took her a good chunk of time—basically Phoenix’s whole life, and he’s almost 9—but I think she did a good job.”

With that goal accomplished and the family now having two licensed drivers, it was time to purchase another vehicle. “My dream car!” gushes Kaili. A beautiful, slick, black Toyota Highlander. “And it fits our whole family!”

“So far, everything is going in a good direction,” says Kaili of the the family’s current state. “In order for us to have reached these goals, it took a lot of family, employer, and home visitor support and encouragement,” says Kaili.

Not to mention two parents who made an eight-year commitment to stay involved in Futures programs and maximize each opportunity presented to them. “They committed to attend all the socializations, Policy Council meetings, home visits, and even a three-day out-of-town family strengthening conference,” says Futures Home Visitor, Deana Farmer. “The sky is the limit for this family.”

By the time their 2-year-old son, Reid, ages out of the programs, the family will have spent 11 years of active involvement with Futures. “We want the best for our kids and know these programs help them thrive,” says Kaili.