Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Mother's Day Story

I was honored and blessed to be asked to share my story for the Wichita Eagle. This story was printed on Mother's Day 2009 and written by a terrific reporter, Suzanne Tobias. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed and treasure the experience.



Sunday, May 10, 2009
Section: LOCAL & STATE
Edition: main
Page: 1B

WICHITA - Even during the bleakest moments of her childhood, Serena Hanson dreamed of motherhood.

As a young child, when she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In group homes and foster homes, one after another, where she spent her adolescence. And on her own at 17, in a tiny apartment she worked two jobs to pay for.

"To be a mom, a good mom," she says. "That's all I ever wanted."

This Mother's Day, Hanson is living that dream, nurturing her own four children and countless others as a social worker, teacher and advocate for adoption and foster care.

She teaches parenting classes at Youthville, a foster care agency, and is working toward a master's degree in social work at Newman University.
Her children are stairsteps -- ages 8, 6, 5 and 3 -- and her husband works 10- to 11-hour days as a driver for FedEx.

Friends and colleagues call her extraordinary. She says she has "instinctual faith," an optimism and purpose drawn from a childhood of insecurity and doubt.

"I would not be the person I am had I not been in foster care," Hanson said. "So I'm grateful for that. . . . Bad things happen, but that doesn't have to determine who I am or the path I take."

Hanson was abused from about age 5 until middle school, when a friend told a teacher what she knew about Hanson's home life. Authorities took her to the Wichita Children's Home.

That led to a series of group homes and foster homes -- eight moves in all -- for Hanson, who at 12 quickly got the message that she was "too old to be adopted."

She didn't believe it, though.

Still doesn't.

"She was very mature for her years," says Sarah Robinson, director of the Children's Home, who met Hanson when she lived at the home as a girl and has kept in touch ever since.

"She had of course suffered a lot, but she always seemed to have a plan," Robinson said. "She wanted to make the world better for children."

Hanson met her husband, Justin, at Northeast Magnet High School. She was a sophomore; he was a freshman. He saw her in the hall and told a friend, "I'm going to marry that girl."

"It really was like a fairy tale," Justin Hanson said. "She's an extraordinary woman, to be honest with you. She always was."

Her background didn't bother Justin, but it haunted Serena, especially when the couple started talking about marriage and children.

"I heard the statistics about (abused children) being more likely to become abusers or to have a partner who is an abuser," she said. "But I knew Justin, and I knew in my heart that he wasn't that way."

The couple married in 1998, shortly after graduating from high school.
They had their first child, Shawn, in 2000. Serena spent eight years attending classes at Barclay College in Haviland, and earned a degree in psychology and family counseling.

For more than a decade, she has juggled work, school and motherhood. One recent afternoon, she snuggled 3-year-old Sarah on her lap, fluffing the girl's blond curls.

"I want to be an involved parent, because I never had that -- at least not until foster care," she said.

She meets with her children's teachers. She volunteers when she can. She goes to school music programs and cheers from the audience.

And two evenings a week, she teaches MAPP -- Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting -- to families who want to foster or adopt, and she tells them the effect they can have on young lives.

She and Justin want to become foster parents, too. And someday she'd like to do more, possibly lobbying for foster care reform on a state or national level.

"She can really understand the trauma of it, and I think that's very important in order to help others," said Robinson, the Children's Home director.

"She also has this resilience . . . a belief that you've got to get out of your past, no matter how terrible it is, and move forward."

The Hansons will spend this weekend moving forward -- from their Goddard twin home to a larger house where their children can play.

"She always wanted to be a mom, as long as I've known her. Always wanted to have a big family," Justin Hanson said.

And now, "She's the rock of our family."


  1. What an incredible story of redemption! You are an amazing woman!!

  2. I came over from Ms. Mary Snyder's blog on Candance Cameron Bure and came across your blog as well. WOW! what an amazing testimony you have that God has chosen you for all the storm's you must have went through and how scripture says it best That He who began a good work in you will carry it on until the day of Christ Jesus Phil 1:6. Thank you for sharing and being so faithful to the Father.

    In HIM,
    April Lyon