The congregation at Church in the Wildwood in Green Mountain Falls sent Stephen Moreno, 20, off to a new life with a celebration after the church's March 15 service.
Moreno is moving to Roswell, N.M. as part of a Jobs Corps program where he will live on campus, earn a GED and study auto mechanics. And he’ll be home for Christmas.
While people practiced social distancing and canceled the lunch celebration for Moreno due to restrictions as a result of the coronavirus, nonetheless the send-off was a time for tears and a time for cheers.
“It’s important for us to do this,” said Pastor Darlene Avery, who will be live-streaming the services for at least the next few Sundays.
For most of his life, Moreno has been a part of the congregation which informally “adopted” him to be part of the church family. Over the years, Moreno not only attended church but also helped out, particularly in the kitchen during the community dinners that included the food pantry.
As part of the celebration, the members assembled a photo collage of Moreno’s adventures and experiences over the years, all of them reflecting a happy time for him.
But his life has come with challenges.
“My biological parents had issues with alcohol and drugs so I got into foster care for three years,” he said. From the ages of 6 through 9, Moreno lived at the medical foster home in Green Mountain Falls where he met Donna Everly, a caretaker at the home. “And then I got adopted for a couple of years. But it wasn’t really working out so they moved me to my grandma’s house."
But he needed spinal surgery and returned to Everly’s care in Green Mountain Falls when he was 13.
“She helped with the surgery and kind of put me back together,” he said. “She’s basically been there my whole life and helped me grow up and I’ve been with her ever since.”
Moreno is open about his challenges, physical as well as emotional.
“I have ADHD and had a lot of anxiety and anger issues with my past,” he said. “My mom (Everly) helped me get everything sorted out.”
At the church that morning, the members offered words of encouragement for Moreno, such as the send-off from Jeff Chapman.
“Always remember your faith; God doesn’t let us walk alone,” Chapman said. “You are an amazing young man with courage, compassion and caring. We are so proud of you; we care about you. Peace be with you always.
Danny Brownfield highlighted Moreno’s talent, which ultimately led to the Job Corps.
“The first thing I knew about you is that you knew everything about cars: Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes, you name it. Anything that went fast.” Brownfield said. “I can’t wait to see you come back with your own car. I believe in you. There is nothing you can’t do.”