Man moves forward from foster child to advocate
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — There were times when Brandon Rutledge wasn’t sure where his next meal or his next night of sleep would come from.
The son of a single mother who struggled with addiction living in Memphis, Rutledge was often homeless, spending nights with the friends whose parents would allow him to stay with them for a time.
That all changed the summer before his eighth grade year of school when a fire fighter who was a mentor to him called him to his kitchen table for a conversation.
“A police car pulled up in the driveway, and I nearly ran away because that’s what I’d usually do when the cops showed up,” said Rutledge, who’s now 24 years old and living in Jackson. “But I didn’t because he said the officer was a friend of his who’d help me out.
“And it turns out he did more than help me. He changed the entire direction of my life.”
The firefighter — who was one Rutledge would stay with from time to time — said he needed stability in his life that his mother couldn’t provide at the time. The police officer was there to take him to the local Department of Children’s Services office to get him into foster care.
That kitchen table conversation still affects Rutledge now, as he helps children in foster care and foster care parents working for the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home as a recruiter for foster parents and trainer as well as an advocate for children in foster care.
Due to different circumstances, Rutledge was in 10 foster homes over the course of his eighth grade through junior years of school.
The first home he was placed in was in Collierville, and he met a school resource officer at Schilling Farms Middle School, Patrick Addison.
“I remember being in his office and seeing a big Bible on his desk and asking him - kind of mockingly — what was in that Bible, because I didn’t know about Jesus Christ or anything in the Bible,” Rutledge said. “And I don’t remember anything else about that conversation.”
Weeks after that, Rutledge changed foster homes and schools, and he repeated that pattern until his junior year, when he landed at Houston High School, where he was enjoying life playing football and working part time at McDonald’s.
What helped him enjoy life there was not long after he transferred there, he was told to go meet with the criminal justice teacher at the school after lunch.
“I went to his room, and he asked if I remembered him, which I didn’t,” Rutledge said. “And it was Patrick. He remembered me three years later, and he asked me if I remembered being in his office asking about his Bible, and that was all I remembered.”
Children in foster care often have to change homes because of nothing they did, and that happened to Rutledge.
“I remember dumping some chicken nuggets into the fryer and getting a text message on my phone, and it was my DCS case worker telling me the home I was in was getting shut down and they would be placing me somewhere else,” Rutledge said. “They couldn’t find a home close to Houston that would take an 18-year-old, so I was forced to move.”
Word got around to the football team and other members of the school community when he missed school and practice for a week before arrangements were made to keep him at Houston High.
“I went back to practice, and Patrick was there and asked me how I was doing and what was going on,” Rutledge said. “I told him and then he asked me if I’d want to come live with him and his wife.
“He could take me to school and make sure I got to practice and home, so of course I said yeah to that.”
Patrick and his wife are about 10 years older than Rutledge, and they had an 18-month-old child of their own.
Rutledge had become a member of the family in a short time, but he was just glad to have a support system that he wasn’t necessarily tied to for a long period — until he got a call from other foster family members.
“Patrick and his wife lived across the road from her parents, Andy and Cathy, and we’d go over to their house every Sunday after church for lunch and I got to know them real well,” Rutledge said. “And then after a few months, they asked me to come over to their house for a conversation.”
Just like the conversation at the kitchen table before eighth grade, Rutledge’s life changed with another option.
“Andy and Cathy both said they’d gotten a leading from God to adopt me,” Rutledge said. “And they were a great couple who previously had no interest in doing much more than maybe helping me out financially or whatever as Patrick fostered me until I aged out, but they both got word from God to make me permanently a part of their family.”
Rutledge didn’t immediately say yes, but he didn’t wait long to do it either.
“At first I didn’t know if I wanted to be tied to anybody, but then I saw that this family wanted me to be a part of their family and wanted to know me and help me become a better person and raise me even though I was already almost grown,” Rutledge said. “I couldn’t say no to that.”
Rutledge’s adoption meant a more solid life for himself, and he’s parlayed that into a career that’s also a calling for him.
He graduated from Houston and went to college at Union, where he majored in social work and graduated in 2017.
He worked for a few years in college and thereafter as an advocate for children in the foster care system before being hired by Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home in November of 2017.
“At first I didn’t want to do social work, but it was actually Patrick who suggested it because of my experiences,” Rutledge said. “And it turned out that I love doing it and love doing what I can to connect children with families that need each other more than maybe each other realize until they get connected.”
Rutledge has a relationship with his birth mother, who’s gotten sober and works in Memphis managing a restaurant.
“We talk a couple times a month, and she’s doing well now,” Rutledge said. “And I’m enjoying my life with a lot going on now that’s all good, and I’ve got another family that loves me and has taken care of me.
“If it hadn’t been for that one conversation in that kitchen, I’m sure I’d be in prison right now or on my way to prison. But my life is totally different because of foster care, and I’m glad to hopefully have that effect on children now. And we need more parents to be available to play that role for children that need it too.”