April 15, 2016

‘The father I always wanted’: Youth, Terre Haute Catholic Charities employee’s bond a story of mercy, faith

In this April 4 photo at Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, employee Dan Snider holds the letter that Anthony LePorte wrote to him at the age of 14, stating that Snider was “the father I always wanted.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

In this April 4 photo at Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank, employee Dan Snider holds the letter that Anthony LePorte wrote to him at the age of 14, stating that Snider was “the father I always wanted.” (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

TERRE HAUTE—John Etling, director of Terre Haute Catholic Charities, describes the organization’s Ryves Youth Center this way: “The role that Ryves plays in the neighborhood and the city is one of unconditional love, a chance for children to come in and experience a warm meal, a chance to find that there are people in the community who care about them and want to see them reach their potential.”

Former Ryves Youth Center staff member and now Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank employee Dan Snider has taken that description and put every aspect of it into action.

It all started nine years ago, says Snider, when “I saw this little black-haired boy dribbling down the court playing basketball.” That boy was Anthony LePorte.

In the nearly decade of time that followed, Snider has provided Anthony with a home, food, clothing, an education, and yes, even discipline as the boy’s mother battled drug addiction. He has come to love Anthony as a son, and Anthony has come to love Snider in return, occasionally calling him “Dad.”

This is a story of ongoing mercy and faith, in which both mentor and youth feel the richness of blessing.

‘They didn’t have anywhere to go’

Snider, then 56, hadn’t seen “the little black-haired boy” before and asked where he came from.

“I was told he [Anthony LePorte] and his mom [Janice Wright] were staying at Bethany House,” the homeless shelter operated by Terre Haute Catholic Charities, he recalls. “I found out their car had broken down on the highway in Terre Haute, and they were [at Bethany House] because they didn’t have anywhere to go.

“It wasn’t long after that that I found out Janice was wanting someone to take care of him while she entered a drug treatment program. She didn’t want her son in the [foster care] system. But she wanted a safe place for him to be.”

Snider offered to keep Anthony, then age 7. After talking extensively with Snider, Janice decided it would be a good match.

Snider remembers Anthony’s first night at his temporary home. He let the boy get settled into his new room, then came to check on him. The bedroom door was locked.

“I got the key and unlocked it,” says Snider. “I said, ‘Anthony, you’re safe here. I just wanted to see if you wanted anything to eat before you go to bed. It’s OK for you to lock the door if you feel better.’ ”

Before too long, Anthony felt comfortable leaving the door unlocked. Snider saw that the young boy got to school each day, and took Anthony with him daily to the Ryves Youth Center during the summer.

Meanwhile, Janice was allowed to visit when she could. If it was a Sunday, she would join them at Snider’s place of worship, First Church of the Nazarene in Terre Haute.

After 120 days, Janice was released from treatment, and Snider helped move her and Anthony into an apartment.

Early the next fall, with Snider still serving as an educational contact for Anthony, he got a call from the school that Anthony had not attended class. He checked at their home.

“They had moved,” he says. “I was just sick. I didn’t hear anything. I prayed for that little boy and his mom every night.”

‘He calls you his dad’

About two months after they left, Snider got another call. It was Janice. She called to say they were in Texas.

“She said, ‘Anthony is talking about you, and I hope it doesn’t bother you but when he talks to other kids he calls you his dad,’ ” Snider remembers. It didn’t bother him in the least.

After a few months and several phone calls, Janice said they wanted to come back to Terre Haute but that Bethany House was full. After she assured Snider she was not using drugs, he told her she and Anthony could stay with him until they found an apartment.

While it turned out Janice was still struggling with her addiction, Snider recognized in her a caring and loving mother.

“She loved Anthony immensely,” Snider says. “He was her world. When she was in the treatment program, she called Anthony every night to pray with him. She gave him a background of believing in God and of faith that stays with Anthony yet today.”

After three months, mother and son were living in an apartment that Snider helped furnish.

“I’d see him at the youth center every day and got to talk with him. He’d follow me around,” he says with a chuckle of the then-8- or 9-year-old boy.

Once again, Snider served as Anthony’s educational contact. And once again, after about a year, he received a call from the school saying Anthony was not there.

‘You have to hold true to the rules you set’

Eventually, Janice called. He paid for bus tickets for her and Anthony to return to Indianapolis and for one night’s lodging at a hotel. After that night, mother and son stayed in the home of another family in Terre Haute.

Snider recalls Anthony, 13 by this time, visiting him toward the end of his seventh-grade school year. He asked Snider if he could stay with him for the first week of summer break. Snider agreed.

One week turned into two, and then the whole summer, with Anthony helping Snider on a delivery truck for the Terre Haute Catholic Charities Foodbank.

By the end of the summer, Anthony asked Snider if he could just live with him. His mom had lived in three different places within three months, and Anthony liked the stability he found in Snider’s care.

But that stability didn’t mean life was all fun and games at Snider’s. During Anthony’s eighth-grade year of school, he became well-acquainted with Snider’s ability to discipline.

After Anthony received a teacher complaint, detentions, low grades and was kicked off a school bus, Snider took action.

“I took the day off and followed Anthony to each of his classes,” he says. “By the end of the day, he was embarrassed enough that he didn’t want that to happen again!”

Snider spoke to Anthony about his treatment toward his teacher.

“I said, ‘She doesn’t deserve to be treated the way you treat her. You’re not representing Jesus Christ very well, the way you have treated her.’ That struck a chord with him.”

His behavior improved, as did his grades. But Anthony was still grounded for a quarter during his freshman year in high school when his report card listed a missed assignment—a breach of responsibility that Snider promised Anthony would result in being grounded.

“You have to hold true to the rules you set,” says Snider, a divorced father of two. “Kids need to know that they can trust you’ll do what you say.”

‘He wasn’t obligated to do anything’

Anthony was still living with Snider last fall. He was 15, a high school sophomore and an honor roll student.

“Most times he calls me Dan,” says Snider. “But once in a while he slips and calls me Dad. When he does call me Dad, it makes me very proud.”

Sadly, Anthony’s mother passed away late last year, despite managing her addiction for a year. Anthony now lives with his grandmother in North Carolina. But he talks to Snider frequently and hopes to stay with him this summer, helping again on the foodbank delivery truck.

“I didn’t have a father,” says Anthony, now 16. “[Dan has] taught me a lot that a mother can’t [usually] teach a male. I learned how to work on cars a little bit, I know how to mow a lawn, how to be handy. I learned how to fix a toilet.”

But Anthony admits to learning much more than handy skills from Snider.

“He taught me morals, like how to put others before yourself, don’t be selfish, don’t be so single-minded, think of others instead of yourself—that’s the main thing,” says Anthony. “And he helped me grow in my faith. My mom taught me about Jesus, going to church and reading the Bible, but [Snider] was the enforcer. He got up and went to church. He’s a real spiritual person. I’ve learned a lot from that [example].”

And the day Snider spent trailing him at school, and the time he was grounded for missing an assignment? Anthony learned a lot from that, too.

“I haven’t had missing assignments since then—I learned my lesson,” he says with a chuckle. “He stuck to his word, and that’s a big thing. You don’t want someone who says, ‘Next time you hit your brother I’ll ground you,’ and you hit your brother and they say, ‘Next time.’ You never learn anything. Him sticking to what he said really taught me something I can show my kids some day.”

Snider served as more than a role model for Anthony in terms of discipline.

“Someone you look up to, you watch everything they do,” says Anthony. “You do what they do. Him getting up and going to church, I did too because I did what he did, looking up to him. How he treats other people—which is obviously positive—I see that. He set good examples, doing good things for people.

“I’ve volunteered the last few summers at [Terre Haute] Catholic Charities Foodbank. I see him working for this great cause. I volunteer because I think that’s the right thing to do, because [Snider] did it.”

Anthony recognizes that he is unconditionally loved by Snider.

“He wasn’t obligated to do anything he did for me,” Anthony admits. “He did it because he loved me. I’d say I’m pretty blessed.”

He expressed that sentiment in a letter he wrote to Snider at the age of 14. Snider now keeps the letter in a frame and reads its contents from time to time. The line that brings him to tears reads, “You’re the father I always wanted.”

“God’s blessed me throughout my life with opportunities to serve [others],” Snider says. “I’m so blessed with having known Anthony, known his mother and been a part of their life and been able to help in some small way.

“I miss having him with me. And I worry about him. God put me in his life and his mother’s life for a reason. I love them both.” †

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