College is usually a time of self-discovery: a time when young people party, go to class and have no responsibilities beyond their own needs. One Australian college student found himself taking an entirely different route to learning about life, however – and his story is inspiring people all over the world.
Tommy Connolly was pretty much like any young college student before he made the choice that changed his life. He studied, hung out with his friends and worked part-time for a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Perhaps his greatest hopes centered on his skill as a runner; he trained hard with the goal of someday representing Australia as a championship sprinter.
Image: via Answers
When December arrived and classes let out for the holidays, then, Tommy upped his work hours to full-time and began to put more money into his savings account. And his life seemed to be moving along somewhat unremarkably – that is, until someone new added him as a friend on Facebook.
The Facebook invitation came from Tommy’s 16-year-old cousin Kiarna. Tommy hadn’t actually seen Kiarna for the past ten years, but he nevertheless messaged her back via Facebook and asked about her life.
And Kiarna’s answer stopped Tommy in his tracks. She was homeless, she said, and sleeping outdoors. She had no shoes, no phone and everything she owned was in a single backpack. Worst of all, she was 32 weeks pregnant.
Tommy’s heart was touched by her story. Kiarna explained that she had used hard drugs during her early teen years, but had stopped when she was 15. At 16, however, she had gotten pregnant – and the baby’s father had gone to prison soon afterwards.
What’s more, local child safety services had been tracking her and were ready to put her baby in foster care as soon as it was born. Alone in the world with nobody to help her, Kiarna had reached out to Tommy to see if he could lend a hand.
And seemingly without a thought for the freedom he was giving up, Tommy immediately offered to share his home with Kiarna – as he later wrote on Facebook, to enable his cousin to “keep the baby, stay off the streets and have a better life.”
Informal help to family members is not uncommon, but Tommy’s story is extraordinary because of what he did next. Seeking to offer Kiarna the commitment she had never experienced in her life before, Tommy took an amazing step that went above and beyond the call of duty. Even though he was only six years her senior, he went to the authorities and completed paperwork to become Kiarna’s foster parent.
Image: Google+/Tommy Connolly
When child safety services informed Tommy that his home didn’t meet the foster care requirements, he simply cashed out his savings account and installed Kiarna and himself in a larger rented property. Tommy even took a leave of absence from school and continued to work full-time in order to support the pair of them and the impending new arrival.
And without hesitation, he gave Kiarna the care she so desperately needed during her last few weeks of pregnancy and beyond, even though this and his other commitments kept him almost unbelievably busy.
In fact, Tommy wrote on Facebook in March 2015, “I’ve spent the last few months working, moving houses, having meetings with different departments, signing forms, being assessed and monitored, chasing funds, setting up her bank accounts, buying baby stuff, furniture, going to hospital and doctor appointments and getting [Kiarna] settled in.” Quite a lot, then, for a guy who not long before had been just a carefree college student.
But Tommy took it all in his stride – perhaps why he was shocked when his heroic story went viral after he had shared his experiences with his nearest and dearest on Facebook. “It was family helping family,” he said in a post on the social networking site in April 2015. “That should always be a standard thing.”
Image: via Go Ask Mum
The public response, however, spurred Tommy’s own brother Liam on to post a fundraising page on GoFundMe, as Liam was becoming all too aware that Tommy could not earn enough to provide for his new family. That kind gesture in itself touched the hearts of many around the world – and, within 18 days of the page being posted on the crowdfunding site, it had raised more than $40,000 for the fledgling family.
Now that he is in the role of the only father she has ever known, Tommy is stepping up to give Kiarna the foundation for an independent life while she continues to deal with new motherhood – her son Kaydan was born in March 2015.
And even while the foster father has recommenced his own schooling, he continues to provide opportunities for Kiarna. He took her to an orthodontist and got her the braces she needed, for example, and has aided her in passing her driver’s licence test.
What’s more, Tommy has even given Kiarna a helping hand with her literacy skills. As the young mom told Australian newspaper Sunshine Coast Daily, “[Before] I couldn’t spell to save my life. But when I came here and Tommy was at work, I was bored and I’d text him. So he would spell the word out properly for me.”
Now that Kiarna has a stable place of safety in her life, she is beginning to look toward the future. She has always wanted to be a chef, and that goal no longer seems impossible with the support she has received from her cousin. For the near future, however, she and her son will continue to live with Tommy.
Tommy, meanwhile, has suggested that his selflessness should not be considered out of the ordinary. He explained to the Daily Mail Australia, “I feel guilty getting all this attention… I don’t want people to think it’s a unique thing. I can’t believe how many people have been in these shoes before, and have had no help or support when they were pregnant.”
The rest of the world, however, has seen Tommy for the inspiring hero that he is – and his dedication of his time and energy has not only given a new life to Kiarna and her son, but has uplifted the hearts of thousands of people across the globe.