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His brothers' and sister's keeper: Methodist Home for Children helps siblings stay together

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Tyanna Robertson, 21, will be a featured speaker at Thursday's First Chance for White Pants, a fundraiser for Methodist Children's Home. “They definitely helped us stay together," she said of the organization, which helped Tyanna's older brother to adopt her and her siblings.

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By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Between National Siblings Day and Father's Day is Foster Care Month. Tyanna Robertson has one person to thank on all three occasions.

For more than a decade, her brother, Tyson, has been more than a sibling. At age 21, he took in Tyanna and her twin brother, Tyshawn, who were 9 at the time. He later fostered and adopted his three youngest siblings.

“My older brother has always been our parent,” Tyanna said. “He's always been that for us.”

Tyanna will share her family's story in Greenville on Thursday at a fundraiser for Methodist Home for Children. The 21-year-old ECU senior hopes to encourage others to support youth in foster care, who are less likely to attend college than their peers and are even less likely to graduate.

“Although I don't have the traditional foster story, I want them to know they can do it too,” she said.

Tyanna, who plans to pursue a career in social work, can hardly remember a time when social workers were not a part of her life. Growing up in New York, she recalls regular visits from the Department of Social Services. Those visits continued when the family moved to North Carolina, where Tyson previously had moved to attend school.

Although Tyson tried to help his mother, it appeared that she was going to lose custody of his younger siblings. So Tyson stepped in as a parent to Tyanna and Tyshawn.

“It wasn't a question,” Tyson, 33, said in a telephone interview from his home in Raleigh. “Once I found out that things were not going so well for my mother and she was going to allow them to go into the system, I couldn't allow that to happen. They'd been around in my life for too long. I wouldn't even be able to do anything in life if that was to happen to them.”

Becoming a parent to a brother and sister who were nearly half his age meant that Tyson's life would have to change. First, his college career would be cut short so that he could put in more hours to support the family. Later, some of the video games that he enjoyed would need to be sold. Between his full-time job and his work at home, there was little time to play them. Besides, the family needed the money.

“It wasn't easy,” Tyson said. “There were a lot of things I had to give up.

“I just really wanted them to grow up different from the way I grew up,” he said. “I just wanted the best for them.”

Tyanna remembers her older brother being fatherly when it came to his siblings getting their chores or homework done. Still, in many ways, he acted like a brother, coming into his sister's room and inviting her to play video games with him.

None of that seemed out of the ordinary to Tyanna, who recalls that even while Tyson was a teenager living in his mother’s home, he was seen as the disciplinarian for her and Tyshawn.

“When I was young, I did not think he was young to do that at all,” Tyanna said. “It never registered with me until probably really now because I'm 21. I never really thought (about it). … I didn’t think it was abnormal for him to have us at that age.”

Tyson also wanted to have custody of his youngest brother, Travon, who had been taken from his mother and placed in foster care. But despite the fact that Tyson was working 60 or more hours a week, the family was struggling financially.

When Methodist Children's Home Adoption Supervisor Michelle Kennedy learned about the family's situation, she helped arrange for Tyson to complete training to become a licensed foster parent on his way to legally adopting his siblings.

“He did not want to rely on the system for anything,” Kennedy said. “He wanted to work for every dollar he earned. He wanted to make sure that his siblings were cared for and they were not another statistic in the system.

“Siblings adopting siblings, I don't see that very often,” she said. “... As a young adult, he had a lot on his plate. He needed something to offset some of those other costs.”

In addition to helping Tyson identify financial resources the family was qualified to receive, MHC also connected the Robertsons with other services, including the Hackley Education & Learning Program. The program, designed to support higher-education goals of students who have been in foster care, provided Tyanna with a mentor and helped her to get a car.

During the school year, she travels from Greenville to Raleigh most weekends to spend time with her brothers. On weekdays, she and Travon, 13, use FaceTime so that Tyanna can help him with his homework.

She spends her summers in Raleigh, where she has worked at the Jordan Child & Family Enrichment Center, a childcare center run by Methodist Home for Children. Director Katherine Hutchens did not know that Tyanna had first-hand experience with MHC until Tyanna told her story at a luncheon for the organization.

“You don't see that there's all of this she has overcome to be where she is,” Hutchens said. “But it makes it that much more impressive.

“We're proud of her on so many levels throughout the agency and just excited about how she will continue to give back.”

While her experience is not a typical one, Tyanna feels she can relate to others who have grown up in the foster care system. She hopes her success can help to inspire them.

“They can beat the statistics,” she said. “Just because people say you can't do it doesn't mean you're not going to do it.”

Tyson hopes that his family’s story also will move people to consider fostering, perhaps even to help members of their own families.

“If you can, why not?” he asked. “For me, family is everything, so I keep my family close. I believe that my family belongs with me. They're my family.”

Want to help?

First Chance for White Pants will be held from 6-10 p.m. Thursday at the Hilton Greenville, 207 S.W. Greenville Blvd. The event, a fundraiser for Methodist Home for Children, will feature dancing and live music with the band Liquid Pleasure, along with an auction.

Tickets are $75 and include food and beverages. Visit firstchance.mhfc.org to buy tickets. Contact Cindy Tripp at ctripp@mhfc.org or call 717-6505.

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