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From Foster Care to Fatherhood: Ray’s Journey to Becoming a Successful Family Man and Youth Mentor [VIDEO]

At KVC, we know we all need connection. And as a preteen, new to foster care, that was exactly what Ray Freeman craved. “From my perspective, as a 12-year-old boy, I had no idea what was happening,” Ray said. But with support from a KVC case manager, Ray experienced an incredible journey to build a life of impact.

foster care storyNow in his 30s, Ray has established a nonprofit jiu-jitsu program in the very community where he grew up. He’s aiming to build just the kind of connections he wished he had as a young person, to make a ripple effect on the Kansas City community at large. Ray was even celebrated recently for his efforts with the coveted Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat honor from the Kansas City Royals! See how his experiences have helped him pay it forward, and established the connections he always hoped for. 

Watch this video to see Ray’s inspiring foster care journey from experiencing child abuse and neglect to becoming a loving husband, a dedicated father, and the leader of One Community Jiu-Jitsu in Kansas City, KS.

The Turning Point

At twelve years old, a big change occurred in Ray’s life that would forever alter his path forward. This change was the moment that Child Protective Services (CPS) stepped in and connected Ray and his siblings (three younger sisters) to KVC. “My birth mother was a single mother who was loving and caring, but lost her parental rights due to her partying ways,” Ray recalls. “There would be times when she would physically discipline us and it would be intense. At times, we were living with roaches and rats. Only now, as an adult, I have realized that things like that aren’t normal.” His father had never been in the picture. 

“One night, mom came home after a night of partying, and beat me and my sisters,” Ray says. The following day at school, a teacher noticed welts on his sister’s body, and that’s when CPS got involved. As a young boy, Ray remembers feeling uncertain about what the future would look like. “I didn’t even know what foster care was,” he says. “In fact, I often thought I was in trouble. It was very much a whirlwind, and I’m sure my sisters would say the same thing.” 

Looking Back: The Foster Care Years

Ray spent some of his most formative years in foster care, from age 12 to 18. “These were six very impressionable years, trying to figure out who I am as a person, needing guidance and things like that,” Ray says, and he actively tried to discern his identity and how he could grow into the kind of man he wanted to become. 

Throughout this time, Ray moved homes a few different times. Sometimes the move was so the siblings could live together in a new home or because a relative stepped forward to provide care. Other times, a move happened because a family decided to discontinue providing foster care.

Another part of his journey was presented to Ray when, at 14, was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. This inflammatory disease of the digestive tract can have life-threatening complications, and for a 14-year-old navigating teenage years while in foster care, it was a lot to handle. “This diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease added an extra layer of stress, especially when life didn’t really have a bright outlook in the first place,” Ray reflects. Without the continuity of a supportive family, Ray had to figure out how to take care of his health for survival, and it was no small feat.

But today, Ray reflects on how his tumultuous childhood made him into the person he is today. As an adult, Ray felt eager to take on the world. He enrolled in college at Kansas State University. “And that’s where my adulthood really begins,” Ray says.

KVC’s Impact on Ray’s Life

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Ray with his former case manager, Maureen

At KVC, we know that we all need community. We positively impact the communities we serve by removing obstacles to treatment and care for children and families in need and providing the necessary support for children and families to develop healthy lives. Case managers, therapists, social workers and other providers all work together to ensure the clients in their care are safe — and many of these providers leave a lasting impact on the people they serve. 

Ray recalls one KVC team member in particular who made a transformational mark on his life: his case manager, Maureen. Maureen’s dedication to Ray and his siblings was truly remarkable. “She made sure my needs were taken care of, and pointed me in the right direction,” Ray says.

“She genuinely wanted to see me do well,” Ray said. “It was a powerful experience to have someone root for me, especially when I didn’t have a whole lot of people rooting for me.”

The Game Changer

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As a young adult looking for confidence, Ray’s world changed yet again after taking his first steps into a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school. “To build your character, you have to first break everything down that you’ve ever done. It humbles you. It’s a reality check.” 

As Ray’s martial arts practice grew from a hobby into a passion, he realized he had found something that had been missing from his life before. While he valued jiu-jitsu as a workout, Ray also gained a sense of empowerment. He also connected with great friends who invested in him and helped him grow.

“It’s just really beautiful,” he says of his jiu-jitsu practice. “I’m not sure how I’d be making it in life or where I’d be without it.” Because of his experience, Ray actively advocates for children, especially those connected to KVC, to get involved with jiu-jitsu. 

Transforming Lives Through Jiu-jitsu

Today, Ray spends his time with his wife and son while also working with his nonprofit organization, One Community Jiujitsu. He intentionally opened his martial arts studio in Wyandotte County in Kansas City, KS: where Ray was born and raised, and where no other facility like this exists. Ray’s facility minimizes financial barriers in an effort to serve those who wouldn’t otherwise experience jiu-jitsu. “My goal is to create as few hurdles as possible, so that they can have access to this,” Ray says.

Ray has big goals for his studio and the community as a whole. His mission is to not only give people a way to connect to themselves and those around them but to also help lower violence in the area, improve mental health, and become a leader and inspiration to others. 

foster care storyIn Ray’s words, “We are a very small nonprofit, but I have very big dreams.” Since opening in early 2020, he’s achieving his goals and people are noticing. 

Recognizing Ray’s Incredible Journey and Impact

And Ray’s accomplishments are drawing attention from others too — most recently, from the Kansas City Royals themselves! Ray was honored for his contributions to the community with the prestigious Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat from the Kansas City Royals. “It was the definition of surreal!” Ray smiles. This honor is given to citizens who are making an instrumental impact in the Kansas City community, and Ray fits the bill. As Ray’s KVC case worker puts it, “He’s broken the cycle.”

Are you ready to make a difference in a child’s life? Become a foster parent today and provide a loving and stable home for children in need. Your support can help shape their future and create a brighter tomorrow. Embark on the first step of your foster care journey by submitting this form to learn more about the process and the impact you can make.

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