This story has the twists and turns of an old apple tree…
Paul Hresko had been working with a Detroit priest helping children who were critically ill. A cancer survivor who’d lost a leg was uncomfortable removing her prosthesis at a public pool. Paul, from Elk Rapids, MI, heard about a large home nearby with an indoor swimming pool. The house, Pine Hollow, was owned by philanthropist Leslie Lee. Paul and Leslie became friends. Leslie invited the amputee to swim.
Meanwhile, Paul and wife Patti, who’d been “unable to conceive,” were asked by a relative to do family foster care. Paul was busy with business and community, including overseeing Ed Lantzer’s religious murals (see recent blog post “Diamonds of wood spark inspiration”). Patti was a nurse at Munson Hospital in Traverse City.
Paul did what he does when undecided. He prayed. For a while, he “didn’t feel an answer.” Coincidentally, he’d brought author Stephen Covey Jr. to Elk Rapids to speak to a local group. As Covey talked about being a father, Paul thought: “God, speak to me. And please be bold.” Twirling a pen in his fingers, he felt an indentation. He looked down. Engraved on that pen, under the sign of the cross: World’s Best Dad.
Paul told Patti: “I got my sign.”
In November, 2008, Nathan, almost 5, and Jayden, 7 months, moved in. The Hreskos regularly drove them to Genesee County, where they were from, for court-ordered supervised visits with their birth mother. Paul and Patti fell in love with the boys.
2 years later, a court ordered the boys’ return to their birth mother. She moved them to Detroit. The Hreskos drove downstate each month to bring the boys back to Elk Rapids on weekends. “We wanted to let them know we were still here for them,” Paul says. When he returned them to Detroit, “They’d beg, ‘Daddy, don’t leave us. We’ll be good.’ I’d drop them off and cry for hours.”
Patti had taught the boys about “good touch and bad touch.” Jayden, she says, “began acting out.” Talking to him, she suspected he’d been sexually violated. Concerned, she called his mother, who proved less concerned.
Earlier, Paul and Patti had tried to adopt the boys. 7 social workers recommended terminating parental rights of the biological mother. A judge in Flint disagreed. After 2 years in Detroit, the boys were back in Elk Rapids. In 2013, the Hreskos returned to court, this time in Antrim County (northern MI). That judge approved. On June 25, 2014, “these amazing little guys” became Nathan and Jayden Hresko.
Meanwhile, Paul had vowed to do something meaningful to improve the foster child system. He invited 17 influential people to a meeting at Pine Hollow. Homeowner Leslie came as well. They brainstormed ideas to improve foster care and how Pine Hollow could be involved. If they formed a non-profit, Leslie volunteered to gift them the estate.
The group formed the Pine Hollow Institute (PHI). They hired CEO Dale Hull. His impressive background included having started the Petoskey-based C.S. Lewis Festival and also Crooked Tree Arts Center. They began holding or planning retreats on various subjects. Coping with grief. Post-adoptive training. Children’s advocacy.
Pine Hollow (16,000 sf; 10 years to build) is a stunning home constructed of indigenous materials (limestone, white oak, etc.) intended to last 500 years. Paul considered the atmosphere “like being in the embrace of God.” Learning that PHI, in Greek, has a numerical value of 500, Paul believed the association was meant to be.
But—as my mother used to say—“No good deed shall go unpunished.” Problems arose. PHI applied for a special use permit to operate a non-profit group retreat in a residential area. The move was deemed a tax dodge by city officials. Neighbors feared Pine Hollow would become a drug rehab center and attract troubled teens. In June, PHI withdrew its application.
Having begun this effort with high hopes and good intentions, Paul is disappointed. Still, he hasn’t given up on his ultimate goal—to improve the foster care system. For now, he and Patti are busier than ever driving their new sons to gymnastics classes and baseball games. And Nathan and Jayden are in NoMI heaven.
(Good luck, Paul and Patti, with your challenges AND your charges. Having raised 2 boys, I know how much work they are!)