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After years of abuse, she labored for a compassionate set of parents

VANCOUVER, Wash. (BP)–Not many teenagers get to choose their own parents.
But then, not many teens endure 10 years of sexual abuse from their father and a lifetime of emotional, verbal and physical abuse from the woman they thought was their mother, only to be told at age 15 that she was a stepmother.
That’s why, despite growing up in a two-parent household, Glory Coleman felt alone and lonely. She compensated for the wrongs continually being done to her by becoming an overachiever in some areas, and a hanger-on with the wrong crowd in other areas.
She elbowed her way into a program for at-risk middle schoolers when she was a high school freshman, and there she found the person she wanted to be her mom: Betty Vance.
Vance led the school program for at-risk youth. She found employment for them (1 p.m. to 3 p.m. schooldays) to explore career fields they might want to go into. The idea was to keep at-risk teens in school and to find positive ways of connecting with them to increase their sense of self-worth.
Coleman was the only teen from a two-parent home in the program. And instead of working two hours a day at a hospital (her goal was to be a pediatrician), she’d stay three and four hours, learning and doing much more than she was assigned.
“At first she said she just enjoyed it,” Vance said. “It was only later that she admitted she stayed at work so she wouldn’t have to go home.”
Seven months after Coleman met Vance, the teen’s deepest secret came out.
“I grew up until I was about 11 or 12 believing what my father did to me was right, that this is what fathers and daughters all did. That’s what he told me,” Coleman said. “Then it became obvious from television and the world that it was not right. But I didn’t tell anybody. I was scared to tell, but I really don’t know exactly what I was scared of.”
Coleman’s first words about it to Vance were nebulous enough that Vance cautioned the teen that if she was saying what Vance thought she was saying, she was required by law to report it. Coleman left, but returned in tears some time later. And once she told, Coleman refused to return to the house where her mother, father and younger brother were living.
During the ensuing year-long investigation of her parents, Coleman stayed in a succession of foster homes. Her continual question to Vance: “Why can’t I live with you?”
Brenda and her husband, Tom Vance, then serving as missions director of the Utah-Idaho Southern Baptist Convention, had reared two children. During the 10 years Pam and Stephen been gone even the dog had died. The couple had gotten used to a serene home life and the freedom to come and go as they pleased. She often traveled with him in his work; they grew even closer as a couple.
“We kept on saying, ‘This is crazy,'” Brenda Vance said. “We were taking a risk, having her in our home, a teenage young lady. It would really stifle me because I would have to be at home. Both of us had to go through ‘foster parents’ class’ for six weeks and that was hard to juggle in our schedules. And what about Pam and Stephen? All of a sudden they would have a new sister.
“My principal said don’t do this,” Vance continued. “In fact, everybody tried to say this is not a good idea.”
But it became harder and harder to take Coleman back to a foster home after they’d spent time together.
And now?
“It’s as if she’s always been in our home,” Brenda Vance said. “She’s adopted our whole family just as we have adopted her.” The legal arrangement technically is “guardianship,” upgraded from “foster daughter” when the Vance family moved from Salt Lake City to Boise, Idaho, in connection with Tom’s work for the convention.
That’s where Coleman spent her last two years in high school. That’s where upon graduation last May she received the “Turnaround Student” award. She has entered the Army and, in the years ahead, she plans to earn the college degrees that will enable her to work with children growing up in situations similar to what she endured.
“I’m not ready to leave the nest but I have to go sometime,” Coleman said about her plans. “I have a family who loves me and shows me every single day in everything they do that they love me. I wish I was younger when I first came here, so I could live with them longer.”
It’s not been all smooth sailing.
“I think the hardest times and the tearful times were when she would not share what was going on inside her,” Brenda Vance said. “We had strict guidelines; she wasn’t used to that. We expected to know where she was and what time she would be home — just normal communication, and she wasn’t used to that. And it was hard for her to study and do her homework. She’d never been expected to do that. She came to appreciate those boundaries.
“Even though there’s been hard times, we wouldn’t trade her,” Brenda continued. “I’d do it again if it was a Glory. I’m not sure I would for anybody else, but I’d do it for a Glory.”
Tom Vance, now associate executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, said he has enjoyed Glory being part of their family, even though his wife hasn’t been able to travel with him as often as in the years before Glory joined them.
“It’s been kind of fun having a child back in our home, and there’s the reward of seeing her develop so well,” he said. “Glory added to our family. It’s been a positive experience.”
Because he traveled so much, his wife really bore the brunt of parenting Glory, Vance said.
Brenda Vance offered advice to people considering taking in a foster child. “It’s something you and your husband would have to really pray and talk about extensively, and both of you feel the same way about it,” she said. “Make sure you two are united on that decision.
“You have to love kids,” she added. “It’s quite a struggle. You have to be ready to change. All of a sudden you have to be home again when they get home from school, be ready to listen, to be there. Having teenagers is a busy time in your life.
“And you can’t just give up. Tom and I made a commitment no matter what to get Glory through school.”