RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – It is a lesson in selfless love and responsibility. And administrators in the Chesterfield school district are hopeful that it will be spread to hundreds of their students.
Susan Tom has two children of her own and she adopted and raised 11 children with special needs. Her story was featured in an HBO documentary called "My flesh and blood". And she shared her story to students in Chesterfield through the SUCCESS program. Susan joins us now along with Kristin Breslin the program coordinator for SUCCESS.
Ryan Nobles: Susan, I'm going to start with you. How have you been able to turn this really incredible experience with your family into lessons for these high school students?
Susan Tom: Well, I think that most people thought I was crazy, so in dealing with kids and all that they have been through and they look at my children and what they have been through, they can relate and move beyond, you know. Sometimes in high school, kids get stuck in their ideas or how they feel and they think high school will be there forever, and then they see my kids moving on and enjoying life, and doing things that everyone else does, and it inspires them to move on and not be so stuck in the high school phase.
Ryan Nobles: Kristen, how have the students responded to Susan's message so far?
Kristin Breslin: Like you would a rock star. They love Susan and they love the visits with Susan, but what they take away from her message to them is they don't have it bad. That they sometimes -- as Susan said, they get stuck in their lives and the problems that they have and we do have kids with a lot of issues, but they're able to move beyond that because they see the successes that her kids have had with their various situations.
Ryan Nobles: Obviously, Susan, your story as remarkable one, enough that it became a documentary on HBO and we have video of that documentary but obviously as you've already mentioned, these kids aren't expected to live the kind of life you have. How do they draw small examples out of your experience to apply to their own lives?
Susan Tom: You mean in the documentary?
Ryan Nobles: No, not necessarily the documentary but just your life in general, your life story. They're not going to live the life you have, but how do they take lessons from what you've experienced to apply to their own lives?
Susan Tom: The high school kids?
Ryan Nobles: Yes.
Susan Tom: I think that when they start watching the movie, they think, oh, my gosh, you know, these kids will never do anything and by the end of the movie, they realize that they're just like them. They just have different ways of doing things. So they're not handicapped, they're just differently-abled.
Ryan Nobles: Right.
Susan Tom: And from that, they know that they can do anything. If you put your mind it to, you can take that leap and you can do anything.
Ryan Nobles: Great. Kristen, Susan, thank you for sharing your stories. I'm adoptive father myself, and it's exciting to have you on, I appreciate you being here.
Susan Tom: Thank you.
Kristin Breslin: Thank you.
See the video at right for the full interview.