During the Summer of Love, Wayne LaRue Smith was twelve and living in a chaotic and violent home in Reno. His bipolar and schizophrenic mother was an alcoholic, and he recalls a home where the police were regularly called and his mother was carted off in a straitjacket more than once. While watching TV one day he saw a glimpse of what life in San Francisco might be like. He bought a bus ticket with his paper route earnings and said goodbye to his brother Ben, one of his five siblings.
When he arrived, like many young people running away, he had no connections and few resources. Eventually, he met Reverend Larry Beggs, who won Wayne’s reluctant trust. Rev. Beggs told Wayne about a place called Huckleberry House. Wayne spent his days at Huckleberry House, playing cards and board games and talking to staff. “They were kind, generous, loving – I had never experienced that before.”
Huckleberry contacted his parents and Wayne returned home. Unfortunately, things got worse. His parents committed him to juvenile detention, reporting him as “incorrigible.” They then sent him to the San Rafael Military Academy, from which he was expelled. He ran away again at age 15 to LA, where his father found him and took him back to the Juvenile Detention.
At age 17, he was able to persuade his father to allow him to join the military. “I joined the Air Force, got my GED, went to college, and became an attorney.” He credits his experience at Huckleberry House as a catalyst for becoming a parent in his adult life. Wayne has fostered thirty three children, so he could “be the parent I didn’t have for kids like me.” Many of the young people placed with Wayne had pretty significant “rap sheets” or behavioral issues.
In the ‘90s, he and his former partner wanted to adopt a child but couldn’t in the state of Florida. They joined the ACLU in a case against Anita Bryant’s “Save the Children” campaign, prohibiting gay couples from adopting. Wayne went on to adopt two sons, Joseph, 21, and Alex, 20.
Now a successful attorney with his own private practice in Florida, Wayne believes that with the right support and nurturing resources, young people can succeed. “I know, first hand, that organizations like Huckleberry make a difference for kids. It was a pivotal experience for me. They create opportunities for young people to turn their lives around. I was on a trajectory to a completely different life. Now I’m on the Board of Governors for the Florida Bar. Often, kids have not had the experience of being valued for who they are in a genuine way. While at Huckleberry House, I got a glimpse of what the world and people in it could be like. I have never forgotten, and that glimpse still inspires me today.”