It was four years ago my nephew Dakota was failing in school, getting into fights, fighting with his parents and the rest of the family, and experimenting with alcohol and marijuana.
As his Aunt I have known Dakota and been a part of his life from the very beginning. I always knew he was a good boy with a big heart. Even as a little boy he was a big kid. His size had always been a challenge. When I took him to playground to be with other kids, he would be playing and then something would happen and the parents would get upset because he had pushed a kid. I’d be told that he should be playing with kids his own age, and I would say, “he’s only 3 years” old but he looked like he was 5. I was afraid he was becoming a bully.
With the support of his grandmother we enrolled him at Sonoma Taekwondo. He studied under Patrick Hoffman from the time he was 5 until he was 12. For the first year most of his three-times-a-week class was spent sitting on the floor and watching.This discipline changed him and taught him how to manage his energy and size, and it showed me that Dakota’s environment was key to his success.
With his parents getting divorced, and subsequently remarrying, Dakota’s home front was very inconsistent and turbulent.
Over the next year, Eric and I noticed that he was going down hill and needed a much more stable environment. We knew we had to do something for him, as he was getting ready to enter high school, so we suggested Hanna.
Dakota’s Uncle Eric and I both grew up in Sonoma and knew people who had gone to Hanna, yet we didn’t really know what Hanna was about.
We set up an appointment. Myself, Uncle Eric, Dakota’s grandfather and Dakota met with Father Crews at Hanna. That day the decision was made that Dakota would attend Hanna.
As a family, we were relieved and felt that Dakota had been given a remarkable opportunity (I’m crying as I write these words).
Dakota made this life changing decision for him-self, with our support, and it has proven to be better than any of us could have imagined.
From the moment Dakota entered Hanna, they made it all about him. He began to feel safe and gained self-confidence. We watched him grow as Hanna mentored and groomed him into a leader, someone who has no fear of talking in front of large groups like the Rotary Club of Pacifica.
Hanna truly has a pulse on each boy. I remember being concerned about Dakota’s behavior when he was a sophomore and I contacted his Hanna caseworker, Kevin Thorpe. During that conversation Kevin said the staff had been aware of this attitude and that they were already working with him.
Hanna has given Dakota an amazing chance and he as taken it. Everywhere Dakota now goes people love to be around him and has used his big size to play Varsity basketball and baseball since his freshman year. He is now an honor student with goals of going to a U.C. college.
I don’t believe this could have happened without Hanna Center—from the profoundly committed staff, to the directors and the janitors—Hanna isn’t just an institution for troubled boys, but rather a huge family filled with love and support… and they never give up.
We are proud of Dakota for being a Hanna boy and are grateful for everything Hanna does to change the lives of the boys. It has been an honor to be a part of this journey with Dakota and all those we have met over the last four years. — Anne Woltering, Proud Aunt of Dakota