Profile: Melinda Ryan

Melinda Ryan

Dignity Health Nurse Helps Teens Navigate Tough Times

After years spent raising their two children, Melinda Ryan and her husband are now empty nesters. Their children - both in their early 20s - are grown and living on their own. Although Melinda still works full time as a Registered Nurse in Mercy San Juan Medical Center's Cardiac Surgery ICU, she thought her free time would be exactly that - time for herself. And yet - something was missing. "I didn't know I had this need," she explains. "But now, this feels right. I'm good at it and I'm glad I am doing it."

What Melinda is doing is serving as a temporary support system for children and young adults whose own parents are unable to care for them. Melinda and her husband volunteer through the organization Safe Families for Children - a Christian alternative to traditional foster care. Since 2005, Safe Families for Children has offered sanctuary to thousands of children, minimizing the risk for abuse or neglect and giving parents the time and tools they need to help their families thrive. Safe Families' ultimate goal is to strengthen and support parents so they can again care for their own children. There is no money involved and families like the Ryans are not compensated for their service. "It is really about extending Biblical hospitality to at-risk families," explains Melinda. "Most people have a safety net to catch them during times of crisis, but some people don't. Safe Families provides that safety net."

Safe Families will find temporary homes for children whose parents are in crisis due to hospitalization, short jail sentences, and rehabilitation or housing issues. Children who are eligible for Safe Families are not abused. Their biological parents maintain custody and work toward being able to care for them again once their crisis is resolved. Host families must provide food, housing, support, and, most importantly, parenting and guidance.

Safe Families is geared toward children 17 and younger, Melinda and her husband have discovered that they can best serve by caring for older teenagers, who are typically more challenging to place. "These are kids who may not have had boundaries or rules, previously," says Melinda. "We raised our two kids and so we remember the importance of saying what you mean and meaning what you say. We instill that in the kids who stay with us."

The Safe Families kids who have stayed with the Ryans have stayed for several months. During that time, they have earned high school diplomas... Enrolled in community college... Learned to drive...Gotten their first job... And even bought a car. "We are trying to help them learn to become productive members of society," says Melinda. "It's not always easy and it's not always successful. But we are extending grace to people who are hurting and have been hurt. And that's what Safe Families is all about."

This past Christmas, the Ryans celebrated the holidays with Felecia, their second Safe Families teenager. Felecia attended all of their family activities and exchanged gifts with the family. She is employed, going to college and paying her own bills. Soon, she will move out on her own. For Melinda, that makes it all worth it. "A happy ending isn't really the goal - it's all about the process and the skills they can learn along the way. And I feel good about what she's learned and the hospitality we've been able to extend to her."

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