Teacher Debbie could tell that Maddy, a 10-year-old in her class was acting a bit peculiar. She could tell that something was off, so she decided to ask her what was was wrong.
Debbie needed to understand the situation that was going on.
But when she found out she’d be calling 911.
Debbie Griffin loved her job. She got to shape the minds of the future but also nurture them and help them grow.
She knew that some children had less than idyllic home lives and always wanted her children to confide in her if they needed to.
That’s when Debbie noticed something wrong.
Maddy wasn’t arriving on time for school anymore. She also always seemed fatigued and not enthusiastic. Debbie decided to trust her teacherly instinct.
Maddy didn’t even play with the other children during their recess.
She spent it napping instead, Debbie had to get to the bottom of it.
Making A Connection
It was obvious that something was wrong with Maddy and Debbie knew that she’d do whatever it took to try and make things better for the little girl.
She decided to sit her down and listen to what she had to say, but after speaking with her, she realized that Maddy was having problems at home.
She had to get to the bottom of it.
New In Town
Debbie knew very little about Maddy’s home life because she had only been at the school for a few weeks.
All she did know was that Maddy and her dad had arrived in the town of Lakewood, recently, and nobody knew much about the pair.
But when Maddy began to turn up late for school, Debbie knew something was off.
Although Debbie worried that it wasn’t her place to interfere in the girl’s life, she interacted with enough children in her ten years of teaching to know that her gut instinct was probably right.
Maddy was always late and exhausted, and her mom didn’t seem to be in the picture.
Debbie knew that if she didn’t act soon, this situation would get worse.
The next day, Maddy arrived late again. Surprised, Debbie saw that she walked in with her father.
She noticed that Maddy’s eyes were heavy – as if the weight of the world was on her tiny shoulders.
Enough was enough. As soon as she got Maddy settled in, she dialed emergency services. James Schweikhard was in for a sore surprise.
Debbie described the situation to the authorities and told them about her suspicions. They praised her for alerting them and got on the case straight away.
Debbie gave the authorities all the information she could gather on the father-daughter duo.
Then they devised a solid investigation plan.
The police decided to follow her father home after he dropped her off.
They could easily identify him from his ragged appearance.
They watched him get into his SUV and drive off. The police would never expect what they would find.
Lakewood Police Officer, James Butler, was on the scene. 41-year-old James Schweikhard was not happy the police showed up.
They then proceeded to surround his vehicle. “Officers!” he yelled, “What’s going on?”.
“We’re only trying to help you,” Officer Butler cautioned. But Maddy’s father was not taking kindly to any of that. “Open the car,” the officer warned.
For James, the morning had been “normal” – he dropped Maddy off at school, as usual. But this time, when he got to his truck, there were police officers swarming around his SUV.
James repeatedly asked them what they were doing but they ignored him.
Instead, they asked him to remain calm. James was becoming increasingly anxious.
The police continued to make their way towards James’ car regardless of his efforts to deter them. It became clear that James did not want anyone near his car.
James’ expression looked like his stomach was twisting and rising into this throat.
His reaction made Officer Butler more determined. He flung the doors open.
James froze. Now, there was nowhere for him to hide.
He hung his head in shame as the officers took a look at what was inside his car.
The officer’s eyes popped open. They had never seen anything like this before. They looked at each other before looking at James in complete bewilderment.
Every inch of the old SUV was packed with bags, boxes, and anything else James could cram into the vehicle.
Officer Butler was blindsided when he saw the state of the car.
At first look, it seemed like he was treating it as a storage space or even a dumpster. But when he looked closer, the truth of what he was witnessing made his stomach drop.
With sadness and slight embarrassment for confronting the man in such an uncompassionate manner, officer Butler realized the true nature of their living situation.
James and Maddy had been homeless for two years.
Their SUV was their home. In James’ experience, the cops didn’t help or even care about people like him.
Leaving Oklahoma had been James’ only option. It wasn’t safe for them to live there anymore.
The little money the pair had went to survival.
There was no way James could afford the apartment he and his daughter so desperately needed. Now, office Butler had two options in how he could deal with this.
Either he could call child services and write James up for failure to provide for his daughter and her wellbeing or he could try to help the pair get back on their feet.
He looked at James and knew straight away.
Instead of handcuffs, Officer Butler did something unexpected – he decided to make good on his word and help.
It only took one look at James and Maddy together for Officer Butler to know that he was a good father to Maddy. He loved her. That was plain as day.
He couldn’t bring himself to report him as an unfit father just because they had run into some money trouble. He scratched his head, wondering how to solve the situation. What he did next was incredible.
Turning Things Around
Officer Butler arranged for Maddy and James to stay in a homeless shelter near the school while he tried to rally the community together. Then, he decided to see what he could do about James’ SUV.
James watched in awe as, over the next few weeks, Officer Butler rallied the community to help them.
Soon, everyone knew James and Maddy’s story.
The Right Thing To Do
“It was the right thing to do,” Officer Butler said.
“Because at any point in time in our lives, any one of us can be in that same situation. Offering assistance to another human being is the right thing to do.”
But soon, Officer Butler encountered a problem he could have never seen coming.
As soon as word began to spread about James and his daughter, the majority of his community gathered together to help but not everybody.
Officer Butler was left in shock when he discovered that some people began to report James to child services.
In their eyes, he didn’t deserve to be Maddy’s father. Outrage soon followed.
Officer Butler was outraged at the response of these people. He posted to his personal media page and asked the question to his friends. He wanted to know what they thought – it sparked a huge moral debate about what it means to be a good father.
“This is ridiculous”, one user commented.
“You don’t need money to be a good father, and just because you have money doesn’t mean you’re a good father”. Another disagreed.
Money And Welfare
“But in America, doesn’t money essentially lead to the welfare of the child? At the end of the day, it’s the welfare of the child that matters. I agree that money isn’t the be-all-end-all but if you have no money, it’s really hard to keep your child healthy and looked after”.
The more people commented however, the more the majority of people agreed on one thing.
Regardless of what people thought about money, they all agreed that the most important thing was love.
If the father loved the child and treated her well and kindly and raised her with love and support, money came second.
The intense discussion gave Officer Butler an ingenious idea.
A little Help
Officer Butler decided that all James needed was a helping hand. He was a good man and a great father who just needed a little help.
He and some other officers began looking for a decent job for James and even helped with the paperwork to get him into a rental home in a nice neighborhood.
But that wasn’t all.
James’ car hadn’t been running for over a week – that’s why he’d been walking Maddy to school.
Sgt Butler arranged for a tow truck to take the car to Sun Valley Automotive for repair, and both companies offered their towing and repair services for free.
Meanwhile, the community was organizing anything they could for Maddy and James.
Donations Pour In
People from all over donated clothes, food, furniture, and other vital supplies to help get them started. As soon as the housing application went through, the two of them would have a real roof over their heads and real beds to sleep in.
The struggling dad couldn’t believe it.
“I’m in shock, I think,” he said. “This has actually restored my faith in humanity.”
Hand Up, Not Out
Even if it was a “hand up not a handout”, even if they said, “he had already done most of the hard work getting his life together”, the gesture was still enough to bring James and his girl to tears.
Life had been so hard, and people had been so cold in the past, he had nearly lost all hope in humanity.
Nothing was more important than his daughter’s future and happiness.
Life had been rough for the both of them. But this new city was a new start, and James would do everything he could to be the best father possible.
The kindness of strangers had been overwhelming. But would it be enough for them to finally have a new start?
Up To Him
Sgt. Dave Hoover and his family had been saving the donated items in their garage while they waited for James’ housing application to go through.
“Now it’s up to him, this is a starting point for him and when we walk out the doors to this apartment, he’s going to be standing here alone waiting for his daughter to come home from school and from that he has to start. He’s gonna start on this path,” Sgt. Dave Hoover said in an interview.
Part Of The Community
“It’s all about being a part of the community,” Sgt. Dave Hoover said.
“I’m amazed we’ve been able to do this so quickly. I’ve always been taught that you always give a hand up and not a hand out. James has done a lot of the work getting himself together.”
And everyone wanted to help. James had received five job offers in just two weeks.
A Roof Over Their Heads
Finally, the housing application went through. Maddy and James would finally have somewhere safe to stay!
“I’m so happy, microwave, dishwasher, washer, dryer,” James said, “This is the nicest apartment I’ve ever had. I’m very excited.”
He added: “I think it’s awesome, I think it’s really cool, very unexpected, but very cool.”
Not Just A House
And it wasn’t just a house. James and his girl had something they didn’t think was possible.
They had a home, a caring community, authority figures who really cared, and the helping hand that would let them finally have the future they dreamed of.
And if it hadn’t been for one teacher with a heart of gold, none of it would have happened.