It was September 2014 when 16-year-old Anthony Schultz was running down the road on a hot Arizona night. He was alone, he was running with all his might, and he had no idea that a Peoria police officer was watching him.
Eyeing the teenager from his patrol car, Officer Brandon Sheffert couldn’t shake the instinctual feeling that something about this kid was troubling. So, he stopped the boy and tried to talk to him, but young Anthony wanted nothing to do with a cop.
“Something about it bugged me, because I couldn’t get through to him,” said Sheffert. “He just seemed like there was something going on, and that there was something that was hurtful going on that he wouldn’t say.”
Sheffert, who went home to his wife and two young children, couldn’t shake the image of the troubled teen out of his mind. For an officer who’s seen it all, Sheffert felt compelled to investigate the boy’s living situation and find out a little more about the mystery teen.
Sheffert began visiting Anthony at his apartment complex, where he learned that the teenager was sharing a 1-bedroom apartment with seven family members. “I kept coming over here, talking to him, spending time with him, getting to know him, getting to know the family, understand what’s going on,” Sheffert explained.
Eventually, the budding friendship evolved into a formal mentorship through the Reach & Rise Mentoring Program with the YMCA. “I had a role model, I had someone I could look up to, I had someone I could aspire to be,” Anthony explained.
But as the desperately needed mentorship flourished, Anthony’s home life was rapidly deteriorating. One night, Sheffert’s phone rang, and Anthony’s overwhelmed mother was on the line.
“You need to come take him,” Anthony’s mother said. “I can’t take him anymore.”
Sheffert was stunned. “I was like, ‘whoa, whoa, whoa. That doesn’t make sense,'” Sheffert recalled.
With nowhere else to go, no other family to turn to, Sheffert and his wife made a decision that would soon change Anthony’s life forever. They initially agreed that Anthony could live with them for several days, while Anthony’s mother sorted things out.
But things at home didn’t get sorted out, and when Anthony reached age 18 last November, he again had nowhere to live. “This kid just keeping getting hit over and over with things that no kid should have to go through,” a compassionate Sheffert expressed.
So, Sheffert and his wife did the unimaginable: they took Anthony into their home as their own son. For the first time in his life, Anthony had the warmth, love, and stability of a healthy family.
“We have taken him in as one of our own,” said Sheffert. “Even my kids say he’s their big brother, and they love it.”
Under the protective wings of his new family, Anthony began to thrive. He stopped worrying about where his next meal would come from, he learned to drive, he had his own bedroom, and even got his first job.
For the first time, Anthony saw a hope and a future for his own life. Later this month, Anthony will become the first person in his family in 30 years to graduate high school on time.
Looking back, Anthony is profoundly thankful that Sheffert chose to stop him on that fateful September night. “If he weren’t there that night, there would be no one else, in my opinion,” Anthony explained.
“I don’t think I would be here,” he continued. “I wouldn’t be the person I am — I could be in jail for all I know.”
Now, Anthony is preparing for a future in the Army, and after that, well, anything is possible. “I feel as though there’s not a lot stopping me, at this point,” Anthony grinned.
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