KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. –It’s summer at Mazama High School in Klamath Falls and Jonathon Munoz is playing football. That’s what he does. He was first team all-league on offense and defense last year, but every Munoz hit and every Munoz run is a reminder of the brutal background from which he emerged.
“Growing up I didn’t really have the childhood that everyone would dream of,” said Munoz.
His father was a drug dealer. He was caught when Jonathon was two and deported to Mexico. He hasn’t seen or heard from him since. His mother was 14 when Jonathon was born. She was an alcoholic and a drug addict.
“There was times when we’d go home at 3 in the morning and I’d be dragging along and it’d be raining and she would be heavily intoxicated,” said Munoz. “When she’d wake up in the morning she’d beat me because she didn’t know what happened, and it wasn’t just like a spanking on the butt. It was to where she’d rip my hair and throw me around. I’d have black eyes and bruises all over my body. I’d hide it because I love my mom. I love her to death. I was kind of a mama’s boy.”
Despite that love, Jonathon pulled away from his mom. Homeless and on his own, he connected with his Uncle Juan, another drug dealer.
“I started hanging out with him a lot because he loved me,” said Munoz. “He taught me how to drive. Soon I got into selling drugs with him for awhile. I was about 13,14. It was a young age, but I didn’t know any better. My mom did it, my dad did it.”
The partnership with his uncle also provided money to help care for his two younger sisters, a responsibility Jonathon took on because of his mother’s unreliability. Despite his need for money and urge to care for his family, Jonathon wanted out.
“I just got tired of it because I just didn’t want to live like that,” said Munoz. “Even though I was raised up in it, I understood that it was wrong.”
Distancing himself from taht life required strict motivation unusual for someone Jonathon’s age. It also involved a community of support, starting with Lisa and Wade Dykstra, whose son Hogan went to school with Jonathon.
“Jonathon came to spend the night with us,” said Dykstra, “and he stayed Friday night, and then Saturday, and then Sunday, and by Monday I thought there might be a problem.”
Jonathon opened up to Lisa bout his past and Lisa offered him her home.
“His will to survive is amazing,” said Dykstra. “I mean, he was an 8th grade student that came to me and told me where he was at, why he had these boundaries, or not boundaries, but these obstacles in his way that were holding him back and he didn’t want them to be there and asked me to help. I would never say no to that, and I know a million other people in this community that wouldn’t either.”
After staying with the Dykstras for about a year, he moved in with the Navarros, which is where he lives now.
“Right now, at this point, we’re just really close in a way where I feel he knows that we are his family,” said Carmen Navarro. “Our house is small, but I said it doesn’t matter. We can figure it out.”
With support from people like Carmen, Jonathon started to become more independent. He got a job at Burger King, his first chance to make money legally. He met Haley Lane two years ago and they started dating. Haley’s family offered more support.
“Mainly the help has just been loving him and making appointments for him and helping get set up, helping him do the things that kids need parents to help them do,” said Carrie Lane.
The Lanes were there to help Jonathon with his driver’s permit. They helped him file his taxes. They invited him to Easter Egg Hunts.
“I’m just super thankful that there’s been so many wonderful people and families that have been there off and on throughout his life to show him a better way, to show him that there’s a different way of life,” said Lane.
Still, all the help and support still can’t replace his true family.
“I don’t want to take the place of his mom, but I want to be there for him,” said Navarro. “He’s close to us.”
“Never could we replace his mom, and I wish that he would have been able to have what he deserved,” said Lane. “We just don’t get to pick those things. We just get to decide what we’re going to do from there.”