A hero isn’t always defined by the number of medals he has won or the physical accomplishments he has achieved. Sometimes, all it takes to be a hero is a good deed and an open heart. Meet John Fitzgerald Staine, 47, a foster care provider and naval veteran. In 2010, Staine and his wife, Trish, started The Genesis Project, a transitional foster care program designed to assist young men between the ages of 17 to 21.
“There were always kids that needed help, and the parents did their own thing…so I gave them a nudge and watched them succeed,” Staine said.
Staine had been licensed as a foster care provider long before he started The Genesis Project. However, as he began to see more kids in the community who were struggling with no support from their parents, he knew he had to do something.
Currently, the Staine’s provide a home for three foster children. Their newest addition is a five-month-old baby, the youngest child they’ve ever housed. John and Trish also have two children of their own, along with John’s three kids from a previous relationship.
The house is big: six bedrooms, two living areas with wide screen TVs, and a full-sized pool table that sits in the basement. It's an ideal home for just about any kid.
Staine discovered his passion for helping people early in his childhood. When he was seven years old, he began living with his Aunt Rita, a woman dedicated to helping the less fortunate children in the Bronx, New York City.
For the next five years, Staine would accompany his aunt to the homes, watching as she gave children a helping hand.
“Aunt Rita was what got me started… Her life was about church and helping people, and she’s what got me hooked on helping kids,” Staine said.
Before he even began opening his home to troubled youth, Staine had made a commitment to helping kids and their parents get connected and stay that way. About ten years ago, Staine began renting out the Washington Center Rec Center gymnasium in downtown Duluth for young adults and their parents to gather and play basketball.
“I started doing it so the fathers I saw playing basketball every day, not spending time with their kids, could connect with them somehow,” Staine said.
Since then, he’s opened the gym for basketball every week, Monday through Thursday during the early afternoons.
In over 20 years of transitioning young people into adult life, Staine has housed 161 kids through foster care and The Genesis Project. Before he introduced The Genesis Project, the community’s kids knew about Staine’s willingness to help through word of mouth.
“If a kid is in trouble and needs a place to stay, something to eat, or a positive view of life, they can come to me,” Staine said.
Nowadays, The Genesis Project is licensed with North Homes Children and Family Services, a foster care agency in Duluth that helps the Staines’ find kids in need of a stable home. Staine said he makes sure that all his kids receive a good education, are well-fed and are especially well-behaved. He added by saying he strives to make each child into a better person.
“I’m strict, but I give people a path, and they have to stay on it,” Staine said.
With a fridge packed with food, clean beds to sleep in and Staine’s passion to keep people on the right path, many of his foster kids' transitions have been successful. One of his recent foster kids entered into his program at 16 years of age with a first-grade reading level. Staine’s fair rules and optimism towards education has helped to raise it to a fifth-grade reading level in just four months.
“When you wake people up and tell them the truth, that’s when you start seeing real progress,” Staine said.
All he asks for is signs of improvement.
“It’s as simple as getting them to set small goals and continue to work towards them,” Staine said.
He says that the most rewarding part is when the kids succeed, whether through graduating high school, or stepping up a letter grade in school. They’re all winners to him.
“You don’t necessarily have to be the greatest or the best, but you have to want to be something,” Staine said.