Octavious Young had a rough start to adulthood, growing up without a father, leaving his mother’s house at age 16 and living out of his car.
But he pulled his life together as a young man, and five years ago, when his sister could no longer care for her young son and daughter, Young brought them to live with him, and the courts ultimately made him their dad.
“I really didn’t know what to expect. But I knew how to love and I knew I had love to give,” says Young.
And love them, he has.
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Xzabeon, 11 and Kenyada, 8, are at the top of Young’s priority list every minute of every day. So much so, that it’s made getting full-time work a challenge.
Young, 38, works part-time at a convenience store. While he wants to find a full-time job, he says he hasn’t been able to find one that will be flexible enough for the demands of frequent meetings at the kids’ school and their doctor’s appointments. Kenyada has intellectual disabilities that also requires doctor visits.
So this Christmas, Xzabeon (ZAY-bahn) and Kenyada will be two of more than 10,700 children from families who will receive Christmas gifts courtesy of the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.
Starting Friday, families who registered their children as “angels” on Angel Trees at local malls and businesses will show back up at the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau headquarters on Arrowood Road to pick up their children’s toys, stockings and a box of food.
It’s a huge help for Young, who says he’s caught in the quandary of being too poor to move into a decent apartment in a safe neighborhood but not in a desperate-enough situation to qualify for government housing subsidies.
Meanwhile, the three-bedroom ranch the trio rents off Statesville Road has maintenance issues and needs updating. He had to remove the washer and dryer to convert the laundry room into a bedroom for Xzabeon. Now they go to a laundromat to wash their clothes.
Young says his landlord is eager to tear the house down, and his worries over where they’ll go next keep him up at night.
For all its faults, Young keeps his home neat and decorated. A Christmas tree he received after the Observer ran an article about him two years ago sits in the den. “I plan to pass it on to the kids when they’re old enough to have a home of their own,” he says.
Young talks about the future a lot.
He’s created a tradition of taking the kids out to eat every Friday night (McDonald’s and Captain D’s are favorites). He expects them to carry on the tradition when they’re adults by taking him out and treating him to dinner.
“I want them to grow up to be loyal and kind,” he says. “I tell them, ‘I want you to be somebody everybody wants to be around.’ ”
Weekends are spent visiting family members who live around Charlotte. Xzabeon loves the Carolina Panthers, and while the budget doesn’t allow for the family to buy tickets, they’ve started tailgating before games to enjoy the excitement.
Young has taught Xzabeon how to cook – the fifth grader has mastered meatloaf, baked chicken and potato salad. Kenyada loves listening to music and “anything that makes noise,” Young laughs.
He says he’s grateful for the strangers who will take his children’s Christmas wish lists and bring them to life.
“They don’t feel like they’re lacking for anything. But me as a parent, I know I should be reaching for better,” Young says.
During a recent interview, Kenyada cozied up to her dad on the sofa so snugly that she dozed off. Xzabeon talked about the things he loves most about his family: Friday night dinners, weekend outings and family visits.
“We love our dad. He does a lot for us. Even if something happens, he’s always there for us,” Xzabeon says.
Chimes dad: “Forever Young. That’s what we always say.”
Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. In recent years, Observer readers have contributed an average of nearly $370,000 annually to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All of the donations go to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families. We’ll publish all donors’ names. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll publish that name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/article116262948.html. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. Questions about your donation: 704-358-5520. For helping families through the Salvation Army: 704-714-4725.