Elijah's Story

A Journey of Resilience

Elijah never met his birth parents. Born in Kazakhstan as Alibek Jarad, he was given no last name and was immediately placed in an orphanage. A couple from the United States adopted him, bringing him across the Atlantic. Unfortunately, what seemed to be a happy ending turned out to be anything but. 

“The abuse went on for 9 years,” Elijah confided. “They took away my childhood. They gave up on me and neglected me.”

Eventually, Elijah’s father drove him across the country, abandoning him with a woman he didn’t know who had eight other boys in her care, all from different counties of origin. But she abused him too. Elijah grew accustomed to the mental and physical torment and neighborhood violence that he endured for another two years. “My foster brothers and I were all brainwashed, thinking we were all just living a normal life,” he said. “We didn’t understand what was going on.”

Hope came in the form of an early-morning knock on the front door. One of the boys had reported the abuse, and the FBI and Missouri Children’s Division responded, removing them from the house.

Elijah bonded with his caseworker, who he said was the only adult he was able to trust up to that point. Because of this, he believed her when she said she was taking him somewhere that he would be able to finally heal. That somewhere was Cornerstones of Care — Ozanam Campus.

“I felt like something good was happening,” Elijah explained. “I remember driving down the road — a road that led to a campus that was so beautiful. I saw kids playing soccer and other kids playing softball. I saw the pool. It felt like home.”

During his first week at Cornerstones of Care, Elijah was given space to normalize and get used to his new environment. After becoming comfortable, he started various therapy programs. “I remember the staff making me feel at home. I met with my therapist and my therapy team. I met with a lot of people who heard my story, and they said that they were here for me and that they were going to help me get to a better place.”

One of the programs that made the biggest impact on Elijah was our music therapy program, where he learned how to play the guitar and the piano. “We performed and performed and we loved it. We got to be a part of something as a family. Those performances were challenging because I had people looking at me and my bandmates, but it taught me to be tough. And it taught me to just have fun.”

Willie Hutson, head coach of the Ozanam Campus basketball team also made a profound impact on Elijah. Having never played basketball before, Elijah found a role model and mentor in Coach Hutson when he tried out for the team. "The two things he taught me were honesty and discipline — you're not going anywhere without those things,” Elijah shared. “I feel like I’ve grown to be a leader, and I will always remember Coach Hutson as a leader to me.”

Though he loved playing basketball, Elijah began to experience health concerns and learned he had a heart defect that would require surgery. Rick Wright, one of our medical transporters, grew close to Elijah as he took him to appointments. “We started connecting after I was dealt the news,” Elijah confided. “As I went to my appointments, Mr. Wright was there by my side. He saw something in me.”

The surgery was successful, and Elijah recovered fully. In 2013, after years of hard work and healing in our 24/7 therapeutic residential program, Elijah stepped down to a group home. But Rick stayed in touch and quickly became his mentor. Then in 2014, while hosting Elijah for Christmas, Rick asked if he could step into an even bigger role — his new father. “I was excited and it was very emotional,” Elijah shared. “I once told my caseworker that I never wanted to be adopted again, but when he asked, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes!’”

“I feel blessed too. Every day,” Rick said. “It feels like it was meant to be. I wanted to give him a good life. Something that he didn’t have before.” During the adoption process, Elijah (then Alibek) got to choose a new name for himself. He settled on Elijah, which means “The Lord Is My God.” He decided to keep his former name as well, making him Elijah Alibek Jarad Wright.

Now 20, Elijah is still a regular presence on our Ozanam Campus. Besides volunteering with the music therapy program, he has served as a head manager of the Ozanam Campus Eagles basketball team for the past eight years. “He means the world to me,” said Coach Hutson. “I trust him. I depend on him. He’s been a great manager, and as he always says, a great assistant coach.”

Elijah is currently enrolled at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz., and has even started his own small financial firm. Elijah has many dreams for the future, including going into news broadcasting and authoring a book about his life. However, his biggest dream is closer to home. “I hope to one day have the chance to serve as president and CEO of Cornerstones of Care. I feel that I can continue to make this place the best place for the next generation of kids to come.”

When asked what encouragement he would give to someone who has experienced trauma, Elijah had this to say, “To anyone out there who is struggling, just know that you can get through this. I remember sitting in my little closet room when I was being abused and feeling like the world was crumbling down on me. But I looked up at the ceiling and dreamed that it was a sky, and said to myself that I will make it. You’re going to get though the tough times, because I did. And I know you will.”

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