Dylan Bridges reached a point where he considered sneaking out of his window and running away from home.
Concerned for his well-being, his therapist told Deb Schwartz, Bridges’ life skills teacher at Brownstown Central High School.
Schwartz wasn’t about to let that happen.
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“It just came out, ‘Dylan can live with us,’” she said, referring to her and her husband, Dan. “She’s like, ‘Are you serious?’ and I said, ‘Yes. Well, if he’s going to run away, he can live with me’ because I got really scared about Dylan being out by himself.”
It took some convincing Dan and a few tears shed for them to become Dylan’s guardians and have a child in their home for the first time in 10 years.
Deb found out about Dylan considering running away from home Feb. 13, he was in their home Feb. 14 and the Schwartzes became grandparents Feb. 15.
“He was my Valentine’s Day gift,” Deb said of Dylan. “And the next day, I became a grandma, so it was like I was a mom on Friday and grandma on Saturday. That was a crazy 24 hours.”
Since then, Dylan has become a different person, going from being sheltered, shoulders slumped and quiet to doing several things for the first time and being an outgoing, happy 19-year-old.
Deb and Dan’s lives has been changed, too. They had experience raising a child as they have two adult children, Sean and Danielle.
“The main thing that I learned about all of this is it was an opportunity to change a young person’s life, and I saw an opportunity to give the kind of life to Dylan that he needed,” Deb said.
“This isn’t something I planned,” she said. “When I woke up on Wednesday morning (Feb. 13), I didn’t know by Thursday night (Feb. 14) I was going to have a child back in the house again.”
After talking to Dylan’s therapist, Deb went home to talk to Dan about the situation.
“I said, ‘We’ve got to do this. We’ve got to save his life, and we’ve got to save it now,’” Deb said.
Initially, Dan wasn’t sure about Deb’s idea. Once the waterworks started, that’s all Dan needed to say yes. He made a two-page list, noting Dylan would have chores but it would be his home, he would be loved and it would be a safe place.
“I’m like, ‘Wow! You get it. You’ve got it. Yes, this is what he needs,’” Deb said.
The next day, Dylan was welcomed into the Schwartzes’ home.
“I knew the first day that he lived with us that it was going to be a good situation,” Deb said, noting the morning routine for the three of them went smooth. “We never crossed paths. It was the most natural thing I had ever seen in my life. It just seems like it was meant to be.”
Since then, life has been great for Dylan. He went to prom for the first time and wound up coming home with a big-screen television after winning a dance-off.
In the summer, he went swimming a couple times a week, took his first vacation, stayed in a hotel for the first time and spent time at SpringHill Camps.
“That totally changed his life and the people that were around him,” Deb said of the camp. “I know that feeling. I know what Dylan does. His heart and love, it changes people. He’s unique. He’s humble. He’s thankful. He sees the world like it’s for the first time. He’s seeing everything for the first time, and you’re seeing everything with him through his eyes for the first time. That’s what is just sheer joy.”
The fun for Dylan doesn’t stop at summer camp. He also saw “The Lion King” musical, visited Kentucky Kingdom, went to see movies and attended WWE SmackDown.
“I said, ‘If you’re going to take me to SmackDown, we’re getting floor ringside seats,’ and we did,” Deb said. “We were shaking hands with Roman Reigns, and we got on TV. We were on TV about 10 times. Where you run down the aisle, we were slapping their hands, and then we were (cheering and raising their hands) to the camera.”
Another first for Dylan was celebrating his birthday with a party complete with cake and ice cream. They celebrated at Danielle’s home near Indianapolis.
“We had this birthday that was out of this world,” Deb said. “We go up there and she’s got a house full of like 20 people. She’s got this cake. They started lighting this cake, and it’s got 19 candles on it. He goes in there and it’s just thunderous, ‘Happy birthday,’ balloons, decorations, 19 candles burning on the cake.”
There also was a Star Wars inflatable and a dance contest.
“Oh my gosh, the pictures, sheer joy. It’s just sheer happiness and joy,” Deb said.
Dylan said that’s exactly what he has experienced since moving in with Deb and Dan.
“Since I’m living with Deb and Danny, I’m getting to learn stuff. I’m getting to go places,” he said. “I feel loved right now since I’m living with them. They feel loved, and I’m getting to do more stuff that I haven’t done before. I just love Deb, and I just love Danny.”
Deb said Dylan has made an impact on her life, too.
“Even though I saved his life, he gives back to me way more than I give to him,” she said. “I see life in a new way now. I see it in a positive kind of an adventure, and I get an opportunity to make a difference in his life and to share new experiences. I would have never gone to WWE had it not been for Dylan. Some of these things I would not have done. It was meant to be.”
For making an impact in Dylan’s life at home and school, Deb recently was presented The Arc of Jackson County’s Educator of the Year Award. She doesn’t know who nominated her, but she was chosen for going above and beyond taking care of Dylan.
Deb served 20 years with the Indiana National Guard and was the program director for the Jackson County Juvenile Home for 10 years, and she’s now in her 17th year teaching.
She spent a year at Freetown Elementary School in the 1990s and later taught emotional behavior disorder children at Brownstown Central Middle School for a year before starting at the high school in 2004.
Several years into her time at the high school, she switched to teaching a life skills class.
“There was a group of students that needed a life skills class, and Brownstown had never had a life skills class, so Mr. (Joe) Sheffer and I went out to three schools and I got to pick the five best things that each school offered to their students, and then I created this program,” Deb said. “Each child is different that comes into my classroom, and they have certain needs, so I try to wrap my program around them and what they need.”
Students do workshop activities in the classroom and also participate in community-based instruction once a month and work with job coaches twice a month. Plus, they help clean up at the high school’s coffee shop, where they sweep, mop, do laundry and clean dishes and earn money to fund their trips in the community.
“If it wasn’t for the administration — the superintendent, my principals and school board — that backs me up, there’s no way I could do this,” Deb said. “They’ve always backed my program 100%. Whatever I wanted or needed, they would find a way.”
With the award, Deb said that’s not why she does her job, but she appreciates the honor.
“It was very unexpected,” she said. “I am truly humbled. I’ve loved being a teacher all of these years. I love making a difference in a young person’s life. If it’s for a combination of teaching and making a difference in Dylan’s life, then I’m good with that, too. He’s my main focus, and my husband and I enjoy being parents to him.”
Dylan said Deb is very deserving of the award.
“She was shocked,” he said. “I’m really proud of her, I love her and I’m glad that she got that award.”
Deb was so moved by the award that she became a member of The Arc of Jackson County.
“I love what they stand for,” she said. “I wouldn’t even mind to become maybe a board member and really get involved. I would like to get Dylan involved and my husband involved, as well. That is something I really want to concentrate on after I retire. This is an awesome award, and it has opened up doors of opportunity that I did not know were there or existed.”