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Still walking the walk: Singer and writer Jimmy Wayne keeps advocating for foster children

Jimmy Wayne believes in the "The Power of One" because he has lived it.

"Sometimes the impact that one person can have in someone else's life can be lifelong and can affect millions of people. That's exactly what Bea did ... and she had such an impact on me that she ultimately has affected thousands of children positively," Wayne said in a recent phone interview from his home base of Nashville, Tennessee.

A country music recording artist, New York Times best-selling author and former foster child, Wayne was a homeless teenager in desperate need of love and care when an elderly woman named Bea Costner and her husband Russell offered to pay him to mow their yard. He soon moved in with the couple, and they helped him turn his life around.

"Every day I'll see something that just reminds me of where I come from. ... I'm 45 years old, and now I understand how hard it is for these parents to do what they do," Wayne said. "Some of these people have already raised their children and their children are out of the house, and then they go and get a foster kid. ... They just do it because they really care. When I meet these people, it really does do my heart good and lets me know that there's still people out there like Bea."

The singer-songwriter, motivational speaker and foster care advocate will bring his presentation "The Power of One," featuring his story and songs, Thursday to this month's OKC Town Hall. Initiated by the Junior League of Oklahoma City in 1933, the popular lecture series provides a forum for nationally recognized speakers on timely topics.

"I'm really glad I'm coming back. I loved Oklahoma, met some really good people there ... who I've remained friends with," Wayne said.

Walking the walk

The North Carolina native had just finished playing Madison Square Garden with Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley and was still riding high on his three-week No. 1 "Do You Believe Me Now" when he decided to walk halfway across the country to raise awareness of the plight of homeless teens, particularly those who age out of the foster care system.

On Jan. 1, 2010, he set out on the Meet Me Halfway walking tour, an almost 1,700-mile trek from Nashville to Phoenix, Arizona. During his seven-month journey, which he finished on a broken foot, he spent days walking through Oklahoma.

"I've been filming the route that I walked, literally putting a camera on the front of my vehicle and driving the roads that I walked and bringing it back and just editing this footage together," said Wayne, who recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of the completion of what he calls "The Walk."

"I don't really know what I'm gonna do with it, but I do believe that there will be a time when it'll be used for a movie. I just believe that 100 percent."

Wayne chronicled his Meet Me Halfway trek in his 2015 autobiography "Walk to Beautiful," which also details his turbulent childhood with an abusive, bipolar mother and a series of violent stepfathers. He writes of getting caught in the crossfire of shootouts, fleeing relatives attempting to kill him and being abandoned at a bus station while his family was on the run from the law

But the heart of his New York Times Bestseller is the life-changing kindness of the Costners.

"I knew I had one book in me. I knew I had to write 'Walk to Beautiful.' I didn't know when that was gonna happen, I didn't know really how it was gonna happen, but it happened," Wayne said.

"Now, the goal is to get a movie made out of 'Walk to Beautiful.' I had a movie made about 'Paper Angels,'" he added, referring to the 2012 book and 2014 TV Christmas movie based on his song about the Salvation Army Angel Tree program. "I've had some inquiries about 'Walk to Beautiful' ... but I'm still waiting on the right opportunity. ... It'll happen. It's just a matter of time. The story is too unbelievable."

Working for change

At the same time, Wayne's story of abuse, trauma and homelessness is all too common among foster children. According to the journal Pediatrics, studies on foster care alumni who have aged out show high rates of poverty (33 percent live at or below the poverty level), significant mental health problems (54 percent), chronic medical illness (30 percent), unemployment (19 to 37 percent), lack of health insurance (33 to 50 percent), and homelessness within one year of emancipation (22 to 36 percent).

Through his nonprofit Project Meet Me Halfway, Wayne advocates for legislation to extend the foster care age from 18 to 21, which has become a reality in several states, and is working to establish in North Carolina Bea's Home for Youth, a transitional home for teen girls who are aging out of the foster care system that will be named for the woman who made such a difference in his life.

"It's a slow build, but so is a pyramid - and it's still standing for a reason," he said. "When you build something just really fast and overnight, very seldom do those things last."

Changing his life

The same goes for his career after The Walk. The "Stay Gone," "Sara Smile" and "I Love You This Much" hitmaker said he intended to make the trek during his time off, worked to meet all his obligations when it ran long and was crushed when he got word that his record label, Valory, had dropped him anyway. Although he never would have just walked away from the music career he sacrificed so much to build, Wayne said he is happy with his new, more meaningful line of work.

"It's just amazing now to go out and speak and perform and connect with just thousands and thousands and thousands of people - and not only that, but just to make change. To be a part of legislation and just really using my resources to help - and it's fun," said Wayne, who is making his acting debut in the new Lifetime Christmas movie "Every Other Holiday," which premieres worldwide Nov. 23.

Last year, he published his first children's book, "Ruby the Foster Dog," and released an accompanying album of upbeat children's hip-hop songs, "Ruby Toons," on his new imprint Bea Hive Records, again named for Bea Costner.

"I thought, 'Well, I need to write a book that these kids can understand and learn about foster care,' and it just came to me, 'Why not let the dog tell the story?'" he said, adding that the dog in question is the rescue pooch he adopted during The Walk.

During his seven-month journey, he wrote 24 songs and went on to mix and master 18 of them as the soundtrack for the future movie based on "Walk to Beautiful." He often performs some of the songs during his speaking engagements, and at his Oklahoma City appearance, he plans to play "Tangled Up," which he penned about an Oklahoma farmer.

"He was on a tractor in a vast − I call it a plain, a prairie almost - and I was walking and it was just me and him," he said. "I just started trying to put myself in his seat there ... so I wrote a song. And it's a beautiful, beautiful song."

GOING ON

OKC Town Hall featuring Jimmy Wayne

When: 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Where: Church of the Servant, 14343 N MacArthur Blvd.

Information: www.okctownhall.com.

For more on Jimmy Wayne: jimmywayne.com and www.projectmmh.org.


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