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Prayers and tears

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    Jenna Costa and Clayton Wallace with Costa’s children, Mya, 10; Noah, 7, holding his stuffed animal, Max; and Robert, 3, in Waianae.­

Jenna Costa broke down and cried when she heard her family had been selected for this year’s Adopt-A-Family program, which would provide Christmas presents for her children and a holiday dinner.

"Our prayers were answered," she said through tears. "You don’t know how much this means to us."

She marveled that her family was one of 500 needy families eligible for "adoption" through Helping Hands Hawaii’s Yuletide program. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Good Neighbor Fund works with the nonprofit each year to raise funds and material donations for families like Costa’s with an annual drive that starts today.

Donors may specify that their contributions go to a particular family featured in our Sunday stories the next several weeks.

Costa has wept torrents of tears since leaving the father of her three young children a few years ago. She hung on for 11 years because she had yearned for a close-knit family as a child.

"Everything went downhill" after she left, Costa said. With no money, no job and no car, she and her kids went from one emergency shelter to another, or camped on the beach.

Up to a few months ago, Costa, her kids and boyfriend had been living in a tent in a relative’s back yard.

"I didn’t want my kids to end up back on the street," Costa said.

Just getting through an ordinary day was difficult with three kids in tow, especially with a son who has epilepsy and requires frequent doctor visits.

"I’ll never in my life forget the struggle," she added.

When her relative kicked them out in September, a momentous call came from Ohana Ola O Kahumana Transitional Housing in Wai­anae, saying there was an opening in two days. She and boyfriend Clayton Wallace scrambled to get their paperwork in order, and for a moment it looked like they wouldn’t be able to qualify because neither she nor Wallace had a regular job.

But after her pleas of desperation, the case manager gave them a chance.

When things looked their worst, "we prayed together to make the impossible happen," she said.

On Sept. 11, the family was able to move into the transitional shelter, which teaches residents life skills to become self-sufficient and obtain permanent housing. They didn’t even have pillows or blankets to sleep on when they arrived — just bags filled with their meager belongings.

"At 5 p.m. we had the honor to give our children the keys to open up our own home," Costa said. "We cried and cried. We still have no furniture, no car and sometimes not enough money, but we’re blessed and we’re thankful."

Wallace said their motto is, "I can do all things in Christ, who strengthens me," from Philippians 4:13, a biblical verse that "I hold onto every day."

Wallace spends eight hours on the bus — including four transfer stops each way — to get to work in Hawaii Kai and back. It’s odd-job work for a friend who wants to help him get back on his feet, but it helps pay the bills.

Costa recently got a job, too.

Wallace left a dysfunctional marriage after his daughter Ally died of cancer in 2010. Watching her suffer in pain for three years, "I remember screaming at God: ‘Will someone wake me from this nightmare!’" Wallace recalled.

He turned to drugs and alcohol, and homelessness followed. He was in and out of recovery programs, but every Christmas or anniversary date of Ally’s birthday or death would plunge him into such unbearable despair that he would try to medicate himself with drugs and liquor, Wallace said.

"I’ve learned that that’s not an excuse," he added. "It’s kind of a paradox. It came to the point in my life I was so angry with God but at the same time, it was the only place I could find comfort," he said.

The family could use a dining room table and chairs, and mattresses. Mya, 10, would enjoy getting a pink bike or a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" book collection; Noah, 7, a Lego or Spider-man scooter; and Robert, 3, a Spider-man bike.

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