Inner Strength from Desperate Times As his father slowly succumbed to ALS, student Jake Hovenden was impressed with how lovingly his stepmother cared for his dad. The experience left Hovenden with a belief in the power of inner strength.
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Inner Strength from Desperate Times

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Inner Strength from Desperate Times

Inner Strength from Desperate Times

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #5: This I Believe.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Today, This I Believe, the highly regarded series based on the famed broadcasts by Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s begins its third season. We want to welcome the series to WEEKEND EDITION, where every other week, you will hear easiest from Americans from all walks of life - some famous, some not, but all with something to say.

We also want to encourage you to send in your essays for consideration. The host and curator of this series Jay Allison joins us from member station WCAI in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

Welcome to the show, Jay.

JAY ALLISON: It's great to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: Really nice to have you. I understand the first essay we're going to hear today is actually from a high school student. Do you get a lot of submissions from school kids?

ALLISON: We do. We've had about 28,000 submissions in all to date from every kind of person, all ages and professions and parts of the world. Of those over 8,000 of them, or about 30 percent, are from kids under 18.

HANSEN: Wow. That's a really high percentage. Do these essays come all over the country?

ALLISON: They do. Teachers from all 50 states in D.C. and the more than 40 countries have downloaded the curriculum, which we have at the Web site at And the project's been used in classrooms from elementary school all the way to graduate school. We've heard of it being use in English class, Psychology, History, English as a second language, even art and band class. And we're pleased about that, but we feel like we should apologize to the students of the world for the extra work.

And, in fairness, we find their teachers often feel compelled to write essays, too. And I brought a little collage from a trip we made to East Boston High School last month, where a class of 50 kids all wrote essays for the series.

Unidentified Man #6: I believe that having responsibility is not a joke.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that being a teen mom is difficult.

Unidentified Man #7: I believe that words have power.

Unidentified Man #8: I believe that the choices you make now will affect your future.

Unidentified Woman #3: I believe in living on the edge and taking chances.

Unidentified Man #9: I believe that people with mental disabilities are just like everybody else.

Unidentified Woman #4: I believe mothers deserve the world.

Unidentified Woman #5: And I believe that it not your age that makes you knowledgeable. It's what you've been through, what you've learned from it.

HANSEN: Wow. Are there any themes particularly that actually come across regularly in these kids essays?

ALLISON: Well, fittingly, when we recorded up in East Boston, a lot of the essays were about mothers. They were in praise of mothers or about the experience of being a mother or remembering the lessons that mothers teach.

HANSEN: And we have one of those essays today, which is appropriate because it is Mother's Day. Tell us a little bit about it.

ALLISON: It's an essay from a student, some distance from East Boston. It's from Jake Hovenden. He's a junior at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. His English class assigned This I Believe. And he actually turned in his essay late because he was trying to write about a traumatic event in his family, but he couldn't figure out what belief he'd drive from it. And then he realizes it was right next to him. So, here's Jake Hovenden with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. JAKE HOVENDEN (Junior, West Valley High School): Only a handful of people know this about me, but five years ago, my father died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This is a fatal disease that literally eats away at a person's muscles until they cannot walk, talk or even breathe. It was a life-changing experience, but I can't really say that I developed any defining beliefs from it. Rather, the whole thing just really confused me on what to believe.

But, this essay is not about my experience with my father's passing. It's about my stepmother.

I believe in inner strength. It was my stepmother, Janey Hovenden, who really had the hardest time when my father was suffering from ALS. For three years, she juggled work, my dad, and me with virtually no breaks, but she never gave up. Every day, right after she got home from work, she would cook dinner for us. She'd have to feed my father because ALS made it so he was incapable of feeding himself.

During the nights, my stepmother would stay up with my dad to make sure he wouldn't suffocate while he slept. She'd stay up and comfort him, even though she had to work early the next morning. Janey even fought past her fear of needles in order to treat my dad at home, because the last thing he wanted was to lie in a hospital bed during his final days.

My dad was a proud man and didn't want people to see him when he was wasting away, but Janey went against his wishes and invited old friends over to say their final goodbyes. Although he didn't want to admit it, my dad cherished every visit.

I really had not appreciated what my stepmother had done before, but looking back, I realize how much she did for my dad. She kept him alive as long as she could, almost single-handedly.

Today, Janey is doing well and still taking care of me, just as well as she took care of me and my dad when he was sick. Before my dad passed on, he told Janey that she would have to be my father figure, and though she isn't my dad, she's the next best thing. She jokes around with me about it.

Even though I live mostly with my mom, I still get to see Janey once a week and she has helped me immensely in getting through this, and I think I help her, too. She says I remind her of Dad, and spending time with me and cooking dinner for me helps her remember.

I believe that inner strength emerges when times are desperate. I believe people sometimes refuse to give up, and they help others no matter the personal cost. My stepmother proved that to me.

ALLISON: That was 17-year-old Jake Hovenden in Fairbanks, Alaska. And Liane, we invite all comers to submit essays to the series. And at the Web site, teachers can find a free curriculum guide. You can get it at, and click on for educators. And of course, you don't have to be a student. You can just step up and do it voluntarily at the Web site,

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HANSEN: And once again, the essays will be heard here every other week. And Jay, I can't tell you we're thrilled to have This I Believe as part of WEEKEND EDITION. Thanks.

Mr. ALLISON: Oh, thank you, Liane. We're really looking forward to it.

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