A New Home
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
JeanClaude Brooks has gone through a lot of adversity in his young life.
But he’s in a good place now, a happy, loving spot. He’s surrounded by friends, family and comfort.
Not long ago, it was quite the opposite for Brooks, 15.
Lake Norman Charter’s freshman kicker was born in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. His mother died when he was very young. Relatives cared for him, but eventually he ended up on his own, like many Haitian children.
Brooks landed in an orphanage.
He eventually crossed paths with Tara and Matt Brooks, who live in the Davis Lake community, a few miles from Lake Norman Charter. What followed were tests of faith, patience, perseverance and love.
The family adopted Brooks, known as J.C., two years ago, along with Woody, another 15-year-old Haitian from the orphanage.
“I like my family and where I’m living,” J.C. said. “I feel like God put me somewhere that He wanted me, and I’m glad I’m there.”
J.C. visited the United States as part of a church singing group and spent a short time with the Brooks family. The family had helped with mission work as part of Haiti H2O, which partners U.S. churches with Haitian churches by leading short-term mission trips.
The Brookses began the adoption process, which took an agonizing 11 months to complete. J.C. officially joined the family on Sept. 29, 2009. Tara Brooks made 12 trips to the island during the process.
“I just told the boys to keep the faith,” she said. “We told them, ‘We’ll always take care of you, whether you live with us or not.’”
J.C. plays football. Woody is on Lake Norman Charter’s soccer team. Home life is the sometimes-hectic blur of homework, practice and games, as the Brookses raise five teenagers. Their biological children are Brittany, 18; Makenzie, 15; and Zachary, 12.
“We’ve always done mission work and had strong faith,” Tara Brooks said. “We all went into this (adoption) knowing full well what would be involved. We asked ourselves if we were willing to give up some things in order to help J.C. and Woody. We had the room and the means.”
The boys have adapted to American life. J.C. plays video games (“only the sports ones”) and watches football on TV.
He’s outgoing and is quick to flash a smile. Still, it was an adjustment.
“To almost everything,” J.C. said. “Leaving Haiti and my family behind, my friends, missing my brothers and sisters, my dad. But if that’s what it takes to do what God wants you to do, that’s what I’m going to do. So I just made the decision.
“When I met the Brookses, I never thought I would live here at all. It just happened, and I’m glad.”
J.C. grew up kicking a soccer ball. When was decided to try out for football, he wanted to use his speed to be a wide receiver. He stumbled into being a kicker.
Lake Norman Charter coach Bob McKay said the team had arrived early for a scrimmage at SouthLake Christian last year.
“We misjudged how bad traffic was going to be, and got there about 45 minutes before any of the other teams,” McKay said. “We didn’t want to begin our pre-game too early, so we started pulling kids to try out as kickers. We had some time.”
Boom, the Knights had a new kicker.
“I never wanted to kick a football,” J.C. said, laughing. “I thought it was the most boring position. But when the offense starts scoring, that’s when you feel like everything is good. You could be the hero of the game, or there are times you could miss one and feel like you let the whole team down.”
Brooks has kicked nine extra points this season for the Knights (3-3) and connected on the first field goal in school history. It was a 32-yarder in a 17-10 victory against Wake Christian on Sept. 9.
“I never thought I would ever kick,” J.C. said. “I feel good about myself. It’s like “’mission accomplished.’”
His teammates hung a nickname on him – The Haitian Hoof.
McKay said when J.C. began kicking, he asked if he could do it without shoes because it was more comfortable. McKay said no.
“Just getting him involved with customs and traditions in America is pretty neat to see,” McKay said. “He fits in well with the kids. We talked with the players about how life can change at any minute. Look at how lucky he is right now, surrounded by friends and family. He’s having a good time. All of that could have been different.
“He brings a good perspective to life in general. I ask kids (here) if they could imagine going to live there.”
On Jan. 12, 2010, four months after J.C. was adopted, a devastating earthquake hit Haiti. An estimated 300,000 people died, another 300,000 were injured, and about 1 million Haitians became homeless. Disease was rampant, and Woody’s mother later died from cholera.
Tara Brooks said the family watched television coverage on a limited basis. The family lost a dear friend, she said, who taught school there.
“We prayed about it, and we let (the children) talk about it,” Tara Brooks said. “Our biological kids were upset, maybe more than J.C. and Woody. But you have to remember, they’ve lost a lot of people they’ve known, not just in the earthquake. It’s been a part of their lives.”
J.C. fondly remembers one of his former teachers who died amid the devastation. He said he uses her as motivation.
“It just kills me that she died,” he said. “She told me to study and do everything I’m supposed to do in school, so one day if I became famous, she’s know that’s me, JeanClaude, the person she used to teach.”