Daniel Tyler, 28, has an office just a short walk from the Faulkner County Juvenile Detention Center in Conway, where he spent a few nights as a troubled teenager.
Now he goes inside to deliver hope.
“People say, ‘Those kids.’ I spent some time sleeping in beds in the Faulkner County Detention Center. ‘Those kids’ have a name,” Tyler said. “I believe in a God who knows their name.”
Tyler, who grew up in Conway as a son of parents with addictions, and his wife, Andrea, moved back to his hometown five months ago to start the nonprofit organization Deliver Hope.
“Our heart is that every young person, no matter what their circumstances, … has the chance to hear the Gospel,” he said.
But that’s not all.
In addition to the juvenile justice ministry, the organization includes youth mentoring for at-risk teens and plans to start an outreach next year called Her Hope, for teenage mothers, and Beyond Small Talk, for parents.
“We’re bridging gaps — that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said.
He said too many kids need support that they don’t get.
“It was rough growing up,” he said. “Both my parents were drug addicts. We went through periods where they were clean. Mom struggled with a crystal-meth addiction.”
His family lived in Texas and Little Rock before moving to Conway when he was in middle school.
“I grew up in poverty,” he said. “Dad would hold a job here and there. That’s what’s crazy — both my parents were super talented.”
He recalled that it was embarrassing being dropped off at school in the “cruddy van” his parents drove. Both his parents smoked, too.
“I used to carry Febreze in my backpack so I could spray myself off when I got to school,” he said.
Tyler, one of four children, said his older brother kept straight A’s and was able to rise above their family situation.
“I looked at him like a superhero-type thing,” Tyler said. “I partied really hard in high school.”
He said he drank and smoked marijuana to cope with his feelings.
“I tried really hard to fill that void,” he said.
One of his saving graces was Conway High School friend Chris Baker, whose father, George, was a positive influence.
“George Baker … poured his life into me when I was a kid. He believed in me,” Tyler said.
“I used to lie like crazy,” Tyler said. “I didn’t want people to know where I came from.”
Baker caught him in a lie once, Tyler recalled.
“I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘Daniel Tyler is good enough for me. You don’t have to be anything extra.’
“Those kids are good enough, too,” Tyler said of the youths he wants to reach. “I wish there had been a Deliver Hope when I was growing up.”
When he was in high school, a girl whom he found attractive invited him to church, he said.
“I would show up at church, but I carried a fear of failure on me,” he said. “I thought everybody else thought I was a loser, too.”
His senior year of high school, however, he experienced something different.
“God radically changed my life,” he said.
He felt called to the student ministry and tried a Christian college for a short time but dropped out for financial reasons.
“I was couch surfing,” living with different people, he said.
His parents divorced, and his mother moved to Wisconsin.
“Mom had gotten clean, gone to college and gotten her master’s and was working on her doctorate,” he said.
He moved there in 2006, stayed with his mother and became a student pastor at the Assembly of God church she attended. Later, Tyler was ordained through the online and distance-learning Global University.
However, his mother fell back into her old ways, he said. She was murdered in 2009.
Tyler, who married in January 2009, said the student ministry at the Wisconsin church was growing.
“While I was there, I was very comfortable,” he said. “The church blessed us in lots of ways. It was a really great thing.”
“About two years ago, God started shifting my heart and showing me something else was coming down the pike,” he said.
He tried to deny it at first when he thought God was calling him back to Conway.
Then, after praying about it, he said, he believed God was telling him, “I gave you a story for a reason.”
“What I started realizing was that there are young people that not only grew up like me, but I think it’s easy to ignore the brokenness when we’re living in an Americanized Bible Belt world,” he said.
Tyler said his first desire was to help kids in the detention center, and he holds Bible studies on Tuesdays. He is starting an aftercare program, recruiting volunteers, particularly men, to mentor the youth when they get out, to help them keep from making the same mistakes again.
“Really, just walk alongside them,” he said.
For youth mentoring, Tyler said, he is partnering with Choosing to Excel, where he is on the staff on a contractual basis.
He said he understands the line between a government-funded organization and a Christian-based one.
“The goal of mentoring is not to become a Christian; the goal of mentoring is for them to know they are worth something,” he said.
His organization’s ministry to teen mothers, Her Hope, will start in January to provide spiritual support, as well as baby showers, etc.
He said his wife will oversee Embrace Grace, a Bible study for teen mothers.
Beyond Small Talk, a program of tough-topic seminars for parents, is being created, he said, and is planned to start in January.
It’s a lot to take on, and it’s all being done with donations, Tyler said. Deliver Hope has a board of directors and is looking for grants.
One of those board members is his longtime friend Chris Baker.
“We became friends in ninth or 10th grade, and we had a group of friends we hung out with,” Baker said. “Some of those friends started doing things we knew weren’t right. I disconnected myself from some,” but he and Tyler remained friends.
“I knew that Daniel had a lot of family issues, and I knew kind of his refuge was hanging out with me,” Baker said. “I have great parents and was blessed with that, but I didn’t really see the impact [on Daniel] as much. I think even back then, it maybe wasn’t as evident to Daniel as it is now, looking back.”
Baker said he believes in the vision that God has given Tyler.
“He trusted God, and God’s just been opening doors nonstop,” Baker said. “When it’s God’s will and his plans, … doors open that need to open.”
Tyler said he is proof that people can change.
“If hope is delivered to a young person, they will change the world,” Tyler said.
“My story and my brokenness — it doesn’t hold me back. It catapults me to change.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.