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story.lead_photo.caption Amy and Pete Hughes of Cabot stand with their family on the Jacksonville Air Force Base, where Pete is a reservist. The couple adopted Kylar, 17, through a nonprofit organization called Project Zero. Also pictured are the couple’s two biological children, Noah, 10, front left, and Owen, 8. Amy owns The Humble Thread in Cabot. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

Kylar Hughes, who just turned 17, said he didn’t expect to ever be adopted.

“Because I’ve been waiting so long, I gave up hope,” he said.

His hope was renewed when he met Amy and Pete Hughes of Cabot, and his adoption was official in July.

“We always knew we were going to adopt, always,” Amy said.

The couple also have two biological children, Noah, 10, and Owen, 8. The plan was to adopt a child younger than them, “and here we are,” Amy said, laughing.

Pete said he has wanted to adopt a child since he went on a mission trip to West Africa when he was 18, “and unfortunately there was a civil war going on in a neighboring country, Sierra Leone,” and the area was “flooded with orphans.”

“From that time own, I knew I wanted to adopt one of those kids, but when I was old enough, they had grown up,” he said. “We had talked about [adopting] early on in our marriage; it took us 10 years to get around to it.”

Pete is 39; Amy is 37.

Kylar, who was 10 when his mother’s parental rights were severed, had been in foster care before that, Amy said.

She said the teenager is intellectually disabled, and he had been separated from siblings who had different fathers than him. That caused some of his behavioral issues, she said, and he had been living in a group home for four years before Amy and Pete Hughes adopted him.

“I think we were his 23rd placement, which is a tragedy in itself,” Amy said.

The couple didn’t want to be foster parents because they knew they were ready to adopt.

“We were ready to make it official,” Amy said.

“We got wind of Project Zero,” she said. The nonprofit statewide organization connects foster children with parents who are ready to adopt.

Amy said she and her husband went to events where children mingled with the potential parents. Amy said it was “a little overwhelming.”

“We had a hard time connecting,” she said. At the point of the event, she didn’t know the children’s backgrounds. “You don’t want to give these kids hope when you don’t know what their story is.”

She went on the Project Zero website, and the kids’ stories were there, along with videos.

“When I first saw Kylar, they had just posted a phone video from that event we were at. We didn’t talk to him because we were looking at younger kids. We didn’t see him,” Amy said.

“I saw that video, and I just felt like he was my kid,’” Amy said, starting to cry. “I said, ‘Is this just me wanting to save all the babies, or God saying this is the direction we should walk in?’ It was not at all the plan.”

When she looked at the Project Zero website the next day, the organization had posted Kylar’s professional story and video.

“There it was in my face again, the same kid. I said, ‘Pete, I think we’re supposed to at least meet him and just see.’”

Kylar was 16 then.

“My husband said — and these are his exact words — ‘Well, that kid needs parents, and we wanted to adopt, so let’s do it.’”

Pete said Kylar’s video stood out.

“Our hearts just kind of broke for his situation,” Pete said.

Amy said she and Pete went to the next Project Zero event, a Disney extravaganza, and they stood at the entrance ready to meet Kylar. They recognized him and asked if he wanted to walk around with them.

“He said, ‘Yeah, let’s go get snow cones,’” she said. That was June 2, 2018.

Kylar said that as soon as he met them, he thought, “They could have been the ones.”

“People kept saying I look exactly like them,” he said.

Amy said that after they met Kylar, she and her husband went to several meetings to learn more about Kylar and fill out paperwork.

“We didn’t meet him again until his birthday, Aug. 6 of last year; he turned 16,” she said. “We got away from the caseworkers for a minute, and he asked if he could call us Mom and Dad,” and that moment “was the changing point of it all,” she said.

Kylar moved into their home in October — and on July 9, the adoption was official.

“It was really fun to tell him he was moving in with us,” Amy said. “Emotions are different for him because he’s had to hide so much. There are a few moments when he’s genuinely happy. That was definitely a moment, when we told him he was moving in.”

Amy said the adoption ceremony was emotional, too.

“He’s had a couple of the same caseworkers for several years,” she said. “It was a tearful adoption.”

After Kylar came to live with the Hughes family, he broke his ankle skateboarding. Two days later, Pete, who is in the Air Force Reserve, was deployed for four months.

“It was a season, a season in life I’d prefer not to repeat,” Amy said.

The couple celebrated the anniversary of the first time they met Kylar, June 2, with snow cones, which Amy said will be their annual tradition.

Kylar is in special-education classes in the 11th grade, and he is adjusting well at home with his two brothers, Amy said.

“They act like normal biological siblings; they fight and stick up for each other,” she said.

Kylar described his brothers: “We sort of get along; sometimes we just don’t get along. We try to make it work.”

Amy said as Kylar has gotten older, his behavior has improved.

“Behaviorally, [Kylar is] pretty good for us,” Amy said. “He’s very respectful most of the time. He is a social butterfly and makes friends with everyone.”

Kylar said his positive traits are, “I like drawing, spending time with others, caring for others, being nice to my friends.”

Amy said she doesn’t want to give the wrong impression about the adoption.

“I don’t want to paint a picture that it’s all sunshine and roses, because it’s not, but it’s worth it,” she said. “He is worth it, and he deserves a family. Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, it’s going to disrupt our family, but think about what disruptions he’s had in his life.

“Our job is to take care of the orphans, so I feel like we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Pete agreed.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s been good overall. There have been a lot of adjustments for everyone, all five of us. It’s been good; we’ve seen a lot of growth and progress in [Kylar] just over the last year.”

Amy said her goal for Kylar is for him to achieve everything he can.

“He will live with us for a while; it’s not 18 and done with him. We don’t want to limit his abilities; we want to push him as far as he can go — independent living, whatever that looks like,” she said.

The couple said they hope that after hearing their story, others will consider adoption.

Kylar said that although he had started to believe he’d never be adopted, his dream came true.

“If I could say anything to the other kids, it would be not to give up hope because there’s always a chance that they might be wrong about families,” Kylar said.

The best part of being in his family, he said, is “that I have people who care about me and will love me forever.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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