Ryan Ring-Cadena never knew his biological father and sometimes his existence in a Bullhead City, Arizona, apartment with his mother felt precarious. At 5 years of age, a neighbor or his grandmother Carolyn sometimes would find him after his mother left him unsupervised for hours — or days.
In 2003, when the Home of Hope opened in Casa Grande, Ryan moved there with his mother. The 35,000-square-foot Arizona Teen Challenge women’s facility — complete with a nursery, library, and arts and crafts room — allows mothers to simultaneously receive treatment and continue caring for their children, who otherwise might be placed into the custody of the state Department of Family Services.
His mother completed the yearlong stay and Ryan, at 6, “graduated” with her. However, soon after returning to Bullhead City, Ryan’s mother began associating with old friends and resuming old behaviors. The pair moved to Tucson for a fresh start, but within a couple of months, drug and alcohol availability again became a problem.
In elementary school in Tucson, Ryan fought a lot and his grades suffered. In 7th grade, he returned with his mother to Home of Hope for another yearlong stay, this time as one of the oldest children living on the premises.
“The first time, as a child, I was confused about why we were there,” Ring-Cadena says. “But this time, I had a better understanding of the evil of addiction.” Such knowledge gained at the Teen Challenge Arizona facility kept him wary.
“God has always steered me away from drugs and alcohol,” Ring-Cadena says. “I’d seen the negative effects of addiction firsthand.”
The boy and his mother moved into a Casa Grande apartment after she finished her last stint at Home of Hope. One Monday he came home from school to find a note. His mother had taken off.
“I was somewhat self-sufficient at that point,” Ring-Cadena recalls. “I could eat breakfast and lunch at school, but when the weekend came and there was no food in the house, I called Grandma.” So Ryan went to Tucson to live with the then-73-year-old Carolyn, who had repeatedly watched him in stretches of crisis over the years.
“I had a lot of anger,” he remembers. “I was a problem child because I was so troubled.”
Carolyn earlier had quit working to care for Ryan, living on her meager Social Security check and retirement income.
“She made many sacrifices so she could raise me,” Ring-Cadena says. “But she knew it would be better for me to be adopted.”
Ring-Cadena had stayed in touch with another Home of Hope graduate. Linda Cadena had four sons and two daughters of her own, and during her eight-month stay at the rehabilitation unit, she bonded with Ryan.
“She read to me, taught me how to cook, showed me how to play chess,” Ryan recalls. “She became my best friend and treated me like her own son.”
In 8th grade, Ryan moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to stay with Linda, her husband, Rolando, and their brood of half a dozen. Both parents in the generous, churchgoing family worked as podiatrists.
“Staying with them really turned my life around,” says Ring-Cadena. The economically viable, stable home provided a sense of security he didn’t feel before. He also made friends at school, where he joined clubs, wrestled, and became part of the student government.
Then, Ryan crashed the family minivan into a brick wall. He and his brothers had gone to a park to play basketball, and Ryan took the wheel en route home. Once there, he immediately started packing his belongings, assuming he would be ousted for the wreck.
Linda told him to unpack. Although she imposed a grounding, she assured Ryan he didn’t need to feel like an outsider.
“Even though I had messed up, Linda told me she still loved me and I could stay as long as I wanted,” Ring-Cadena says. “My adopted mom was the best woman I ever met. She had unlimited patience and love. She saved my life.”
During his sophomore year, tragedy struck when Linda suffered a fatal heart attack, three days shy of her 51st birthday.
That same day, despite a swirl of emotions about losing his wife of 30 years, Rolando took Ryan aside with a reassuring message:
You’re my son. You’re here to stay. You’re part of the family.
Although Rolando never formally adopted Ryan, he did become his legal guardian. Last year, Ryan hyphenated his surname as a tribute to the family.
Clair Cadena-Miranda, 30, says over the years her parents took in 20 children for at least monthlong stays.
“We always had extra kids our house,” says Cadena-Miranda, a podiatrist herself in Phoenix. “My parents had kind hearts. They were in a position to help people, and they never hesitated.”
Cadena-Miranda, 19 when Ryan moved in, considers him her brother.
“My mom saw she could bring him into the house and give him a little more direction and stability,” she says. “He really made the most of it. Because of her faith, my mom loved those who others sometimes thought were hard to love. Some labeled Ryan an angry child. Mom just saw him as willful.”
After graduating from high school, Ring-Cadena received a full scholarship to attend the University of Arizona in Tucson through the Naval ROTC program. Since graduating from college two years ago, Ring-Cadena, 23, has been stationed in Pensacola, Florida, where he recently finished the first phase of naval aviator flight school. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he will have an eight-year commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps once he finishes extensive training.
Ring-Cadena credits Home of Hope for setting him on the right path. He says his maturity rate accelerated as a result of living there, he developed good study habits, and engaged in many conversations about life’s difficulties.
“The incredible program sets people up for success,” Ring-Cadena says. “Home of Hope absolutely worked for me, establishing the foundation for my relationship with God.”
Ring-Cadena says he always sensed God’s guidance and reassurance, even in times of loneliness, anger, and seeming hopelessness.
“When we are at our lowest, God really is looking out for us,” Ring-Cadena says. “I used to question why I had to grow up the way I did. However, as I matured, I started to realize there are valuable lessons I learned through the hardships.”
Lead Photo: Rolando Cadena (left) welcomed Ryan Ring-Cadena into the family.
Bottom photo: When Ryan arrived, the Cadenas already had a full household (from left): Matthias, Rolando, Lucas, Linda, Eliana, Abram, Ryan, Isaac, and Clair.