The Kendrick family traded its 3,000-square-foot home for a 30-foot camper for a year, and visited every state in the continental U.S., parts of Canada and Mexico. It outran hurricanes, survived frigid temperatures — and potty-trained the youngest of nine children.
The family also ran out of gas — about 1,000 feet away from a filling station on the last day of the trip.
“We had been good about keeping it filled during the trip, but on that last day, it came back to bite us,” Bruce Kendrick said.
So why did Bruce, 35, and his wife, Denise, 36, drive about 25,000 miles with eight of their nine children?
Eight years ago, the Kendricks founded Embrace, a nonprofit that provides aid and resources to at-risk, fostered and adopted children and their families, as well as faith-based children’s homes.
“We got so many requests for workshops that we said, ‘OK, let’s knock it all out in a year,’ ” Denise Kendrick said.
They spent about 18 months planning the trip before leaving June 1, 2015. They got back to Texas on May 25.
Seeing the sights
They swam with manatees in Florida; hiked the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park; rode bikes along the Great Allegheny Passage, south of Pittsburgh; went crabbing in Maine; lived off the grid in an old miner’s cabin in Lolo National Forest in Montana; and skied in New Mexico.
Most of their children, five of whom are adopted, joined them: 20-year-old Genet, 13-year-old Macy, 12-year-old Kate, 10-year-old Shepherd, 9-year-old Mattie, 8-year-old Ellen, 7-year-old Reuben and 2-year-old Chapel. The oldest child, 23-year-old Brandan, didn’t accompany them.
Mom and Dad slept in a double bed on one side of the trailer. Some of the kids slept in bunk beds on the other side. Others slept in the kitchen and living area on mattresses that were set up every night.
The Embrace board of directors approved $20,000 for fuel costs and training expenses. Most of the other money for the trip came from fundraising, savings or donations from churches that hosted training sessions.
The family used more than 10,000 quarters in coin laundries around the country, Denise Kendrick said.
In places where it was hard to take the trailer, such as New York City, the Kendricks stayed in hotels or in mission network housing.
We had no major illnesses or injuries. God was looking out for us.
“We had no major illnesses or injuries,” Denise Kendrick said. “God was looking out for us.”
But there were some minor scrapes.
Reuben, whom the family calls “Chuy,” needed stitches when he was riding on the handlebars of a bicycle pedaled by one of his sisters that ran into a brick wall.
“Guys, that’s a bad idea,” Denise Kendrick remembers saying. “But it was already too late.”
Reuben’s second injury, a minor one, occurred “in a playground incident” at Laurel Hills State Park in western Pennsylvania, Bruce Kendrick said.
There were a lot of what Denise Kendrick calls “camper shenanigans.”
In South Carolina one evening, water started streaming down a wall near the master sleeping area. In a separate incident, a cord that hitches the trailer to the family’s van got twisted and had to be fixed.
“It would have taken two weeks for the pros to fix it, but they said we could do it ourselves in an hour,” Denise Kendrick said. “It took a lot longer than an hour.”
In New Mexico, hoses and water lines froze, and at another stop, a loose valve led to a sewage bath for Bruce Kendrick.
“That was awesome,” he said.
The bare necessities
Along the way, they conducted workshops about foster care in about 23 cities, including Indianapolis; New York City; Lancaster, Pa.; Rapid City, S.D.; Montreal; Quebec City; and Tijuana, Mexico.
“We didn’t get much pushback from the kids,” Bruce Kendrick said. “The hardest part was the lack of privacy and personal space.”
Packing was difficult, too.
“They wanted to bring everything with them,” Denise Kendrick said. “We had to say, ‘OK, if you really think this is a neat rock and want to bring it with you, then something else needs to be left behind.’ ”
The task of narrowing things down was exhausting.
“We got rid of so much stuff,” Kate said.
“It was hard to decide what to keep,” Macy said.
One thing they didn’t have was enough shelf space for books in a family of voracious readers.
“We spent a lot of hours in libraries, reading books,” said Denise Kendrick, who used the reading material as part of a home-school curriculum. “We ordered so many and shipped so many boxes of books back home to Grandma.”
Denise Kendrick started providing young-adult book lessons to her children and promised they could go to the movies based on the books if they finished them.
Shepherd got hooked on the Western novels of Louis L’Amour and asked his mom, “Does he have anymore?”
“Oh, wait until you see this,” his mother told him. “He’s got, like, 50 more.”
When the roads were too twisty for them to take the trailer to a camping spot in Yosemite, Bruce and Chapel spent the night in a tent while Denise and the rest of the children huddled for warmth in their van.
“It was 18 degrees. I thought it was going to be 40,” Denise Kendrick said. “We would turn on the heat for a little while every few hours to keep warm.”
She stayed awake while the kids slept, passing the time by reading The Martian.
Spreading the word
The Kendricks’ oldest son, Brandan, whom they adopted when he was 16, just graduated from basic training in the Army and didn’t make the trip. But he played a big role in helping the Kendricks become involved in foster care.
“A lot of kids age out of foster care, and we just found that unacceptable,” Bruce Kendrick said. “We took one look at him, and we knew he was our son.”
30,000 children enter foster care each year, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
3,000 foster kids live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area
According to statistics from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, about 30,000 children enter foster care each year. About 3,000 foster kids live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The Kendricks spend much of their time trying to reunite children with their birth families as often as possible. In Texas, about 1 in 3 reconnect with their birth parents in some way, according to DFPS statistics from 2015.
Jen Decker of Kansas City was familiar with Embrace’s outreach and met the Kendricks early during their tour.
“Part of their tour was coaching people like me to provide a more positive support structure for foster and adoptive families,” said Decker, the director of Network 1.27, an adoptive ministry at Westside Family Church in Lenexa, Kan. “They have helped me immensely. They’ve been out there learning the hard way, and they have helped teach me to do what I do better.”
Shortly after starting Embrace, the Kendricks found themselves advocating for foster care at the highest levels.
“Government plays a role in this, and we appreciate what the government is doing, but if people in their own communities don’t take care of the most vulnerable, then the problem never gets solved,” Bruce Kendrick said.
“We didn’t set out with this grand vision, we just kind of followed God’s plan. Now I’m speaking at the state and national level, discussing legislation and doing other things.”
Denise Kendrick describes Embrace’s efforts as being a “voice for the voiceless,” and the family estimates that it has fostered about 25 children over the years. Some became permanent family members.
“It was like Rebel Without a Cause. You’re playing a constant game of chicken where you are waiting to see who swerves first to avoid going over the cliff,” Denise Kendrick said, referring to their early years with Brandan. “I said, ‘I’m gonna push and push and push, but, dude, I am not going to swerve.’
“I just fell head-over-heels for that kid. I’m his mom.”
The Kendricks said the best part of the trip was meeting people from different backgrounds and living situations.
“We stayed in some very interesting places,” Denise Kendrick said. “Some of those trailer parks — wow.”
One stop included a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago over the July Fourth holiday — a weekend that saw 10 people die in shootings.
“It might not have been the best neighborhood, but the people we met were really welcoming,” Denise Kendrick said. “We just sat outside and watched the fireworks.”
The beauty of the landscape was staggering, she said.
It was great seeing God’s creation across the country. I see it all the time on the desktop of our Mac, but wow, now I’m seeing it in real life.
“It was great seeing God’s creation across the country,” she said. “I see it all the time on the desktop of our Mac, but wow, now I’m seeing it in real life.”
Most family members say they are happy to be back home but relished the trip.
“It was kind of good to get away, but at the same time, you missed the normality,” Macy said.
Genet, originally from Ethiopia, reflected on the trip as the family got ready to play a board game.
“Now that we’re back, it’s like, where do we go next?”