Melvin Wilson immigrated to the United States from Liberia when he was 6. His parents were not with him, he lived with a stranger whom he believed to be his grandmother and he called the friends with whom he was closest his “cousins” and older women his “aunts.”
“I had no clue what a family was,” Wilson said. “Nobody showed me what love was when I grew up and I didn’t know what family meant. I was clueless until I met them and they showed me what families do.”
Wilson’s life and his understanding of the concept of family changed when he met the Farrells — John and Tara — after he slipped and hurt his neck during a wrestling match in his sophomore season.
“They tried to call his emergency contact, what they thought was his family, and they didn’t really answer,” John Farrell said. “We had known him for a while, so he asked Tara to go to the hospital with him in the ambulance. They couldn’t get anyone from his family to go to the hospital so we stayed with him for most of the night.”
Wilson first came into contact with the Farrell family when he began wrestling in seventh grade and met the Farrell’s middle son, Tyler. The Farrells began helping Wilson in every way they could.
“He was just a little kid who we didn’t know,” John Farrell said. “He was really polite and just a good all-around kid. We didn’t know much about him, but through the years we followed him and supported him.
“We could tell he didn’t have much of a home life or family support at all, John Farrell added. “We’d help sponsor him and if he needed money for food or whatever, he was such a good kid and so polite that we had no problem just being around him.”
The level of support from the Farrells changed from occasionally giving Wilson food, water and money to something much bigger when Wilson’s emergency contact did not come to pick him up from the hospital after his injury during his sophomore year at Park Center.
“We knew he was in a not-so-good situation for a really long time,” Tara Farrell said. “When the grandma didn’t come and get him from the hospital I knew he was going to be our kid for the rest of his life.”
The time Wilson spent with the Farrells during his trip to the hospital gave him something he had yet to experience in his life: a sense of family.
“I felt safe. They were there and I trusted them and that was the reason I asked them to come on the ambulance with me,” Wilson said. “I had a trustworthy person next to me and if anything happened, she would be there so I felt safe and I just had to worry about being treated and getting better.
Wilson became a member of the Farrell family from that point on.
“We went through the school to see what we could do and then we started looking legally at what we could do,” John Farrell said. “The person who he was living with had no legal custody of him through the state or anything. He had no paperwork, no birth certificate that we could find and he had no immigration paperwork. He had nothing.”
John and Tara Farrell, after talking it through with their three children, invited Wilson to move in with them shortly after his first weekend with the family. For Wilson, the feeling of being a part of a family and being able to rely on other people were concepts he had yet to experience.
“I didn’t have parents to watch over me so I had to do my own thing and I didn’t really care about anything until I met them,” Wilson said. “The biggest challenge for me was to meet the family and fit in. For me, I’ve never had a family so I didn’t really know what a family is.”
The Farrells became Wilson’s legal guardians on Dec. 23, 2013 after filling out a lot of paperwork and passing through multiple legal steps.
“It was a nice little Christmas gift for us,” John Farrell said.
Wilson continued to develop as a wrestler for Park Center as he went through the legal process necessary to become a part of the Farrell family. Wilson finished fifth in February’s Class AAA section tournament and finished his senior season with a record of 25-9. Wilson, among other things, credits his wrestling career at Park Center for being one of the main things that helped change his life.
“Without wrestling, I probably would never have met John and Tara,” Wilson said. “Wrestling brought us closer together.”
Two years after the injury that first brought Wilson closer to the Farrell family, he is preparing to graduate from Park Center High School, works part-time at TJ Maxx and is set to join North Hennepin Community College in the fall where he plans to pursue a career in construction management.
And, most importantly, for the first time in his life Melvin Wilson has finally experienced being part of a family.