Original story published by MidWeek on July 14, 2021 by Lianne Bidal Thompson, here.
Love remains the driving force for Duane and Lyn Pagay, who are the proud parents of four children and 15 foster keiki.
Duane Pagay was at a crossroads. He was carrying a lot of pain from his past and knew that he was not only hurting himself with his actions, but his family as well.
The Maui resident spent his childhood on Lāna‘i moving in and out of the foster care system. He was eventually reunited with his parents, but says that arrangement only made his life worse. Raised in an environment surrounded by the drug trade, he soon started committing street crimes, selling drugs himself, and eventually ended up in prison.
“Being taken from bad times to go into foster care taught me to run from my problems,” he states. “And, being taken from foster care, where everything was going good and getting better, and having to go back to the abuse, taught me to sabotage myself when my life was going good or it made me think that I had to mess up for my life to be normal.”
Despite the bleak circumstances he found himself in, he was determined to change. Part of that involved owning up to his own poor decisions.
“Going through the process of self-healing and to better myself was very hard and hurtful at the same time, because I had to learn to hold myself accountable for all of my mistakes as an adult,” he says.
It was during this time of personal transformation that Duane met his wife, Jonahlyn, or Lyn as she is known. Soon, the couple would choose a direction that would lead them to fostering 15 children, in addition to caring for their own four keiki.
Their first opportunity on this new path came when they were asked to take care of a relative’s baby. Thankfully, the Pagays didn’t hesitate in making that decision.
“Family means everything to me,” explains Lyn. “So, if I can help a family, I will try my best, especially in situations like this — to care, support and love on the child. Not only the child, but their parents as well.”
Duane agrees, saying,“It was an awesome feeling knowing that we were there for a child in a time of need, and to be able to help a family get the help they needed in a dark time.”
When the baby boy was reunited with his parents, Lyn admits to having mixed feelings.
“Honestly, it was very hard, as baby came to us at 2 months old,” she reveals. “But then again, it was a great feeling knowing that he got to be with his parents again.”
Seeing how well that experience went for the Pagays inspired Mary Leyva, a community liaison with Partners in Development Foundation, whose Hui Ho‘omalu program recruits and guides prospective resource caregivers through the foster care licensing process.
“The Pagays appeared so welcoming and caring for all children; and at the HANAI training, Duane disclosed that he himself had been in foster care in a general home,” recalls Leyva, adding that she encouraged the couple to switch their child-specific license to a general foster license. “After he shared that, I expressed to him and Lyn how relating to children in foster care could be positive.”
Now a new road presented itself, one in which the couple could provide for keiki the love and guidance that Duane says he lacked in his childhood.
“Duane and I came to an agreement that we wanted to continue to be there for these children and let them know that they are loved and wanted,” Lyn adds.
Since that fateful decision to become foster parents, the Pagays have welcomed 15 foster keiki into their home to join three of their own children: 19-yearold Micah, 11-year-old Jaiden and 9-year-old Jaida. The couple also recently adopted 2-year-old Jaidee.
“She was just 9 days old and has been with us ever since,” Duane states.
For the Pagays, fostering so many children is worth the sacrifice because of the love they have for these keiki and their personal circumstances.
(According to Partners in Development Foundation, a nonprofit that uses Native Hawaiian values and traditions to equip families and communities for service, there are approximately 1,500 children in foster care on any given day in Hawai‘i. These youths often experience a greater rate of homelessness, sex exploitation, drug and alcohol abuse, and incarceration.)
Duane insists that he’s always felt the safest and the most love when he was in foster care. That same loving and secure environment is what he seeks to provide for the children in his care.
The Pagays acknowledge that the path they’re on is not without its bumps, but they are grateful to be navigating the road together.
With both Duane and Lyn working full-time — he’s employed at Maui Beach Vacation Club and she is an elementary school teacher at Ka‘ahumanu Hou Christian School — Lyn credits a structured home and schedule for maintaining balance between jobs and family time.
“Yes, fostering is a huge commitment,” Duane admits, adding that finding that sweet spot in parenting is easier because of the rewards and support he receives.
“I just accept it all as a whole and say, ‘This is my family and I am going to do all that I can to make them happy,’” he continues. “I focus on the smiles I will get when I get home. We all do it as a team; we all do it together.”
“I’m very proud of Duane. He is a very supportive, caring, and loving husband and father. We both try to do everything together around the house — well except cooking. He is the cook; I don’t really cook,” Lyn says with a laugh.
The family makes the most of their time together, enjoying bike rides and playing outside or just watching movies. Duane says that he’s happy just doing whatever the kids happen to be interested in.
“I love watching them have fun, smiling and enjoying themselves as children,” he notes.
The Pagays typically foster three children at a time, and they encourage others to explore opening their homes to children in need of a home.
“You can expect to give love and feel loved from someone you never knew,” Duane opines. “I get to be involved in a childhood I never had and to give and express love for all of them.”
He says that his growth as a person continues through his journey as a foster parent as well. And, he gets to share with the keiki all the affirmations he didn’t get during his own childhood.
“Throughout the whole experience, the good stuff I get to tell my kids is that I love them, that they are doing an awesome job, and that life wouldn’t be this amazing without them,” he finalizes. “And, I am very proud of them.”