The blistering fights that erupted from the house down the street were legendary in Marianne and Kevin Naslund’s neighborhood. “They echoed off the hillside,” says Marianne. “Everyone got to hear the yelling.” During one particularly nasty fight in February 2008, the neighbors’ 16-year-old son, Andy Livasy, was hit by his stepfather. Watching police cars swarm the street, Marianne realized that she had to help Andy before he ran away or “became an angry person who turned to drugs and alcohol” for comfort.
A few days later, she offered Andy a spot on the Naslunds’ living room couch. Over his parents’ objections, Andy, who knew Marianne’s sons, Nick, then 15, and Jake, then 13, accepted. No one understood why Marianne, a dynamo who sat on the Sultan city council and coaches the high school cheerleading squad, would take in a troubled teen like Andy.
Then a high school sophomore, Andy scowled at the world from beneath a mess of shaggy blond hair and picked fights with Nick and Jake. At the local high school, he either slept through classes or made them a nightmare for teachers.
But Marianne saw herself in Andy. She, too, had grown up in an unsettled household, “with a lot of yelling and not a lot of love.” No matter what, she told people, “kids are not disposable.” Surprisingly, her children understood. “Sometimes Andy could be a downright bully to me,” says Jake, “but when I thought about the future Andy would face if we turned him away, I just couldn’t let myself be a part of that.”
It wasn’t easy. For Andy, moving in with the Naslunds was like entering a foreign country of chores and consequences and family dinners—after years of eating most meals alone. “I was used to getting screamed at if I ever messed up, so I was kind of waiting for that,” says Andy. But the day he was suspended from high school for fighting, the screaming and epithets never materialized. Instead, Marianne calmly asked why he did it, listened to Andy’s explanation, and declared computers and TV off-limits for the duration of the suspension.
“Marianne did it so that instead of fearing a punishment, I didn’t want to let her down,” says Andy. “I didn’t get into another fight for the rest of high school.”
With his biological family, Andy had yelled himself into regular migraines. With the Naslunds, his headaches disappeared, along with most of his angry meltdowns. After six months, he asked Kevin to cut his hair. Two years later, he volunteered to coach youth soccer. And though few adults expected it from the boy with the grade-F mouth, in 2010 he graduated on time from Sultan’s alternative high school.
“If I hadn’t moved in with the Naslunds, I probably would have dropped out,” Andy says.
After four years, Marianne calls Andy her third son, and “if someone asks about my family, I say that he’s one of my brothers,” says Jake. Andy has had no contact with his mom and stepdad since moving out, even though they still live in the neighborhood and say they’re pleased with how their son has turned out. And Andy, who recently joined the Navy, at age 19, knows where he’s heading when he comes home on leave.
Says Andy, “What were the chances of my living across the street from someone who had a similar childhood, like Marianne, who would take me in and explain, ‘You can change your life around’?”