by Zach DeBruin

Family. It can mean a hundred different things to a hundred different people. If you ask what family means to me, it’s not just biological. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful for my biological family. They made me who I am today — how could I not be thankful? But family, in my opinion, is the group of people who always has your back. The people who will always be there for you in the toughest times.
It all started when I went to hang out with Tyler Peterson, one of my closest friends now, but just another kid back then. I started going over to Ty’s more often and getting to know the family. I instantly saw radiating strength and wisdom from his mom, Johanna Peterson, or as everyone calls her, “Mama Jo.”
Another friend of mine was kind of in a tight spot with his family and was needing a place to stay. I watched Jo open her doors to him and bring him in as part of her own family. To this day, he is staying in Jo’s house as one of her own kids. Jo has opened her doors to more people than you would guess, though. Ever since I started coming over more often, there have been people in and out, most of them staying just long enough to fix things with their families and head back home after they’ve cooled down. There were a few of us who didn’t stray too far from the Peterson household, and that variety pack of teenage kids became the building blocks of my second family.
But like I said, Jo is the backbone. She is a strong woman with a crazy background to prove it, but that’s another story for another day. I don’t mean to speak for all of Jo’s nonbiological kids, because Lord knows I would never live it down, but I think Jo has helped make us who we are. She has showed us enormous strength in tight spots and how to handle real-world problems and provided the comfort of a safe haven, and not only if we needed one.
I never had that much trouble at home — I just got hooked, I guess. It’s almost like Jo’s personality is magnetic. It grabs everyone’s attention, how positive she is, how outgoing she is, how comfortable she is. It really just pulls everyone together.
To this day, I find myself stopping in to the house just to talk for a minute, get things off my chest and be a vent if she needs one, too.
Honestly, to sum all of this up, I am not sure where I would be or what I would be doing if I hadn’t stumbled upon Mama Jo or the friends who make my life what it is.