Faith Endsley wasn’t given much of a chance.
When her parents adopted her from an orphanage in China, she was diagnosed with six infections. The U.S. embassy even offered to help find a healthier baby. Her parents declined.
In Kansas City, at Children’s Mercy hospital, came the news that Faith was actually in the process of dying. And she would have if she hadn’t been adopted, her parents were told.
Then at 3, Faith was diagnosed with autism. Again her parents were given a grim outlook. They were told their daughter would never speak, would never be able to work or function.
Fast forward to last November. The Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods student stepped on a national stage as a speaker at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities conference in Washington, D.C. People wanted to hear what Faith had to say and learn more about the program she created.
“I feel flattered,” Endsley says. “I didn’t expect people to be so interested.”
She not only beat the odds, she excelled and flourished. The 20-year-old also found a way to help others, inspiring them along the way.
“She’s an underdog story,” says mom Christie Endsley. “Her diagnosis was so negative and created a feeling of helplessness. She overcame it all.”
Faith’s parents introduced her to Girl Scouts to help her get some social interaction. She is part of an elite group of young women who’ve earned the Girl Scout Gold Award, recognizing extraordinary leadership through “projects that have sustainable impact in their communities.”
She also took part in “Girls Night Out” (GNO) through the University of Kansas Medical Center. It’s a program that helps girls with autism build social skills and self-confidence.
But Faith had the idea to take the program one step further. Girls Night Out officials say they helped her develop “Girls Night Out Connections.” The program is designed to connect girls with autism who have similar interests and finds events for them to attend together.
She has one hope for the program: for the Girls Night Out participants to make lifelong friendships.
“It’s hard enough to make friends, and it’s even harder when you have a disability,” her mom says.
Faith says that having friends can make a big difference for girls in the program.
“Depression affects a lot of girls with autism,” she says. Having a friend can help in many ways, including battling stress and depression.
Christie Endsley says Faith’s project started receiving national exposure. She was featured on the Girl Scouts’ national website. It then caught the attention of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities. She presented the program alongside the GNO team as one of the youngest people to address its conference.
“I felt nervous but was proud that I was able to be a part of it,” Endsley says. People approached her afterward to learn even more about how the program works.
While she was in the nation’s capital, she explained the program to a group of congressional aides. Several gave her their business cards and urged her to keep in touch.
Endsley’s project also has an international audience. KU Medical Center professors who direct the Girls Night Out program talked it up at a conference in Canada.
Faith and the Girls Night Out team are getting the Girls Night Out Connections program up and running. It will be featured in a link on KUMC’s Girls Night Out website. A kickoff party for the program was held Jan. 30.
Endsley never expected it to go this far. “I just wanted everyone to have friends.”
She’s now in her second semester at Metropolitan Community College. She is studying to become a scientific lab technician and wants to work with doctors on how to treat patients battling cancer. After she receives her associate in science degree, Endsley plans to transfer to a four-year college.
But she already has people wanting to hire her, including KU Medical Center and Children’s Mercy hospital, her mom says.
On top of her studies, Endsley volunteers at Children’s Mercy’s newborn intensive care unit, preparing the syringes used to feed the infants.
Christie Endsley says Faith was bitten by the community service bug during her last two years at Staley High School, completing 1,200 hours of community service. She also has three vests filled with Girl Scout badges, most for community service.
Faith says the reason for volunteering is simple: “It feels good to know I am helping others and making them happy.” And every day as she engages the world, she proves those early predictions about her wrong.