By Lynn J. Richardson
Sitting across the table from 18-year-old Baylor Padgett at Jonesborough’s Corner Cup, one could never guess what her life used to be like.
That’s because she is laser-focused on her present and her future, and firmly grounded in her faith.
The December 2017 graduate of Daniel Boone High School talks freely about her early years —a childhood blighted by hunger, homelessness, bullying, and family alcoholism.
But her life is very different now and she just can’t seem to stop smiling.
Born in Indiana as Bailey Nicole Marie Moore, she had little to be happy about as a youngster. An only child, she and her biological parents moved to Florida and then to Johnson City, living on the street much of the time.
“My grandmother wasn’t well and she moved to Johnson City to be near her doctors,” Baylor explained. “She paid for bus tickets for us to come and, for the first few weeks, she paid our motel bill. But she had too many doctor bills to keep paying, so we went to stay at the Salvation Army in Johnson City.”
Forced to leave because of her dad’s alcoholism, they found an apartment through a government agency. It was then that Baylor, 13, discovered a nearby satellite campus of Boone Trail Baptist Church.
“I went there on Friday nights because they had this homework help thing, and they had pizza,” she said. “That was good, since I only ate at school.”
It was also there that Baylor met Tony Padgett, a retired postal worker, and his wife Kem, who works for the Kingsport City School system. The couple took her into their home when her parents were once again evicted due to bed bugs, drugs and alcohol in the apartment.
“It was supposed to be temporary, but after about nine months, I begged my bio parents to sign over their rights so I could be adopted,” Baylor said. “It didn’t take much convincing for my father, but it took a little longer for my mother to decide.”
The transition to her new family was a bit difficult at first, Baylor says. For the first time, she had siblings — two brothers, Cory, who is now 21 and a senior at East Tennessee State University, and Dawson, 18, who is a senior at Daniel Boone High School.
Everything was new and different, and at first even the good things seemed strange. She decided to legally change her name to Baylor Kate Padgett, and she admits she had a lot of “trust issues” in the beginning.
She remembers being asked to make a Christmas list, and realizing she would not only receive gifts; she would get to keep them. Readily available snacks meant she no longer needed to hoard and hide food in her room.
Vacations were something new, too.
“I had never been on a vacation before,” Baylor said. “I thought they were just the coolest thing ever. When my parents took me to Dollywood for the first time, I had never been on a roller coaster before. I was like a kid in a candy store.”
Baylor has a bright future ahead of her. With only three years of experience with the sport, she has just signed with Emory & Henry to play golf.
And just a few weeks ago, there were “high-fives and crying” when she learned she is receiving a Bonner Scholarship which will cover all her college expenses.
She hopes to pursue a career in social work, working with children, where she hopes her life experiences will serve her well.
“I was bullied quite a bit in school and ate lunch alone a lot, so who better to help kids than someone who understands,” Baylor said.
The toughest things she’s had to overcome, she says, were the death of her grandmother right before her freshman year of high school, and recently learning she has two genetic disorders: polycystic kidney disease, probably necessitating a kidney transplant by the time she is in her 40s; and a joint disease, hypermobility Ellers Danlos syndrome.
Still, she smiles, and dismisses the obstacles, explaining she simply has had to change her lifestyle so she can do the things she’s able to do without hurting herself.
“I have a great support system with my family, and I have a lot of faith in Christ,” she says. “Even if I were to pass away, I know where I’m going. You only get so much time in life so why waste your time not being happy with something you can’t change? Why not just go ahead and live it while you can?”
Baylor now shares her story with youth groups in churches throughout the region. It is a story of triumph over adversity, faith over fear, and her message is simple:
“I tell them, ‘Don’t give up on yourself. You’re priceless no matter who’s telling you you’re not.’ ”