Garett Bolles stood on a curbside in Lehi, Utah, all his belongings scattered around his feet in a few duffle bags and cardboard boxes. Tears stained his cheeks as the realization hit: He had no place to go. Suddenly homeless at 18, Garett didn’t know what to do with his life, let alone where he’d sleep that night. That’s when Greg Freeman pulled up next to the 6' 5" teen, unable to miss the imposing figure. Not knowing what else to do, Greg loaded Garett’s belongings into his car, not understanding this simple moment would change all of their lives forever.
Suspended from multiple schools, moving to four new homes in just as many years, struggling with a learning disability, and growing up with a dad who was forced to fill the role of both parents, Garett Bolles’s childhood wasn’t the ideal.
“I fought a lot because people would make fun of me. I would hold it in, and then one day I would just explode,” he says. In August 2010, Garett got arrested for vandalism while pulling a school prank. He was falling behind in school and fighting with his siblings, and now he had a criminal record.
When Garett began ninth grade, his bishop could see the teen was struggling. He called a woman from the ward, Emily Freeman, who recruited other women to mentor and tutor Garett. “Monday through Thursday I would go to their homes. They would feed me dinner and help me with my homework,” Garett recalls. “They knew I would get in trouble on the weekends and at night, so they were protecting me… But they were also like my family. Whatever it was, clothes, shoes, they were always there for me to take care of me.”
And the sacrifice wasn’t lost on the teenager. While at the Freeman’s house listening to a family home evening, Garett became very still when Emily challenged everyone to write a letter of gratitude to one person who changed their lives. “I went over to Garett and asked, ‘Do you know what you want to write about?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I want to write about those ladies who have helped me—I just don’t have words,’” Emily says. “It was such a sweet moment of just realizing that he was so overwhelmed by the goodness and support that lasted for four years, until the day he graduated from high school.”
But Garett’s hardest struggles were still ahead.
Finding a New Home
“I was still getting in trouble,” Garett says about the summer after his graduation. “I was heading to prison, and everyone sort of knew that. At the same time, they didn’t really know what to do.” Though he would listen to gospel messages or advice from those who loved him, Garett allowed his rage to control him, fighting with his siblings and dabbling in drugs and alcohol.
Garett’s father, Grove, decided Garett should live on his own until he figured out his life. That decision came after Grove arrived home to find Garett with three friends who were forbidden from being in their home. Grove gave his son four hours to get himself and his things out of the house or he would have Garett arrested for trespassing. Just a few hours later, Greg Freeman found Garett crying at the side of the road.
Greg called Emily as he drove to their house, explaining the situation. “The first thing [Emily] did when she hung up the phone was pray. They still had two daughters at home—one was in high school and one was in ninth grade. And so they were really scared, you know, because I was a lost, troubled teen trying to figure out my way. So she prayed, and the Lord said, ‘Bring him home,’” Garett remembers, tears beading in his eyes. “That’s a big miracle, you know. Not too many people can just take a random kid off the street that had all these struggles.”
When Garett arrived at his new home, Emily had him leave all of his belongings in the car until he agreed to four rules: (1) go to Church, (2) pay his tithing, (3) turn in his phone at night, and (4) don’t talk to his old friends.
Greg thought Garett would not last three days living under such strict rules. Emily gave him three weeks. “But I proved them wrong,” Garett says.
Finding His Mission
Over the next few months, Garett struggled to know what to do with his life. From joining the military to going to a trade school to joining the Peace Corps, nothing was working and nothing felt right. Garett only knew one thing for sure: he was not going to serve a mission.
Overwhelmed by stress and the uncertainty of his future, one day Garett broke down sobbing at the top of the staircase. “He was so worried,” Emily recalls. “He was sitting up here on the stairs just crying, and he asked, ‘How long are you going to love me?’ And I said to him, ‘Forever. When you get married, I am going to be there at your wedding. When you have your first baby, I’ll be there. For the rest of your life, I am going to always be here.’
And he just cried, these big alligator tears just rolling down his cheeks.” “In that moment, I realized I really did have a family that I could rely on that loved me,” Garett says. “So that was just a reassurance that the Lord would send this family to take care of me and just to be there for me through all my hard times.”
By October, Garett felt secure in his new home but still didn’t know what to do with his life. “Nothing felt right, so I went to visit my bishop,” Garett says. Garett discussed several options with his bishop. Finally, once Garett exhausted his list of possibilities, his bishop suggested he serve a mission.
“I was like, ‘Bishop, listen, you’re crazy. I’m never going to serve a mission. [Then] the Spirit just hit me, and I started to cry. I looked up to my left and, I’ll always remember this, there was [a painting of] Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane lying on the rock and going through the Atonement process, and I just started to cry.” At that moment, Garett knew he needed to serve a mission.