Home is supposed to be a sanctuary. No matter what happens in the outside world, your house is your own safe space; your family is there to support you, and you can do whatever you need to relax. Unfortunately, in reality, that cozy environment doesn’t always exist.
One Florida teen was robbed of that comfort after his parents threw him out of their home. Facing the prospect of life on his own, he was forced to make a bold move in order to survive.
Growing up in Florida, Seth Owen seemed like a model son and student. Below the surface, however, his personal life was far from perfect; in fact, it was teetering on the verge of collapse.
Things were always great in the classroom, however. Ever since he was a little boy, Seth made sure to study hard. He was going to do whatever it took to attend a good college.
“I was the nerd in fifth grade who walked around recess talking about how I wanted to be an astronaut,” Owen said. “I was always in a textbook, always in the library, always reading something.”
But everything changed one evening during high school. While Owen was busy putting the finishing touches on a homework assignment, his dad opened up the teen’s phone. He found something shocking on the device.
Owen’s father found some pictures and had immediate questions. First, he wanted to know how his son, who was a successful student athlete, was doing. Then, he revealed what photo he’d found on his son’s phone.
“He found a damning photograph of me and another guy,” Owen remembered. “Nothing inappropriate, but it clearly indicated that I was gay.” That caused a big problem for his parents.
Owen’s parents were strict Southern Baptists and unwilling to accept his sexuality. Rather than supporting their son, they saw him as a problem; they were going to try to fix it.
They started sending the teenager to a Christian counselor, hoping that would help. “It was definitely awkward conversion therapy where they tried encouraging stereotypical masculine tasks and things like that,” Owen remembered.
After a few months, Owen stopped visiting the counselor. His parents were unwilling to relent on one other decision, however. Their son still needed to attend church, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Providence Village Baptist Church
Given the congregation’s views about sexuality, Owen didn’t feel comfortable attending services. He asked to pray at another church, but his parents refused. If he didn’t want to worship with them, he would have to move out.
Matthew Shepard Foundation
Seth didn’t want to leave, but he couldn’t deny who he truly was. With a heavy heart, the teenager packed his bags and headed for the door; from that day forward, he would fend for himself.
The upheaval didn’t change his academic performance, however. Despite spending nights on his friends’ couches, the teen was still accepted into Georgetown University. His college dream was finally coming true.
A few weeks after leaving home, Owen received his admissions packet from the school. When he opened it and poured over the paperwork, though, his heart dropped. There must have been a mistake.
When Georgetown calculated Owen’s financial aid package, they factored in his parents’ income. Since he was now on his own, there was no way the teen could afford his tuition payments.
Understandably, Seth was crushed. He had spent his entire life working towards a college acceptance — and thought he had received it — only to lose his grip on the opportunity at the last second.
One of his teachers, Jane Martin, realized that Owen was struggling, even if he didn’t want to admit it. She pulled a few of her colleagues together, and they tried to set things right.
Martin set up a GoFundMe page hoping to pay her student’s tuition. “I know the goal seems unrealistic and the circumstances aren’t ideal, but I also know communities can make the impossible possible,” she wrote.
Before anyone realized what was happening, the page had raised over $100,000. Not only could Seth attend Georgetown, but he came to understand something even more important: people cared about him.
“He has had so much support,” Martin said. “I’m just excited for him to have this community literally come around and put all of our arms together and bring him up and raise him up.”
By sharing his story, Owen hoped to inspire other teens to love themselves, no matter what. “I would tell that sophomore kid to hold their head high, roll their shoulders back and be exactly who they are,” he said.
Owen’s message resonated with more than just high school teens; it struck a chord with teachers, too. First-grade teacher Jocelyn Morffi loved what she did and the kids loved her back. But she didn’t realize how much Owen’s advice would speak to her.
Jocelyn was well known by the parents and staff and was one of the most popular teachers at the school. Parents of her students praised her and referred to Miss Morffi as the “Mother Teresa of teachers,” and for a good reason!
As a teacher of children who were so young and impressionable, Jocelyn found it difficult to talk to her students about the tragedies that occur around the world on a daily basis. She wanted her conversations with them to be filled with hope rather than fear.
St. Peter and Paul Catholic School
Together with her class, she started brainstorming ideas on how to give back to the community and instill hope in her students. They came up with the idea to volunteer at their local homeless shelter.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
Jocelyn recalled, “When I came back from that first feeding, I asked the school if it’s possible for them to back me up, and I got authorization to send out a letter to the parents stating what’s going on and if they would like to contribute in any way.”
Additionally, Jocelyn used her platform on social media to start a program to encourage her students, their parents, and the community to join her in her new initiative. She used the hashtag #TeachHope to spread the word.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
With her social media campaign and the support of her students, Jocelyn was ready to start her campaign and could only hope that the community followed in her footsteps.
Jocelyn Morffi / Facebook
Jocelyn was overwhelmed with support when her students and their parents showed up to volunteer at the homeless shelter with her. Parents also brought generous donations like loves of bread, meats, cheeses, and snacks to bag up and hand out.
Miss Morffi’s students were passionate about her new program. A class parent and co-worker stated, “They wake me up bright and early on Sunday saying, ‘Mom, we have to teach hope.'” She was an integral part of the school, community, and their lives.
Having their kids spend every day with the “Mother Theresa of teachers” is every parent’s dream. That’s why the parents were immediately concerned when Jocelyn stopped showing up to school — and very confused.
See, Jocelyn was scheduled to have some time off from work because she was celebrating something very special. She was about to marry the love of her life and best friend. She just assumed when it was all over, her life would return to normal.
Prior to the big day, Jocelyn set up a wedding website to show all of the important information regarding her wedding and to inform her guests of the festivities. She set up a wedding hashtag so her loved ones could follow the event online.
The couple planned a weekend-long celebration at the Key Largo Lighthouse estate. On Friday they held a welcome bash, followed by a seaside wedding ceremony on Saturday, with a goodbye barbecue on Sunday… but things didn’t go as planned in the days following.
When parents brought their children to St. Peter and Paul Catholic School following the wedding, they were shocked to see that their beloved teacher had not returned. When the parents learned why Miss Morffi was no longer there, they were outraged.
Since Jocelyn was such a known presence in the community and on social media, the school saw pictures of her wedding ceremony. According to the school, what they saw in those photos left them with no choice but to fire her.
Her Instagram displayed photos of Jocelyn and her wife joining in holy matrimony. Because same-sex marriage is not accepted in the Roman Catholic church, the school relieved Jocelyn of her duties as a teacher at the school.
NY Daily News
Jocelyn took to her social media and wrote this: “This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result. In their eyes, I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner.”
The parents who didn’t follow Miss Morffi on Instagram found out from a letter through the school, which stated that “She is no longer teaching at our school,” and it was “a difficult and necessary decision.”
The following day, dozens of angry parents showed up at the school. One parent told the news, “We feel cheated. She was the best kind of teacher that you can ask for and our kids, everybody, every parent here — our kids loved her.”
Parents threatened to pull their children from the school if she wasn’t reinstated. Unfortunately, Catholic schools, like many other schools, are not subject to the states public school laws. So, in the eyes of the Catholic school board, Miss Morffi was in violation of her contract when she married the woman she loved.
As of 2018, Jocelyn was seeking legal advice to figure out her options. Her attorney stated, “Jocelyn is humbled by all the love and support she has received from family, friends, the students’ parents, and the public. She feels that the manner of her firing was unfair, not only to her but to her students as well.”
Unforunately, it’s stories like Jocelyn’s that cause many people to still feel the need to keep their sexuality hidden — Christopher Landis was no exception. The 43-year-old has been a teacher and a choir director in Massachusetts for the past six years.
“You always walk into his classroom and he’s always there with a positive attitude and maybe a compliment. He’s just so nice,” Summer Foraste, one of Landis’ students, said.
What matters most to Mr. Landis is creating a safe environment where open dialogue is encouraged. His students can talk to him about anything, and they often take him up for it by letting him know what’s going on in their lives.
Since Mr. Landis knows so much about his pupils, he wanted to share some personal news with them too, but something left him feeling hesitant. Despite their love for him, he wasn’t sure how they would take the news.
See, on Christmas Eve of 2016, Christopher got engaged to the love of his life, and was going to be married two years later, at the end of 2018. The couple was excited but also worried about how people would react.
What nobody knew was that Christopher’s significant other was a man named Joe Michienzie. In the past whenever his students or their parents would see them out together he referred to Joe as his “friend”.
The school where Mr. Landis works, Hingham Middle School, is located near the coast of Massachusetts. While MA is a fairly liberal state, there are still groups of people who do not feel safe or accepted for who they are.
Mr. Landis wasn’t sure how his beloved students would feel about him being gay. He feared that they might not approve of his lifestyle and relationship, or worse, that they wouldn’t be comfortable around him anymore.
Despite the couple’s best efforts to keep their engagement on the hush-hush, parents found out about their upcoming nuptials. Without Mr. Landis’ knowledge, they devised a top-secret plan…
“At the end of the summer, I heard he was getting married. He’s the best teacher and he makes every school function fun. We thought, wouldn’t it be awesome to do something for his wedding?” Joy Foraste, whose daughter is one of Landis’ students, said.
Foraste and fellow parent Margit Foley started brainstorming ideas for a surprise in September of 2018. But before starting any real plans, they decided to reach out to make sure it was something Mr. Landis would like.
“We reached out to his fiancé because I wasn’t really sure how he’d feel,” Foley explained. “He was immediately on board. He said he had also been trying to figure out how to incorporate the students because they mean so much to Mr. Landis.”
A group of parents got together and made sure that all his pupils, from sixth to eighth graders, would attend the couple’s wedding with a surprise that would show their full support of their favorite teacher.
“We hoped we’d get at least 15 kids to do it,” said Foraste after emailing the parents of about 60 choir kids. “But instead we had over 50 kids. It’s such a testament to Mr. Landis as a teacher and as a figure in their lives.”
While Foley and Foraste visited the reception venue to clear their plans with the proprietors, the students worked hard on their surprise with the help of Dona Maher, a private chorus teacher who knew Mr. Landis too.
“I was absolutely delighted and honored when they had asked for my help — it was an instantaneous yes from me,” Maher told Wicked Local. “This was a genuinely thoughtful and loving gesture for their teacher.”
With Maher on board, the students showed up every Sunday for four weeks to practice their performance. This meant the kids gave up four weekend days to do something nice for their teacher.
It was the day of the wedding rehearsal, and as soon as the children appeared at the ceremony, the two grooms were overcome with emotion. The kids walked in gracefully, lined up with a smile, and began singing an all too familiar Beatles’ tune…
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done, nothing you can sing that can’t be sung, nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game. It’s easy — all you need is love.”
When Mr. Landis realized what was happening, he instantly started to cry. “I noticed everyone was holding video cameras and I was wondering, like, ‘What’s going on?'” Landis told Inside Edition.
“Then I saw the first student come in and I was like ‘Oh my goodness,’ but I don’t think it hit me until all of these students came in, and they were smiling and all dressed up. I started crying and they started crying.”
The whole performance was filmed and posted online, where it soon went viral. “I still get choked up watching it,” a newly-wedded Joe told The New York Times.
“I always referred to him as my friend because I wasn’t sure how the kids or parents would take it,” Landis said. “When they came to sing I felt like they were basically saying: ‘It’s okay. We know who Joe is.’ So now I say: ‘Joe, my husband.'”
At the end of the video, one of the students’ mom’s comes up to Landis to explain the whole situation and inform him about how much they practiced. He was truly blown away by their dedication.
“As a middle-school teacher, I see students struggle to figure out who they are and to deal with personal issues. I was so glad they were there, feeling the love in the room and knowing everything’s going to be okay… that things do work out.”