Sam's Second Chance: Family takes in homeless teen



Posted on February 24, 2014 at 3:56 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 28 at 6:31 PM

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Sam Dowd is not your typical Gonzaga Prep basketball player.  He lived on the streets, alone since age ten until a Spokane family stepped up to help.

At 5’5”, Dowd is almost always the shortest guy on the court. However, what he lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in speed and the ability to soar.

The 20 points Dowd scored Saturday to send Prep to the state tournament seem to have proven cynics wrong.

"’Oh you're too small.  You can't shoot.’  And those people I'm proving wrong," Dowd said.

He is also proving to be much more than a basketball standout.   He also excels at running back on G-Prep’s football team and was named First Team All-GSL defensive back.

Yet behind Dowd’s thousand-watt smile, there's a story jam-packed with struggle.

"When I was about ten or 11 I was pretty much abandoned and they left me," said Dowd.

Abandoned by his parents in Tacoma, Dowd suddenly found himself floating in a world with no foundation.

READ: Number of homeless Wash. students tops 30,000

"I would ask my friends, 'hey man can I come over after school to even have a snack?’”

For four years, he bounced around, staying wherever friends would give him a place to lay his head.

When the invitations were not there, Dowd simply slept on the streets.

"There's a religious part of me where I was like, God is doing this for a reason,” he said, “but sometimes I would cry and think, 'why is God doing this?'"

Intent on avoiding the kind of trouble that beckons from the streets, Dowd focused on staying in school.

"I'd wake up and be like, ‘you know, today's going to be a great day and I'm going to try to go to class.’”

That focus would prove to be his link to a better life in Spokane.  In 2011, fellow AAU basketball teammate Reed Hopkins was in Seattle for a tournament when Dowd opened up.

"I told him, I was like, ‘My friend's mom put my stuff outside.  I don't have a place to go.’"

Hopkins invited Dowd to live with his family in Spokane for his sophomore year. He enrolled at Gonzaga Prep and realized he was trailing behind his classmates.

"It was a struggle at first but they really gave me tools - tutoring, teaching me stuff that I should have learned a long time ago."

By the end of his sophomore year, it was time to find a new place to live.  Desperate not to return to Western Washington, - and likely the streets - Dowd turned to then-Gonzaga Prep senior Matt Miller.

"And he was always the person to be like, 'hey Sam if you ever need anything let me know,’” said Sam.  “We never hung out, we were never really close friends and he was my last resort, so I called him."

"Matthew came to us out of the blue and said, ‘mom and dad we need to take Sam," said Jill Miller.

Jill and Matthew’s father, Ron, had only ever seen Dowd around school.

"I think we knew in our hearts right away we just had to.  He needed us," said Ron.

In a way, the Miller family needed Dowd, too.

"It was great when Sam was coming because I was like, 'yes!  Another brother,'" said Matthew’s sister, Megan.

Almost two years later, Dowd is not just staying with the Millers. He has been a member of the family.  His pictures are put up right alongside brother, Matt, and sister, Megan.

"I just think of him as my son and he's one of my 3 children," Jill said.

“It’s so comfortable to call her ‘mom,’” said Dowd.

For the first time in his life, no one is telling him to move on.

"We're in it for the long haul and I think once he got that - once he felt that - you could just see a change," Jill added.

Sam seized the Miller's love and support... and shows his appreciation through action.

"We don't have to tell him to get up and get out of bed in the morning.  He doesn't need to be nagged at like some of our other kids,” laughed Jill.

And having a loving home has paid off.  Dowd accepted a full-ride basketball scholarship to Montana's Carroll College.

When he goes to college in the fall, the Millers say Dowd‘s bedroom will stay just as it is, ready for him to return for vacations and holidays.

"I hope he always considers this home - I think he will," Jill said.

Not only does Dowd consider this his only real home, he considers the Millers a life-line.

"Without them, I'd be on the streets, and to tell you the truth, I don't know if I'd be around," said Sam Dowd.  "I'm in a great situation and very blessed, and I love it."