SEDALIA — Supporting children is more than just a job for teacher Mike Stephens. He has made it his hobby, passion and "mission in life."
When Stephens, 56, is not working as a teacher in Dresden, he makes porcelain angels that he sends to terminally ill children, kids with disabilities and families whose children have died. Before giving them to the families, he prays over the angels so they may bless and watch over the homes, he said.
Stephens, a lifelong Sedalia resident, started the project about seven years ago after the death of his niece.
Tracy Stephens, his brother's only child, died of cystic fibrosis when she was just 20 years old. Since then, he estimates that he has crafted and given away more than a thousand angels.
"She touched so many lives that I just wanted to continue that," he said.
Stephens has always worked with kids.
On top of teaching, he was the youth director at his church, and he and his wife, Rebecca, used to be foster parents. Along with giving the angels to families across the country and military personnel overseas, Stephens also sells them at craft shows.
He said he does not profit from selling the angels, but he uses the money he makes from the shows to support his craft. "I give many, many away. I have probably given more away than I ever sold, I think," Stephens said.
Stephens often gives away his best angels to people who are taking donations for sick children and their families.
Three years ago, Stephens donated an angel to a woman who was struggling to keep up with her bills while paying for her child's cancer treatment.
She sold the angel at an auction for $600. "I was pretty proud of that," Stephens said. "It's a good cause. It helped pay for gas, food, travel and medical expenses for the care of her child."
Sherrie Stouffer, a Dresden teacher, described receiving an angel from Stephens as an inspirational act of kindness that "meant the world" to her family. Stephens surprised her with an angel a week before her special-needs son was going into the hospital for surgery.
"It was certainly a surprise to get it," Stouffer said. "We had only worked together a short time, just a few weeks." Stouffer said she feels that her son has several guardian angels watching over him, so the gift from Stephens was especially moving and appropriate.
"The fact that he made an angel for a child he's never met was amazing. It was really nice for someone to do that," Stouffer said.
After scouring online news sites for touching stories, Stephens finds a way to contact the families whose plights move him. Stephens enjoys personally delivering the crafts to families in the area.
He has driven up to 200 miles for the chance to see the impact his gifts have and discuss their difficult, shared experiences.
"I want to see the expression on their face and see their happiness, and we do shed some tears," Stephens said.
Stephens makes wedding dolls in addition to the angels. His crafts come in four different sizes and can include a picture frame, if requested.
When he is overwhelmed with orders, Stephens' wife, Rebecca, daughter Mallory and son Bryce chip in to help.
He still does about 90 percent of the work because he is something of a perfectionist when it comes to his craft.
"I think this is my mission in life because I have the chance to touch so many lives," Stephens said. "It makes me feel good, and it makes me feel like I am doing something for someone that needs something in their life."