Kelly Huffstetler didn’t grow up in a happy home early on. Her mother left when she was 3, leaving her and her four siblings alone with their abusive father.
When Huffstetler’s 13-year-old sister miscarried with their father’s child, she said, authorities removed the children from the home in Virginia. But the foster home where Huffstetler was placed at the age of 6 wasn’t much better. She was neglected to the point that she became malnourished.
Huffstetler, 44, of Wake Forest has kept her story to herself over the years, but she will share it with more than 400 guests at an annual luncheon in Raleigh on Tuesday for SAFEchild, a nonprofit group that aims to prevent child abuse.
Huffstetler has been involved with SAFEchild as a volunteer for years and has listened to stories like her own at the luncheon.
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“I was blown away,” she said of the stories shared at the event in the past.
Huffstetler’s life now is a stark contrast to her early childhood. As co-owner of Realty World Signature Properties, she sells homes all over the Triangle. After work, she goes home to her two daughters and husband.
“I have a happy life, and it is a little fairy tale-ish,” she said.
It certainly wasn’t always that way.
Huffstetler doesn’t remember much about her biological mother, who she says was abused by her father.
“That abandonment in and of itself should have been enough,” Huffstetler said.
She said her siblings bore the brunt of her father’s abuse, taking care of Huffstetler as best they could.
She said her father had a military background and sometimes led the children through a seemingly normal life. They ate dinner every night at the table, and the children shared the chore of cleaning up.
If her father drank, though, things could quickly change.
“When he would drink, he would become extremely violent and aggressive,” Huffstetler said.
The man never faced criminal charges, and Huffstetler said she has no contact with him.
A new start
In foster care, a neighbor noticed that Huffstetler was being neglected and contacted authorities.
The social services department in Virginia didn’t have a solution. There was no where to move the little girl.
So the neighbor offered to take care of her.
Her new mom and dad, David and Margaret Little, already had six children who were almost ready to move out on their own. They took in Huffstetler anyway. She was nine years younger than their youngest biological child.
It wasn’t a formal adoption, but eventually Huffstetler took her new parents’ last name to make it more official.
“My story had a happy ending because I had two wonderful parents and a wonderful family, and they took excellent care of me,” Huffstetler said.
With the support of the Littles, Huffstetler attended Radford University in Virginia and went to graduate school at N.C. State University.
Tools for parenting
In recent years, since she started volunteering with SAFEchild, she has become well-regarded in the organization.
“Kelly is one speaker who will remind others that they can’t always see abuse,” said Ann Brooke Raynal, annual campaign coordinator for SAFEchild. “Abuse does not discriminate.”
Huffstetler will join several other speakers at the luncheon, including other area victims and an emergency physician who deals with abused children.
“The way you prevent child abuse is teaching parents how to parent,” Raynal said. “Many parents don’t have the tools to be a successful parent.”