ST. PETERSBURG — He went to church that Sunday to plead for a family.
Over the next two weeks his story spread across the world, popping up on websites, TV screens and front pages from here to India.
The Florida teenager says he has found his purpose.
And 10,000 people believe they have found a son.
• • •
Davion Navar Henry Only, 15, was born in prison, raised in foster care, and lives in a group home with 12 other boys. He has never had his own room or felt wanted.
Last spring, after discovering that his birth mother had just died, he determined to find someone to adopt him.
He first shared his quest with the Tampa Bay Times in a front-page story Oct. 8. It told of his visit to St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, where his caseworker had arranged for him to take the pulpit.
In her 28 years working with foster kids, Connie Going said, she had never known one who wanted to put himself out there like that. To risk being rejected. Again.
"I know God hasn't given up on me," Davion softly told the congregation. "So I'm not giving up either."
• • •
After the service, dozens of people hugged Davion, congratulated him, offered to take him to a Bucs game.
After the Times story ran, hundreds of couples across Tampa Bay called Going to ask about adopting him. Others wanted to mentor Davion, send him gift cards, contribute to his college fund.
Davion's day in church has been the most popular story on tampabay.com this month, with more than 132,965 views through Friday.
It has also gone viral on social media. More than 20,000 people shared it on Facebook and Twitter. Publications across the country picked up his prayer and posted his picture.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Going. "His simple plea just struck a chord with the world."
Newspapers in England, Australia and Japan carried his story. Websites from Fox News to Yahoo, Reddit and Gawker, MSN, People, Cosmopolitan and the Huffington Post. Television networks from ABC to Al Jazeera. He was on the Today show. Producers of The View flew him to New York for an interview.
• • •
Davion had never been on a plane, never been out of Florida. He borrowed his mentor's yellow sweater and shiny dress shoes, shuddered in the seat beside his caseworker and buried his face in his hand-held PlayStation during the whole trip.
His caseworker, Going, thought about making him look up at the skyscrapers, check out Times Square. "But I needed him to feel safe," she said. "This has all been so overwhelming."
As the TV lights bore down on him and the cameras zoomed closer and those four women he had never heard of kept hammering him with questions, Davion felt sick. But he held his head high.
And when Barbara Walters asked him to describe his perfect family, Davion said simply, "Anyone who would love me."
Going got so many calls that her agency, Eckerd, had to hire a public relations firm, Hill & Knowlton Strategies, to help manage media requests. Her supervisor drafted more than 60 volunteers to set up a phone bank and field all the calls. Now Davion isn't just a boy, he's a URL: www.eckerd.org/davion.
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Strangers from every state wanted to adopt Davion. Couples who couldn't have children, families who had taken in five other foster kids. Young, single moms and graying grandparents, all offering their homes, their love — a future for a boy they had never met.
Some of Davion's relatives came forward too. He had met a few of them over the summer, but none was eligible to adopt him. After his story ran, other cousins called Going, wanting to meet him and help.
"We are following through with every offer, explaining the process to people and directing them to have home studies done," said Going. "I have no doubt that, because of these inquiries, we will find a family for him."
Couples who have already passed adoption home studies are being considered first, Going said. Families without young children, or who have experience with teens and traumatized kids, also receive priority. And though people from other states are eligible to adopt, Going said Eckerd is giving special consideration to Florida families who could keep Davion in contact with his friends and mentor.
Over the next month, adoption specialists hope to narrow down the thousands of inquiries to 100 or so, Going said. Then she will present 10 options to Davion. "He will have a say," she said.
He could be in a new home by Christmas.
Davion said he is amazed that "so many people actually want me."
But, he said, "that's not the best part."
• • •
Many of the people who called offering to adopt Davion had no idea so many teenagers are in foster care, Going said. Teens are often the most difficult to place — and need parents the most.
By sharing his story, Davion has become a voice for all those other kids like him.
"We have more than 100,000 kids in foster care across the country, just waiting for someone to take them in," Going said. "We have been encouraging everyone to look at all the other kids who need them."
On The View, Jenny McCarthy called it "The Davion effect."
Davion just calls it "cool."
"I know what it's like to have nobody, with no light at the end of the tunnel, no one who wants you," Davion said Thursday after school. "I just keep saying, 'There's only one me. But all my friends, all the other guys at the group home, all these other kids need families too.
"I just hope they don't give up. And that someone gives them a chance."
Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825. News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.