You never know when your past is going to catch up with you. Just ask Brooklyn McKenzie.

Brooklyn’s an 18-year-old senior at Davis High School. She’s focused on graduating in just a few months, then moving on to college to start work on becoming a paramedic. Her future, as they say, is all in front of her.

Then the phone rang and suddenly she was 7 again.

A Utah-based nonprofit called RODS Heroes was on the line. Founded by Brady Murray and his wife, Andrea, the charity’s goal is to place orphan kids with families, and not just any orphan kids, but kids with Down syndrome (RODS is an acronym for Racing for Orphans with Down Syndrome).

RODS was just getting started back in 2013, the year Brooklyn turned 7. She knew about the organization and its cause because it had helped her aunt and uncle, Becky and Brian Preece, adopt a boy with Down syndrome — her cousin Gabe — from Russia.

But that was not the first thought in her mind when she came up with the idea to raise a bunch of money that summer by selling her mom’s blackberry jam.

Every year, Melanie McKenzie would turn the blackberries from the bush by the side of the house into a treat that proved wildly popular with everyone in the family. Even at 7, Brooklyn could see how that could be monetized.

She decided on a good cause for the funds she would raise by selling the jam: a trip for herself and her family to Disneyland.

But then, one day, she walked by a computer on the kitchen counter and the RODS Heroes website was on the screen.

Front and center was a story about a 5-year-old orphan kid in Colombia called Vaughn who needed a home.

The story stopped Brooklyn in her tracks. Vaughn was about her age. What if she was languishing in an orphanage without a family? What if the odds of her getting adopted were extremely low because she had Down syndrome?

Just like that, she switched her fundraising goal from “Disneyland” to “find a home for Vaughn.”

By the end of the summer, she had collected $562. Then she called Brady Murray at RODS Heroes headquarters and told him she had something for him.

To this day, Brady recalls that meeting: “I remember we needed to raise $15,000 for Vaughn’s adoption, and when Brooklyn walked in the door we were $500 short.”

Brady doesn’t believe in coincidences.

“When we get caught up in a cause bigger than ourselves, we witness miracles, big and small, all the time,” he says.

But one miracle didn’t quickly lead to another. With the money in the bank and the clock ticking, the effort stalled. Despite constant advertising on the website (rods.org), no family stepped up to adopt Vaughn.

Years went by, then a decade. In 2022, Vaughn was about to age out (when you turn 16, you are no longer eligible for adoption; Vaughn was about to be institutionalized by the state).

Then, with only weeks to spare, the second miracle happened. Just like Brooklyn when she was 7, a Colorado Springs couple, Melanie and Brian Janus, saw Vaughn’s story on the RODS website. By fall of last year, Vaughn – who now goes by Jose – was on a plane bound for his new family in Colorado.

Brady: “Never give up until the clock’s at zero. Miracles can happen when there’s one second left.”

The first person Brady wanted to tell was a young girl in Kaysville.

Brady Murray, left, and Tyler Janus, second from left, embrace after Brooklyn McKenzie, far right, and Jose Janus, second from right, are surprised with a trip to Disneyland in South Jordan on Sunday, March 17, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Only now she wasn’t quite so young. Brooklyn had grown up.

Brady didn’t just tell her the good news. He also arranged for Brooklyn to meet Vaughn Jose and his new “forever family” in person. Two weekends ago, the Januses and Vaughn Jose came to Brady and Andrea’s home in Highland, where they were introduced to Brooklyn and Melanie.

Melanie describes the scene: “It was really neat. There was an instant connection (between Vaughn Jose and Brooklyn). He just held onto her and kept kissing her hand. Vaughn Jose’s mom said he gravitates toward men, he loves all the male figures — except for Brooklyn. He just kept holding onto her.”

What happened next was something else Brooklyn didn’t think would happen.

“You know,” said Brady, “it has weighed on me for a decade plus that you didn’t get to go to Disneyland, and I understand you still haven’t been, so we have something to present to you.”

Brady then announced that Big D Construction, a longtime supporter of RODS Heroes, had donated a trip to Disneyland for both the Janus and McKenzie families.

The plan is for them to go together in June to the Happiest Place on Earth.

“It’s the realization of a dream,” says Melanie.

Adds Brooklyn: “I think the moral is that little things can make a huge difference, even if it doesn’t happen until 12 years down the road. Little 7-year-old me is happy that everything worked out for Vaughn Jose — and I still get to go to Disneyland!”