IF YOU GO
* What: Young Women's Leadership Academy Foundation's annual Odyssey luncheon.
* When: Noon Tuesday.
* Where: Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza.
* Admission: $75.
* Phone: 468-4105.
HIT COUNTRY SINGLES
• "Stay Gone" No. 3 (2003)
• "I Love You This Much" No. 6 (2003)
• "You Are" No. 18. 2004
• "Paper Angels" No. 18. 2004
• "Do You Believe Me Now" No. 1 (2008)
• "I Will" No. 8. (2008)
By the time Jimmy Wayne was 14 years old, he had been in the crossfire of four gunfights — and didn't get shot.
As the product of numerous foster homes and care facilities, he had developed a pretty good instinct for surviving.
Part of that instinct, he says, was knowing not only how to live through dangerous and rough events -- he never drank or did drugs because it made him vulnerable, he says -- but also when to take advantage of a positive opportunity.
That's why when a family offered him a summer job, then a place to live, he learned to play by their rules. He didn't learn overnight, he says, but he quickly realized what he was being given.
"It was a transition," the 40-year-old Wayne says. "It was tough. I grew up without a dad, so having a grown man in my face was hard. Most of the men that had been in my face were about to knock me out, so to have a man of high character who loved and respected his wife was different. He made me feel safe. He had respect."
A country singer, Wayne released a self-titled debut album in 2003 that included the Top 5 country hit "Stay Gone," as well as the hits "I Love You This Much," "You Are" and "Paper Angels." Including that album, he has had six Top 20 country hits, including the No. 1 "Do You Believe Me Now" from 2008.
But Wayne also travels the country talking to young people, and he will be the guest speaker and performer Tuesday at the Young Women's Leadership Academy Foundation's annual Odyssey luncheon.
His appearance is a fund-raiser for the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, and founder and board chair Sue Anne Wells said he is the first male guest speaker the organization has invited.
"His story is very similar to the story of our girls," she says. "He came from a background that is less than ideal and was able to overcome that and go on to great things."
Part of the goal for Wayne's speeches is to share his experiences and to encourage others to learn from them and their own experiences. His main goal is to raise money and awareness that there are young kids out there who need help,
kids who grew up in circumstances like his.
"I believe there are people out there that want to help and they don't know how," he says. "The people I want to talk to are the adults. The ones with the resources to help. I help raise awareness and funds."
Wayne does more than talk about it. In January 2010, he set out on a 1,660-mile walk from Nashville to Phoenix to draw attention to the issues around homeless youth and specifically kids "aging out" of the foster system at age 18. Wayne says the work -- which he has named Project Meet Me Halfway -- already has garnered some success.
"I knew going in it was risky," he says. "I figured people would look at me as the crazy guy who left Nashville. I thought 'OK, I could play a show, but we all play shows.' I wanted to do something on a grand scale that no one expects.
"If one child's life is changed like mine was, then it would be worth it. That happened in the first month. When I got back to Nashville, the governor (Bill Haslam) signed a bill that extended foster care from 18 to 21. Kids don't age out at 18 anymore, so yes, it was worth it."
Wayne is currently working on his second book about his life. The first, "Paper Angels" was about The Salvation Army Angel Tree program.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...