Talk about a tough childhood. When Tami Wells was 3, her mother dropped her off at day care and never returned.
Shortly after, she was adopted, but at age 11, she was given up by her adoptive mother.
She spent some time at Child Haven, then in foster care, and returned to Child Haven before going to Boys Town Nevada, 821 N. Mojave Road, when she was almost 12 .
"Being in a home, my memories from childhood are nothing like the memories my friends have," she said.
But those experiences are what make her who she is today, she said. Wells, a Summerlin-area resident, has had a successful career in the food and beverage management industry and is the general manager of a Sierra Gold Tavern.
On May 19, she was named Alumnus of the Year at the seventh annual Boys Town Journey of Hope Gala at The Venetian. Wells was recognized for her triumph over adversity and for being a role model for others, as well as for her numerous contributions to Boys Town Nevada . She sits on its board.
"She's our role model," said Linda Flower, executive administrative assistant at Boys Town Nevada. "Not everybody shines as brightly ... she's a perfect example of what can be achieved with us."
Marlies Mathews, program operations manager at Boys Town Nevada, said Boys Town is set up for success and that as initial needs are met, such as catching up in school, the focus turns to learning to be on your own as an adult.
Wells said she considers Boys Town her "home." Why not? It's where she grew up.
Within six months of arriving at the facility, Wells asked her counselor if she could stop taking medication for a hyperactivity disorder. Taking it, she said, made her feel abnormal, like she wasn't her true self. Boys Town listened to her reasoning and ended up agreeing.
"It meant a lot to me," she said. "It was a turning point."
That didn't mean things were easy. She had trust issues, equated sharing with having things ripped away from her and preferred not to make eye contact. Her skills set was different, she said. Her mind was always wandering, forcing her to buckle down for crunch time whenever a deadline loomed.
At Boys Town, she earned money by doing small jobs. Fifteen percent was hers to spend. The rest went into a savings account. It would lead to independence once she was ready to be on her own.
Meanwhile, Wells took courses and learned to be a nurse's aid. By 18, she left Boys Town and landed a job and an apartment. She came late to social norms, little things such as wearing makeup and doing her hair, but they never held her back.
"All my jobs, I've never had to apply," she said. "They've all come and found me."
Those jobs included working at a rental car agency, being a ticket agent for an airline and a hostess at a major Strip hotel. Wells eventually became the general manager of the AJ's Steak House at the Hard Rock Hotel. She took the Sierra Gold position two years ago.
Now, she gives back, letting others at Boys Town know that their lives are important and that life is not just about surviving.
"If it wasn't for Boys Town, I don't think I'd be where I am today," she said. "No matter how much trouble I got into, they'd help me understand why so I could learn from it. They kept me grounded."
Contact Summerlin and Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 387-2949.