Alana Mann ’19: Trading in the End Times for a New Beginning

This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of STILLPOINT magazine.

At age 16, Alana Farley went up to the airport counter in Kauai, Hawaii, and bought a plane ticket to California. She had a rolling backpack filled with her belongings and was hoping to leave the island before the missing child report caught up with her.

But this is not where her story begins.

For the first 10 years of her life, Alana lived in her own kind of paradise. On a farm in rural Kilauea, Kauai, she’d wake to the crow of a rooster, ride her bike to the beach, swim in the ocean and tend to her garden. But there was one thing that made her childhood wildly unconventional.

She didn’t go to school. Alana’s biological parents were convinced they were living in the end times and saw education as an adversary. Alana taught herself to read using what she had available. She biked to the local thrift store and found solace in books like Pride and Prejudice, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Nancy Drew series.

Although she wasn’t allowed to go to school or make friends, her parents afforded her one small freedom—she could take riding lessons at a nearby stable. In exchange, she cared for the horses, owned by a couple in California. The horses kept her sane, especially when things started to fall apart in her early teens.

When she was 14, her family lost their house and joined a commune.

“We were living in a shed made of metal and wood,” she said. “We’d wake up in the morning and try to find food.” And the commune moved a lot, which meant that they didn’t always have access to water, shade, shelter or plumbing.

The one steady piece of Alana’s life was the horse farm. She spent as much time as she could with the horses and the couple who owned them—Chris and Kriss Mann, two CPAs with no children of their own, who visited the island four times a year. For a long time, the Manns didn’t know what was reallygoing on in the life of the girl who loved their horses.

“In the beginning, I also lied to the Manns because I was told to,” Alana says. “I was told not to tell anyone that I didn’t have an education. I was not to tell anyone about what was happening in my family. I told the Manns that I was homeschooled.”

As Alana got older, she became more aware of the things she didn’t know, and it made her angry. At the same time, her world continued to get smaller, as her family moved to a more remote area and lost touch with family and friends.

It was a simple “no”—a word that, in so many ways, was the mantra of her childhood—that set her off on a journey 2,600 miles across the Pacific. She’d been invited to a birthday party—one that her biological parents had originally agreed to let her go to, and yet, on the day-of, told her she wasn’t allowed.

In that moment, none of it made sense. No friends. No house. No school.

So she left. In Honolulu, during a layover, she called the Manns—letting them know she was on her way to California. When she arrived, they took her in as their own daughter. Eventually—after a lengthy legal process—the Manns officially adopted Alana, giving her a life free of neglect and verbal abuse.

That first year in California, Alana Mann had tutors in every subject. She went to an accelerated learning center and got accepted into a small charter school—a miracle, considering she had no official transcripts.

For two years, she took 10 classes at a time, eventually moving into a larger charter school. There, she got on the honor roll, received awards for her academic achievement and, at 19, graduated from high school and applied to college. Out of the dozens she visited, God led her to Gordon.

Today, she’s very much that same person who got on a plane to California six years ago—full of vision and nerve. At Gordon she’s been a finalist in the Social Venture Challenge; a global intern with Jones, Lang, La Salle in Hong Kong; a participant on the Northern Ireland mission trip; and the founder of a new nonprofit called Ticket of Tomorrow, which creates mentor-mentee relationships between college students and underprivileged youth through big events like Red Sox games. In a way, it’s a reflection of the Manns’ care for Alana.

With gratitude and moxie she says, “People ask me how I did it. It can’t be anything else but God, how everything works out. I truly believe that.”