SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - He's a 13-year-old boy in the foster care system, who has all but given up hope he'll find a forever home.
We first met Willis three years ago and the handsome smile we saw back then is something we're seeing a lot less of these days.
We caught up with Willis, who is trying to stay hopeful that there is a forever family out there for him, to give him the unconditional love and stability he's never had.
Playing basketball or football is when Willis feels most at home.
“Today it was hard for him to crack a smile because he's so shut down. So sad to see, but then you also see how sports can get him, his personality to come out and get him energized and smiling and happy,” explained protective services worker, Nicole Espinosa.
Willis, who just turned 13, has been in the foster care system for several years.
“Well I think he's kind of given up hope that there's a family out there for him,” continued Espinosa.
He's endured more grief and loss than any child should ever have to bear.
“He doesn't want to be rejected again, so he's got his defense mechanisms up, but he really ultimately wants a family. All of our kids want to feel like they belong somewhere, want a family,” said Espinosa. “He's in a residential treatment center right now, he doesn't like it there, he wants to be in a family.”
I first met Willis three years ago on the day after he turned 10, but when I asked what he received for his birthday he said, “I forgot.”
The social worker explained:
“Birthdays are a reminder that he didn't have a family to celebrate with him and he said he didn't do much yesterday for his birthday.”
But slowly, Willis let down his guard and he was all smiles by the end of our playdate.
These days, his birthday wishes are more in line with a typical teenager, after getting the chance to meet pro football player Ryan Matthews, he'd like to meet a pro who plays in the other sport he loves, which is basketball.
But for Willis, the best victory would be finding a forever home.
“He just needs a family there on the sidelines to support him and cheer for him, and encourage his athletic abilities because he's an amazing athlete,” said Espinosa. “He could be professional someday. He's that good, he's just a natural athlete.”
If you are interested in adopting or becoming a foster family, please call 1-877-I-ADOPT-U.
CBS News 8 would also like to thank Margery Squire and Ron Manahan for taking the heart gallery photos featured in this story.