CHANDLER — Inside a modest, two bedroom house on the west side of Lake Palestine, Sheri Hall has made a home for teens with nowhere else to turn.
Mrs. Hall, a bus driver, teacher’s aide and foster mom, said she feels “called” to help the people who walk in and out of her life.
“If somebody’s hungry, I feed them,” she said. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Although affording to be charitable is sometimes a struggle, opportunity and support comes through.
Each month, she puts every dollar she earns toward helping her children, feeding strangers and mentoring others.
The 47-year-old grandmother, with short, black ringlets and piercing brown eyes, said her life balances on faith.
“You can’t see it, but you know it’s there,” she said.
She found her destiny a few years ago. After a week of driving two borderline-homeless brothers to a church revival a few years ago, Mrs. Hall knew she had to stand up for them.
She ended up taking the elementary-age children in for two years while the state conducted Child Protective Services investigations and custody hearings. Now, she and her husband, Elmer, foster two other boys, 12 and 14.
“Coming up the way I did, I feel for them,” Mrs. Hall said. “I don’t want nobody to go through what I went through.”
Her youth was spent largely without adult supervision. While in junior high, she started dating someone four years older and became sexually active at 13.
Her childhood abruptly ended when she became pregnant at 14 with her first daughter, Felicia.
Her younger brother died of leukemia while she was pregnant, compounding her family’s devastation. Soon after, she moved out, married and dropped out of junior high after an argument with the principal.
“Lots of days I wish I hadn’t walked out,” Mrs. Hall said. “When I walked out, I lost all of my education, I lost everything and it was the time I needed to be in school the most.”
While her friends attended dances and filled out college applications, Mrs. Hall made a living helping her husband with manual labor — pulling out car motors, hauling timber or busting logs.
“It was all about survival,” she said. “I got to help him, we got to eat.”
She had two more children and was almost 30 before she went back to school, achieving a milestone in 1993.
“I wanted to be somebody, to do something,” Mrs. Hall said. “Everybody has a purpose in life, you just have to find what it is — some people find it and some people don’t.”
That November, she enrolled in a five-day-a-week adult learning center in Athens and twice-a-week night classes in Brownsboro. She took her GED test at Trinity Valley Community College and on Feb. 6, 1994, the school hired her as a cafeteria cook.
Her oldest daughter, Felicia Mosley, who is a teacher at Brownsboro ISD described her mom as strong, determined and lovable.
“She did start young,” Felicia said. “A lot of people would have either given their kid up or have someone else raise them.”
Felicia said sacrifices her mom made are “amazing” —giving up her youth, her education and her desires to take care of her children.
“She seems like she’s Superwoman,” Felicia said. “She wants to help the world … Even if she’s down to her last dollar, she’ll give it to somebody in need.”
Felicia said her mother’s strong work ethic and watchful eye as her children surpassed her in school “made her work harder to get the things she wanted.”
Looking for a step up from cafeteria work, Mrs. Hall applied and accepted a job to be a teacher aide. After seven years of aide work at Brownsboro High School, she was transferred to the Disciplinary Alternative Education Program.
Although the days vary dramatically — one day it’s threats followed by strings of cuss words, redeemed by a hug and a kiss the next — she continues steering children in the right direction.
“A lot of those kids would be lost if there’s not someone to encourage them,” she said. “You may have made a mistake, but you can’t stay down. … A lot of them just need someone to listen.”
About two years ago, after her biological children had moved out and grandchildren were on the way, she and her husband registered as foster parents. Although she intended to take in only small children, fate united her with the two boys.
Shelley Reese, area director for Lutheran Social Services of the South, said many foster parents prefer babies, believing “that’ it’s easier to take them,” but ‘tweens and teenagers need devoted families more than ever.
“The teens just need somebody to stick with them, to prove they care about them unconditionally, and to be there to help pick them back up,” Ms. Reese said.
For the 14-year-old, moving to the country from boys home in Fort Worth opened up a world of opportunities: advanced classes and athletics. Self-confidence and social skills came to the 12-year-old who finally has someone to call “mom” and “dad” after shuffling through nine homes.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, one in five foster children becomes homeless at some time after age 18. Only 58 percent complete high school, compared to 87 percent of youths in the general population, and only 3 percent earn college degrees, compared with 28 percent in the general population.
A study by the Texas Department of Family Protective Services reports that from August 2007 to August 2010, teens, ages 14 to 17, are the largest fostering demographic.
In 2010, Texas had 16,422 children in foster care. In 2009, there were 15,402 children and in 2008, 16,673. In 2007, 18,043 children were in foster care in Texas.
Although the Tyler district is not the largest, 246 children lived in foster care in East Texas in 2010.
Mrs. Hall’s adult children want her to take some time off, but she has no plans to slow down.
In July, with hopes of earning more money to build on to her home and help more children, Mrs. Hall hit another milestone and graduated with an associates of arts degree in psychology from the University of Phoenix. She plans to continue her education to become a licensed counselor or youth probation officer.
“I’m not through, God has some more work for me to do,” Mrs. Hall said. “I have tried to relax and it doesn’t work. If I’m here, I’m doing.”
Published August 14
Tyler Morning Telegraph