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2011 was a Good Year for...Sheera Randolph

As the year draws to a close, WHQR is taking a look at some of the people, places, and products that have thrived during tough economic times.

For Wilmington resident Sheera Randolph and her three young boys, 2011 has been their family’s first full year in permanent housing.

Two years ago, they were homeless and turned to the Good Shepherd Center in downtown Wilmington.

WHQR’s Michelle Bliss begins their story at the center’s soup kitchen where Sheera and her boys savored hot meals while they waited, and prayed, for a home of their own.

On a normal weekday, about 140 adults and children line up at Good Shepherd for lunch trays piled high. Some diners are staying in the center’s homeless shelter while others are on break, sporting construction vests and nursing scrubs.

“They have BBQ chicken today, coleslaw, carrots, and let’s see what they’ve got over here…”

Associate director Verna Mansfield says balanced entrees are critical since this lunch could be someone’s only meal. Verna sits with case manager Carmen Pope in the bustling cafeteria.

Together, they tackle each client’s employment, transportation, and food—hammering every nail needed to secure sustainable housing for the chronically homeless.

“One of the things that Carmen does with the clients is she sits down with them to prepare a budget. And it may be the first time that anybody ever sat down with them to do a budget. And that’s a very critical piece of it because a lot of times, until you put it down on paper, people don’t realize that, ‘Okay, these are your expenses, and this is how much money you have coming in—it does not equate.”

As the lunch crowd heads out, Carmen steps into her office to pull Sheera’s file. She remembers the 25-year-old single mom being withdrawn at first.

“She almost had a sense of, I wouldn’t say anger, but it’s not the ideal situation being here with your family and also being pregnant, being in a homeless shelter at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But, it just took awhile to build a relationship with her and that rapport that we needed.”

Now, Sheera and her boys live in a two-story brick apartment in low-income housing. They each have their own bedroom and a kitchen stocked with food.

“My favorite is fried chicken, baked macaroni and cheese and biscuits, and canned collards. They don’t miss any meals—I can tell you that.”

Camron is five, Juelz is four, and Ishmel is one. They move around the house in a boisterous cluster, drawing pictures on every scrap of paper they find and showing off their newest skills for guests.

[Camron sings his ABCs.]

Camron will also lead his younger brothers in a session of their favorite game, but only when Mom isn’t looking…

“And we jump on the bed! And I can do it with no hands!”

Sheera missed a lot of carefree childhood moments because she grew up homeless, living in cars before she was placed in foster care.

“I don’t want my children to grow up the way I grew up. No one raised me—the system raised me—and I just said I refuse, no matter what happens, to let that happen. Something that God blessed me with, I’m going to take care of it.”

Family photographs line the walls of their living room, which still houses a Christmas tree sprinkled with red ribbon, ornaments, and blinking lights. Sheera sits on a plump couch while the boys wrestle on the floor.

She did have trouble expressing her gratitude when she first came to Good Shepherd. That’s why she mailed Carmen a four-page letter.

“After meeting and talking to Carmen, I felt a little more at home. I had my bad days, but I was so blessed to have a shelter over my children. I would wake up in the middle of the night and talk to my unborn child just to let him know, ‘Mommy loves you. We’re going to find a place to live soon.’”

Sheera first called Good Shepherd after being evicted from public housing when she lost her job and couldn’t pay rent. She started working volunteer hours to qualify for low-income assistance from the county, but it wasn’t enough, so she stayed with friends and family, moving from place to place.

“It was just a hassle, toting my kids—dragging them is what I call it—from pillar to post with my problems. And I’m like, ‘Well, they didn’t ask to be here, so this is my responsibility to make sure that they’re safe, they’re clean, they’re not hungry, and they’re comfortable.”

Carmen helped Sheera land a job at Burger King and devise a realistic budget to cover rent, daycare, and utilities. Instead of dealing with a car payment, Sheera walks to work. As a single mom, without support from her boys’ fathers, Sheera is learning to survive on her own.

“Somebody can tell you they’re going to do something, and if you sit around and wait on them and it never happens, then you’re going to get upset with not just the person, but yourself. So, I’ve been learning day-by-day to be more independent.”

Not all of Carmen’s clients have a success story like Sheera’s. As a case manager for the homeless, Carmen frequently hits road blocks and is forced to try again.

But then there are these reminders—like Sheera’s letter—to reaffirm that you really can offer a hand up, instead of hand out, and see someone’s life transform for the better.

“Not only did they bless my family with a home, but furniture, beds, pots, pans, toiletries, food, but most of all, love. For all that you have done for me, I don’t think my words could ever stop saying thank you.”

For more than two decades, Sheera has stayed in cars, foster care, group homes, shelters, and transitional housing. But for all of 2011, Sheera and her boys have lived at home. 

After growing up in Woodbridge, Virginia, Michelle attended Virginia Tech before moving to Wilmington to complete her Master in Fine Arts from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. Her reporting and nonfiction writing have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, within the pages of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, and in literary journals like River Teeth and Ninth Letter. Before moving to Wilmington, Michelle served as the general manager for WUVT, a community radio station in Blacksburg, Virginia. She lives with her husband Scott and their pups, Katie, Cooper, and Mosey.