[caption id="attachment_1410" align="alignright" width="433"] From left, James and Demontrey Richardson sit with their mother, Charbra Richardson, in their apartment at Buckner Family Place.[/caption]
It's hard to say for sure when it was that Charbra Richardson and her two sons, James and Demontrey, plummeted to rock bottom. What exactly did despair look like?
Was it when the Potter County sheriff's department came that February day to make sure they had been evicted from their apartment? Was it when the electricity was turned off or the car repossessed?
Was it when she tried to find a place at one of the shelters only to be told because James was 16, it was going to be difficult to find a place where they all could stay? Or is rock bottom when there was no food, not even ramen?
"Now if you don't have enough for ramen noodles," she said. "But we had no money, no home, no car, no job, nothing. It seemed like we had literally nothing."
No, rock bottom would seem to be in this mode of survival when James considered doing something previous unthinkable to help his mom. As the man of the house, he was about ready to sell drugs, to sacrifice a promising future just to get to the next day.
"I was just basically thinking of what I could do to help, to pick up the slack, to do more than a normal teenager would do," he said. "Many times I thought about selling drugs. But there was this voice in my head that said, 'Don't do it. It will get better.'"
In the last seven months, it has. James, a high school senior, is focused on football at San Jacinto Christian Academy and most especially getting the highest SAT score he can for college. Demontrey, 10, is in fifth grade at Carver Academy.
"Demontrey, get your homework done now," his mother said on a late Wednesday afternoon. "Shut my door. I want it done."
It sounds and looks like a blessedly normal family of a single mom and two sons on a normal day. Charbra is a full-time student at Amarillo College, studying criminal justice on the way to being a juvenile probation officer. She works on some evenings and weekends at Advo, which specializes in teaching skills to mentally disabled adults.
Buckner Family Place pulled the Richardsons from out of the mire. It's a nondescript, well-manicured small apartment complex on Tyler Street. There are 17 two-bedroom unfurnished units.
To qualify to stay there, it must be a single parent who is enrolled in a continuing education program, be it college, trade school or a GED. It's not a handout, but a help out. Monthly rent is $250, plus electricity. Buckner also offers case management to the families. Overnight guests are not allowed.
It's a way to hold on while getting lives back together. The average stay is 14 months, and residents are allowed to stay for three months after their education is finished.
Buckner International is more known for its care and resources for orphans and for child adoptions. But the Family Place, which also is in Midland, Dallas and Lufkin, fits its mission.
"Buckner's believes children need to be in a home. They need to be with family, their own families if possible," said Scott Collins, vice president for public relations and marketing. "This is what Buckner's Family Place is all about. We work with families to get them to a point where they can be self-sufficient and independent."
Richardson thought she was doing everything right, or at least trying. Her 16-year marriage dissolved four years ago. She was working and going to school, getting by with some financial aid, food stamps and irregular child support from an ex-husband.
She said she miscalculated her funds near Thanksgiving last year. She came up well short. She was hoping for a child support check that never came to pay for the electricity. When it was past due, her power was shut off. That would terminate her contract for housing with Panhandle Community Services. Now she would owe $635 a month for rent. It might as well have been $6,350.
"It's easy to trust God when things are going good," Charbra said, "but it's so hard when I look at my kids knowing we're going through hell and I have to still trust."
The same February day she was forced to leave, when a friend and five children under the age 11 helped her move, the call from Buckner came. Charbra had applied for the program three months previously but heard nothing until that day when she was forced to leave. Did she want the apartment? Yes. When? Now.
"Sometimes people striving to better themselves just need a little bit of help to push them over the top," said Charbra. "To have a home, not a room or a bed, but a home, means so much. It changes a woman's life to know when she does everything possible for her kids and she's not a failure."
Jon Mark Beilue's column appears Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-345-3318. His blog appears on amarillo.com.