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Family Pathways breaks the cycle of poverty, creates cycle of pride

By Lauren Hollon Sturdy

TwQuan ‘Fat Daddy’ Harris describes himself as ‘wise.’ It’s kind of a funny thing to hear coming from a 14-year-old, but spend any length of time talking with him and you’ll start to realize it’s true.

He’s seen more in his lifetime than many kids his age – more than many adults, even. Barely a teenager, he speaks thoughtfully on what he’s learned from his family’s journey from vulnerability to triumph with help from Buckner Family Pathways in Dallas.

Just a few years ago, his mother, Shanjula, lost her job and their family became homeless. They had to move into a shelter the day before Thanksgiving, 2009.

“It was torment,” Harris said. “I hated it. Mom would try [to put on a brave face]. She would tell us that we’ll get through this. But we knew that she was hurting.

“Me, my brother and my sister were asleep one day and we woke up to her crying and praying. So that’s when we realized how much it affected her, too. Because she never showed it; she kept it in. But when we heard her cry, that’s when we knew that it affected her. There would be nights when we would all just pray, or even I would just pray.”

Harris’ self-esteem took a nosedive during his family’s homelessness. He was a sixth-grader in a new school, surrounded by kids whose name-brand clothes and shoes made him acutely aware of the shabbiness of his own garments. Some of the kids talked about him and teased him.

“I just felt flat-out poor,” he said. “And that kind of messed me up. It changed the way I viewed myself. I viewed myself as a no one. I mostly kept quiet. I wouldn’t tell anybody, wouldn’t show my feelings, wouldn’t talk to anybody.”

But things changed when his mom was accepted into the Family Pathways program. They had privacy, a safe place to call home and the hope that their lives could change.

“I was relieved,” he said. “When we first arrived, we were all amazed, shocked and happy, because they had provided stuff here for us. They gave us toys. We had some of the best mattresses. We had everything. It was a relief, actually. It was a big relief.”

He continued struggling with his feelings of worthlessness and his anger over what their family had been through until his mom pointed out how blessed they were to have food, clothes, a roof over their heads… And how fortunate they were to have each other.

“That kind of cut deep, because I was thinking, you know, a lot of kids out there don’t have anything. And there are kids out there who don’t even have a mom or a dad in their life. But I still have a mom who provides for me and my family. So when we had that talk, that touched me.”

[caption id="attachment_6250" align="alignright" width="200"] TwQuan lives with his mom, Shanjula, and his two older siblings, at Buckner Family Pathways. The family prays together, talks through their struggles and relies on each other daily.[/caption]

Their family is incredibly close, and he shuddered to think that he could have been split up from his mom and siblings if they hadn’t found Family Pathways. They rely on each other for support, encouragement, friendship and prayers.

“They mean the world,” he said. “They mean everything to me.”

Harris said seeing his mom earn a bachelor’s degree and begin a master’s program inspires him to do well in school and work hard to get an education.

“When I look back over the years of growing up and everything that this family has been through, to see my mom get her bachelor’s degree… It was so amazing, because I guess a lot of parents might be tempted to give up or tempted to quit or give out. But the fact that she didn’t – that she finished college – was what made me so proud.”

TwQuan is making his mom proud, too. He loves math and is planning to major in engineering when he goes to college. He excels as an athlete in football, track and wrestling. He is smart, ambitious, and he has a compassionate heart for others who have faced struggles.

“I try to give people the best advice that I can. I tell them a lot of things happen in life that we wish don’t happen. Especially hearing stories that are worse than ours, that I’m speechless about. The best advice that I can give them is to pray, give it to God.”

To learn more about how you can support Buckner Family Pathways or our other Family Transition Programs, please call Buckner Foundation at 214-758-8000.

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