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Hearts of gratitude

Story and photography by Chelsea Quackenbush

If there’s one thing Wendi Hay wants her four daughters to learn about their time at Buckner Family Place in Houston, it’s gratitude.

Though their lives are busy and schedules are tight, Wendi never misses an opportunity to teach the girls to be grateful for all they’ve been given, especially considering where they came from.

Wendi and her daughters, Kira, 10, twins Asja and Angel, 8, and Shauna, 6, used to be homeless – first in Florida and then in Houston. In 2008, left with few options, Wendi had fled an abusive relationship, drugs and all she knew in Alabama, packed a car and headed to Florida.

She ended up at Family Place after spending nearly three years in recovery at Star of Hope, a Christian homeless ministry in Houston. Wendi’s story first appeared in the winter 2012 issue of Buckner Today (read it here).

Since then, she earned her associates degree in business management from Houston Community College and is working toward her bachelor’s degree. She has maintained a 4.0 GPA and has held a steady job in the HCC financial aid office.

She’s also worked on healing the emotional scars her tumultuous upbringing and abusive relationships left on her soul.

"I know I still have a lot of personal development and a long way to go. I had so much wrong with me when I came to Texas,” Wendi said. “I have so many things I want to do (but) I’m really scared of my dreams.”

As she juggles being a single mom, going to school, holding a job and working on personal growth, she’s tired but knows that it’s worth all the hard work. She understands the value of the opportunity she’s been given.

“I try so hard to do what I do and to make the grades I make because of everything Cari Downie (Family Place Houston director) and Buckner has done for us,” Wendi said. “I’m still a 4.0 student. I’m still doing good at my job. I explain to (the girls) and teach them the value in understanding our blessings and knowing that not everybody gets this opportunity. I’m teaching them to be grateful.”

In addition to taking core classes and business classes, Wendi is taking arts classes where she’s learning to play the piano and write music. She enjoys those classes a lot and has discovered a passion she never knew she had.

She still has a desire to create her own recycling business but says she is too scared to start.

“I just need that one last push to get me going. I don’t know what it is … I just keep making up excuses and saying, well, I need somebody to help me or I can’t do it by myself. But I’m getting really close to the point where I’ve gotta say, Wendi, you just gotta start.”

“There were so many people who spoke so many bad things into my life. I think that’s still affecting me today. I could’ve started this business a long time ago. I’m just scared. I’m just scared to start.”

The only way Wendi is able to handle her hectic life is by “staying close to God.”

With God on her side and a team of people who pray for her, she said it’s not as hard as it seems.

“When you’re forced to do something, you do it,” she says. “You’d be surprised what you can accomplish when you’re forced to do it or when you have no other choice but to do this and you don’t get to be in the program. So I think what drives me to my best and always stay on top of things is this opportunity. I used to tell people when I was at Star of Hope, it wasn’t just that I needed a place to live, I needed help. I needed some serious help.”

Wendi has gotten a lot of the help she’s needed over the past two years and, so have her daughters.

Her four girls are thriving at home and at school. The twins are playing soccer with the help of the coach, who encouraged Wendi to let them try out because he saw their potential.

Shauna recently took the “gifted and talented” test and scored extremely well. The girls love school and they love being able to learn right alongside their mom.

“I read my history book and I learn about the Gettysburg address and I read about all these things that happened in history that I would have never been able to take the time to learn and it’s just amazing,” Wendi said. “Asja will sit and read my astronomy book with me. They’re smart. They’re in a good environment to learn as well. Just how they do in school, that has a lot to do with what’s going on at home and the fact that they’re open to learn and that they love school. They are excited about going to school every day.”

Cari said she’s seen remarkable changes in Wendi since she started the program. She said she has grown as a mother, and now communicates well and honestly with her girls.

“I think she’s grown a lot in that area,” Cari said. “I’ve seen her be a lot more patient. Wendi is great and she’s been great the whole time. They continue to be a really open family. They talk about everything.”

Wendi and the girls still have their family meetings to talk about everything from school to picking up the apartment to how they communicate with each other. Wendi said she’s still working on her tone with her daughters but she feels like she’s improved during the past year.

“I don’t want them to lose sight of how much we’re blessed. And that that blessing comes because we gave our lives for God. That has a big thing to do with it. God can make his people show favor to you so we need to act like it, like we know that God is blessing us and not take that for granted and not look down on anybody else.”

Wendi asks her girls what they would say if they ever met the people who’s donations make Family Place possible.

They all smile big but the oldest, Kira, speaks:

“Thank you for letting us live a nice life.”

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