Finding Hope: The Shaquina Story
Oct 05, 2011
Tall and lean, Shaquina entered the Gardendale group home, trying to hide her runner’s body behind stooped shoulders, eyes that rarely smiled and a mouth that spoke even less. After living in five different homes and leaving all her family in Mobile, the teenager was done caring.
“I was really unhappy. I was very depressed and suicidal,” she remembers.
With only two years left in high school, she wasn’t even sure she wanted to finish. When Carolyn Clendenin, her social worker from Alabama Baptist Children’s homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), tried to get her to talk about what led her to the group home, Shaquina just said she was unhappy at her former foster home.
But there was more to it than that. She had lived in Mobile with her grandmother until 7th grade, but left because she was physically and verbally abusive toward Shaquina. Shaquina then went to live with her father. But “there was a lot of drugs and stuff going on in the home that wasn’t okay for me.”
So in her ninth-grade year, Shaquina’s aunt told her that she was going to go to Birmingham to live with her mother and help care for her little sister, who was 8 years younger than Shaquina. When Shaquina arrived she found herself providing for her sister while their mother, who was abusing drugs and alcohol, would be gone for weeks at a time. Sometimes the 14-year-old would take her little sister to find their mother and bring her home, only for her to leave again after a few days.
While there, the father of her little sister began to be abusive toward Shaquina. At one point, he punched Shaquina in the face and pushed her part of the way out of a window. A few weeks later, he punched her in the mouth and dragged her across the room by her hair.
“At that point I told myself I was done and I wasn’t going to stay there anymore,” she remembers.
She contacted her aunt, who arranged for her to stay with a couple who were friends of Shaquina’s mother. Although the couple was nice to Shaquina, she steadily became more and more unhappy. She also re-entered the Alabama foster care system with the Department of Human Resources (DHR). After telling her social worker she didn’t want to stay with the couple, the social worker moved her to a foster home for the summer and then to the Gardendale group home of ABCH. She was 17, and she had given up. Given up hope and given up on school and track, the two things that had always gotten her through.
And then she stepped through the doorway into another world. “It was like a culture shock,” Shaquina remembers. “I loved it. It definitely felt like home.”
As she spent more time at the home, she became happier, and her love for school and running track returned. “I started becoming the person I was meant to become.” She also realized she was still missing something in her life. One day at church, when the preacher told everyone to close their eyes and pray, Shaquina realized God was what was missing. “So I prayed He would come into my life and He did,” she said. “I felt relief, like a weight was lifted from my life.”
After graduating from high school, the Children’s Homes helped Shaquina go to college at Alabama A&M University, where she is currently a junior and studying social work. At first, she had not planned to run track. But then some girls from the team talked her into trying out. After proving herself to the coach, she began running the mile and 800 meter races. She also began running cross-country last year.
“This is the only thing that I’m really good at,” Shaquina says. “When I’m running nothing else matters. I’m just focusing on the distance I’m running and all my problems aren’t there.” Shaquina is so good at running, in fact, that her coach, Kim Seals, offered her a full scholarship, which she accepted. Shaquina is second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in the 800, and third in the conference in the mile. She was the only team member to bring home medals from the SWAC track meet, and has been named MVP by the coach for cross country, and MVP for the 2010-2011 school year.
She’s also excelling academically, making the Dean’s List three times since she arrived at A&M.
And she is building a relationship with her parents, with God’s help. She saw her father during Christmas last year, and they talk on the phone regularly. She says it’s going well. “He tells me ... every time we talk that he loves me. But I still haven’t had the courage to say it back.”
A few weeks after that same Christmas, she went to see her mother, who was in the hospital with a brain aneurysm. Her mom asked if they could start over. “I told her yes, as long as she promised me that she’s going to do right. But I heard she was missing again, so we’ll see.
“It was so hard for those words to come out of my mouth, but I was like, ‘I have to forgive her for me. I have to move on so I can be happy.’”
She is also sharing her story with others, speaking at the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Alabama Baptist State Convention as part of the report for ABCH. But most importantly, she has hope again, and dreams. “I want to get married and have three kids. I want to give my kids something that I wasn’t able to receive when I was younger,” she says.
To those who have given of their resources to the Childrens’ Homes, Shaquina says, “Thank you for giving me hope, because I wouldn’t be where I am (today) without your help.”
By Erin Tunnell, ABCH Communications Manager