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Brother, sister benefit from kindness of others

By JESSICA STEPHEN: jstephen@kenoshanews.com

It only took a phone call. And with that one phone call, Shenae, 18, and her brother Antonio, 20, had a home. “It just kind of shocked me that people would just take you in,” said Shenae, who didn’t want her last name used. “I could rob them. I could kill them. They don’t know. But they just took me in, me and my brother. I’m still kind of in shock. I’m blessed for it.” Bethany, whose family agreed to give the two a home, said it’s not a matter of blessings. “We don’t have a lot, but we have the feeling of helping others. That is what we do,” Bethany, 18, said. “We wish we could take more. Listening to people’s stories makes me wish that we had more rooms in our house.” Family welcomes siblings That sense of inclusiveness began long before Jo Wynn, founder of the homeless teen drop-in center Walkin’ In My Shoes, called Bethany and her mother, Janis, about taking Shenae and Antonio. Janis was a foster mother for years. But, after adopting two little girls, Janis stopped taking foster kids. (Janis and Bethany asked not to use their last names to avoid identifying the girls.) Bethany didn’t expect her family to grow again. Then Wynn called, and her mother asked her to think about it. “When my mom talked to me about taking in teenagers, I was hesitant,” Bethany said.

Accustomed to being the only teen in the house, Bethany wasn’t sure how she would interact with her new roommates. Plus, she said, “We don’t have a big house.” Finishing the basement added some space. But taking on Shenae, Antonio and another teenager meant seven people had to share four bedrooms — not exactly what Bethany had in mind. “I had just gotten my room back,” she said. Then, there were the bigger concerns, those indelicate doubts about safety and security. “You don’t know exactly who is coming into your home,” Bethany said. Before Antonio and Shenae arrived, Bethany and her mother knew the basics: Neither Antonio nor Shenae was in school. Antonio was working; Shenae wasn’t. Oh, and, Shenae was pregnant. Feel like family Nearly a year later, Shenae and Antonio said they no longer feel like strangers in some nice woman’s home. “We’re somewhat a family,” Antonio said. It’s a feeling he and Shenae, former foster kids, lost after their adoptive mother turned them out.

“When we turned 18, it was like, ‘You’ve got to go.’ I didn’t expect it,” Shenae said. At the time, Shenae was working for the city, earning $100 a week at a summer job. Her pay wasn’t enough to replace the government aid their mother had gotten for caring for her, but she thought she might at least be able to help with rent. “It wasn't good enough,” Shenae said. “It was her time. She didn’t want to be bothered with kids anymore, and the money stopped, so we weren’t welcome.” She and Antonio stayed with a friend. Shenae, who by then was pregnant, checked out a homeless shelter. “I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “I feel weird when I’m around strangers. I didn’t feel like I was going to be safe. I didn’t feel like when I would wake up in the morning I would still be OK.” Shenae’s outlook began to change after she met Wynn, who not only found Shenae and Antonio a place to stay but also helped Shenae finish high school. Wynn convinced Shenae’s school to waive nearly $1,000 in fees so Shenae could get her diploma. “It made a big difference,” Shenae said. “I had really lost hope in all people.”

Need someone who cares When Bethany and Janis opened their home, Shenae said it helped restore her faith. “With all the struggles you go through, if you have at least one person who cares, that’s fine. You can do a lot with that,” Shenae said. “And that’s all I really want — somebody to care and somebody to mean what they say.” Antonio agreed. “It’s the toughest thing being without family, especially if you can’t help yourself,” he said. Even with his job packing cable, Antonio said he never would have been able to afford rent. And, with a baby of his own on the way, he certainly wouldn’t be able to get the schooling he needs to study HVAC and get a better-paying job. Bethany and Janis’ willingness to help has been humbling and amazing, almost unbelievable, he said. “Every morning, Bethany wakes up at 6 a.m. to take me to work,” Antonio said and shook his head. “You don’t see that. You need people like that.”

Some good news Just before Christmas, Antonio learned he was promoted to supervisor at his cable job. The new job meant his pay would increase from $8.40 to $11 an hour. The boost was enough to allow him and Shenae to start looking for their own apartment. Beyond that, Antonio said, he hoped the promotion would give him the opportunity to someday repay Bethany and Janis’ kindness. Bethany understood the sentiment, but said payback isn’t what it’s about for her family. She and her mom just believe that doing something, even something small like giving someone a ride to work, can make a difference. “I’m not one who can just sit and watch everything happen. I’ve always wanted to get involved,” she said. “We’re hoping that our story of opening up our doors will help others open up their’s as well.”

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Last Modified: 12/06/2011