Shanjula Harris takes home GLF’s Very Inspiring Parent (VIP) Award
by Karyn Brodsky | Staff Writer
What does it take to go from homeless to hopeful? Shanjula Harris of Dallas knows from personal experience. It takes steel resolve, trust in others, resourcefulness and a lot of faith.
As a single mom, Harris cared for her children and even tried to help others. “I brought hot meals to the homeless in south Dallas,” says Harris. Little did she know that she would join their ranks. In 2009, after seven years as a medical assistant at a Dallas hospital, Harris lost her job. With nowhere to go, she and her three children – Deon, Precious, and Twquan, turned to the Family Gateway Shelter in Dallas.
Family Gateway provided a roof over their heads, meals and much needed emotional support. “I was sad because I didn’t want my kids to be homeless and living in a shelter,” explains Harris. As she sought strength through prayer, she remained strong for her children who were teased at school because they didn’t have new clothes. “I tried to take their focus off what we were experiencing.”
While at Family Gateway, Harris would send her children off to school and then pound the pavement looking for work – every day. Realizing she needed to do more, Harris enrolled at Kaplan University to pursue a bachelor’s degree.
Harris’ Family Gateway case manager recognized her perseverance and recommended Buckner Family Pathways, transitional housing that allows single-parent families to live there if they are enrolled in a higher education program. Harris was happy to move her family into an apartment at Buckner, but she never forgot Family Gateway. “They took a big weight off of us – gave us meals, a place to stay,” says Harris with appreciation. “Family Gateway was a rescue for me and my family.” After a few months, Harris got a job at the Baylor College of Dentistry, now known as Texas Health and Science Center.
Harris has come a long way. She now lives in a North Dallas apartment. She has her teacher’s certification and teaches special education students in the Lancaster Independent School District. She is working on a master’s degree in Psychology, and her kids are following in her collegiate footsteps. Deon attended Texas Tech, Precious is studying nursing at Texas Wesleyan in Ft. Worth, and next year Twquan plans to attend either the University of North Texas or University of Texas at Arlington to study mechanical engineering.
Harris is humble about her experience and wants to give back. “I remember where I came from,” she explains. Harris wants to bring local youth to see Family Gateway. “I want them to see how blessed they are. They have [material] things and at any moment they can lose them,” she says.
In the future, Harris hopes to run a non-profit organization. “My mission is to rescue single mothers living in poverty by helping and inspiring them.”
For her strength and perseverance in helping herself and her family, achieving her educational goals, and inspiring and giving back to others, Good Life Family Magazine is honored to present this month’s VIP award to Shanjula Harris.
Family Gateway is focused on ending child homelessness by providing innovative and comprehensive housing and social and educational services to homeless children and their families.
Founded by Mayor Annette G. Strauss in 1986, Family Gateway has served homeless families with children for nearly thirty years. In addition to providing safe and stable housing as well as comprehensive case management, Family Gateway works with partner agencies to deliver a wide array of services to its clients including mental and physical health care, employment readiness and job training, financial literacy classes, and educational support such as preschool and afterschool programs, GED preparation classes, and assistance seeking higher education.
The Programs are Effective
•100% of eligible seniors graduated from high school compared to the DISD average of 75%
• 22% of the employed parents were promoted while at Family Gateway in 2013
• 750% expansion in the number of families served in the last three years
• All programs’ outcomes exceed HUD-defined benchmarks for families exiting to or maintaining permanent housing and increasing earned income
For information on the upcoming fundraising events or to volunteer, go to www.FamilyGateway.org