Living Our Values Changes Lives
Raised in historic Dunbar by her grandparents, Ms Shae, Director-Suncoast BGCLC, knew she wanted to be a caregiver at an early age. Having provided home care for her stroke impaired Grandfather, she joined the healthcare industry as a home care professional. But it’s a physically demanding job and she suffered a career-ending injury while breaking the fall of a patient twice her size and weight. Committed to serving others but limited in heavy physical requirements, she found an opportunity with the BGCLC in North Ft. Myers. She was drawn to the mission and values of the organization working with youth in the community. She knew the area only from afar, because growing up, she was not welcome in a community that had previously supported racial segregation. But, she embraced the opportunity, realizing that being “different” could be a barrier. That quickly became a reality on her first meeting with parents. One parent in particular, “Mikey’s” dad, was vocal in his disapproval of someone “like her” influencing his kids, even using a racial slur to describe her. And Mikey parroted much of those same behaviors. Of the 25 kids at the Club, which was located at the rear of the school, 21 were white from the local community, and 4 were African American, bussed in from the Dunbar community. Although being taught the values of inclusion and respect at the Club, Mikey was rebellious, taunting his minority club mates, and, at the age of 8, confronted Ms Shae with a hateful racial slur. Several one on one discussions entailed, Ms Shae consistently reinforcing the Club values toward others. Although there were signs of progress, 6 of his black school mates that were targets of his slurs, followed 11 year old Mikey to an isolated school hallway, and assaulted him with a brutal beating. Hurt and scared, Mikey ran to the Club and sought safety with Ms Shae and his friends. It was a watershed moment, and Ms Shae knew she had to take action. Armed with facts, she led Mikey to the Principals office where she represented Mikey, and justice was served. The 6 attackers were expelled and Mikey was suspended for five days. He learned two life-changing lessons that day: 1) bad behavior has consequences, and most importantly, 2) love and respect crosses boundaries, demonstrated that day and every day by his mentor, Ms Shae, who had his back..
Fast forward, Mikey graduated from High School and entered the Army. Recently, Ms Shae and her family were at a local shop when Mikey’s mother recognized her and yelled from across the room “Ms. Shae, stay right there”. She returned with Mikey, his beautiful wife and child. He embraced Ms Shae and introduced her as the person who changed his life, enabling his success. In front of his family, he asked Ms Shae if she remembered that day, many years ago, when he hurled a racial slur at her. She nodded her head “yes”, which led to a profusely sincere apology. He had lived with that guilt. Even with the hateful things he said and did, she always had his back. And that changed his life. Now an honored leader of men, he teaches values of inclusion and respect he learned from his mentor. What he cherishes most? He and his men always have each other’s back… as equals, just as Ms Shae had his. After 21 committed years with BGCLC, Ms. Shae continues to live our values, changing lives of her kids at the BGCLC every day.