A Close Connection

This story was first printed in the Fall 2010 issue of Sunshine Magazine.

Through the determination and support of “Miss Shirley,” Jane and Krissy are developing confidence and a sense of purpose for their lives.

A Close Connection, Waxahachie Feature Story, Methodist Children's Home

Sometimes tough, sometimes spunky – but always loving – Shirley Clary-Anthony is passionate about her work with at-risk youth.

Clary-Anthony is a unit manager on the Waxahachie campus of Methodist Children’s Home. Like other MCH childcare staff, her title does not do her justice in describing the work she does with the girls in her home unit. Clary-Anthony treats each girl in her home as if she were her own.

“I’ve always felt like they were my kids,” she said.

Krissy and Jane are two of the girls who were brought into “Miss Shirley’s” life. Both came to the Home from difficult pasts and in desperate need of a change of pace. They have improved their outlook on life dramatically since coming to MCH, due largely in part to the influence of Clary-Anthony.

“They know that I will love them, no matter what mistakes they make,” Clary-Anthony said.

Spoken with a true southern accent, the no-nonsense, MCH version of Paula Deen, a popular TV chef, sits across from Jane and Krissy with an encouraging smile. Clary-Anthony jokes with the girls as she talks about her relationship with them.

“We bump heads, but we’re pretty cool,” said Clary-Anthony. Jane and Krissy knowingly return the smile.

Jane begins filling in the blanks that glances don’t describe.

“After arriving at Methodist Children’s Home, it took me a year to realize I needed to change,” Jane said.

Removed from several other placements before arriving at the Home, Jane was convinced MCH would not be any different from the others. But like many of the staff at MCH, Clary-Anthony made the difference.

“Jane is her own advocate,” Clary-Anthony said. “She has a strong personality and she’s sweet. Jane had some struggles, but she’s always willing to help someone else.”

Like Jane, Krissy has a caring heart, but Clary-Anthony adds that she doesn’t like to disappoint people. Placed in an adult role as a young teen, Krissy was no stranger to making difficult decisions. Before coming to the Home, she cared for her mother who is ill. However, Krissy admits that she made some irresponsible choices, which led to her placement at MCH.

“I fell in love with Krissy before she got here,” Clary-Anthony said. “She wrote an essay that I read, and I knew I would love her. She’s just a beautiful person.”

Before coming to MCH, Krissy was accustomed to making her own choices. She had a difficult time accepting that she was a teenager who still needed to be gently led in the right direction.

Due to the challenges of learning how to live in a new environment, Jane and Krissy decided to run away from the Home. Both girls were not yet confident in their abilities to make the right choices. According to Krissy, she just wanted to be on her own. Jane’s reasoning was different, but she was on board for the trip.

“It was at a time when I was having major problems here,” she said.

Jane admits that her decisions in her first year at MCH led to the problems she confesses. However, convinced an escape from the Home was the only way to begin leading her life, she left.

After a short time, the girls were returned to the Home and faced strict consequences. However, they were guided with the love and support of Clary-Anthony and other staff members. It was at this critical period when the girls had to make a decision about the direction for their lives.

Clary-Anthony felt a close connection with Jane and Krissy, and she was determined to help them make the right decision. Clary-Anthony looked beneath the surface and found two girls who could make a difference in the world.

When they ran away, the girls had flown the coop with broken wings. They were not ready for the world on their own yet. With the loving guidance of the Home, both girls had an eventual turning point.

Jane’s change of heart was on her 17th birthday.

“I realized that my behavior was juvenile and I needed to change it,” she said. “I decided to take ‘no’s’ with a ‘yes ma’am’ attitude.”

And, she added, she has some new friends to thank.

“My friends are encouraging, positive and supportive,” she said.

Krissy’s journey has been gradual because she still viewed herself as an adult with the ability to make her own decisions. Krissy was guided by Clary-Anthony and the staff at the Home to discover that while she does have responsibilities as a teen, her primary responsibility is to enjoy life as a youth.

“My turning point was when I began experiencing the restrictions of the program at MCH,” Krissy said. “Privileges were taken away and I had to work up to where I am now.”

Krissy is still busy with plenty of responsibilities – working a part-time job, taking cosmetology classes, and attending high school – but she makes time for fun and enjoys spending time with her friends.

This transformation did not come without hard work. Many of the staff on the Waxahachie campus encouraged Jane and Krissy in their abilities and diligently continued to build each girl’s confidence.

As a key advocate, Clary-Anthony has been an integral part in the girls’ change in attitude.

“They know that I will love them no matter what,” she said. “I’ll go to battle for them.”

Through their experiences, the girls are also learning how to maintain positive relationships with their families despite their past problems.

“Both the girls and their parents have worked on improving their relationships,” Clary-Anthony said. “I’m proud of the amount of progress they have made.”

Jane and Krissy are now making life choices on the path to becoming successful adults. Krissy is on her way to receiving her professional cosmetology license by the time she graduates high school. Due to her experience in taking care of her mother, Krissy would eventually like to attend a nursing program. Her cosmetology license will help her earn money while she attends college.

Jane plans to attend college as well, but she is still exploring her career options. She hopes to attend a junior college for her basic courses and transfer to a university to pursue a psychology degree.

“Honestly, I did expect them to make as much progress as they have,” Clary-Anthony said. “Jane and Krissy are helpers and kind-hearted. They have great leadership potential and both will be successful grownups; I have no doubt.”

Clary-Anthony’s voice of concern, wittiness and soft heart suggest that her work at the Home is one of her callings. Referring to the first of the Home’s 12 strength-based principles - Greatness is expected of youth, but we recognize it may occur in their future – Clary-Anthony sums up her love of her job.

“Jane and Krissy are making excellent decisions, and it’s exciting to see that now,” she said. “Watching our youth grow and mature inspires our staff every day.”

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