BY JULIA FAULKNER & SHERRY WATERS
Sherry is a committed mother in North Carolina working as a fundraiser in the nonprofit arena. In this article, Sherry shares about God’s provision for both her family and her work. She opens up about choosing to put family first, then significant workplace relationships and formative opportunities.
JF: To begin, can you tell us about your family and your work?
SW: I have a blended family of five children: three of my own and two bonus children from my new marriage. M’Kyla Marie is 22, and she just graduated from college last year. My son Sean is 19, and he's in his second year of college. My baby girl Ilona is 14, and she's in the eighth grade. My bonus children are Alex and Cassandra. Alex is 17 and will be starting college this coming fall, and Cassandra is 15 and is in the ninth grade. Right now, the only one at home during the week with us is my baby girl, Ilona. My husband, Ben, and I will celebrate our three-year anniversary this spring.
I work in fundraising for a nonprofit, The Harvest Center of Charlotte, providing transitional housing for families and individuals experiencing homelessness. I bring in donors, corporations, faith groups and really anyone who is interested in sharing their resources and financial support to the work of this ministry.
You were a single mom for a while. What were some of the biggest challenges when you had to do things on your own?
My first husband and I separated when M’Kyla was four and Sean had just turned one. I became an instant single mom. And that was a big disruption for me because I never thought that I would be divorced. I came from a very close-knit family, and so I didn't know what divorce or being a single parent looked like. So I had to figure it out really, really fast while they were young.
You know, I knew how to be a mom. But, along with his dad, it was important for him to have other African-American men in his life. There were a lot of times that I looked to his Boy Scout leaders and his football coaches to provide that guidance for him. At that time, their dad and I were on different paths spiritually. That was really important to me, so I was responsible for guiding both him and M’Kyla spiritually. That was tough – making sure that I carved out time to do that.
What were your biggest sources of support as a working single mother?
Really what helped was having the support of the people that I was working with. I've had great supervisors. In hiring me, they recognized that my family would be my priority. They valued my skill set and experience so much that they were willing to be flexible. In return, I never abused having to bring my kids to work or having to leave work early. If something came up, I always had supervisors that allowed me to be flexible because of my work ethic.
I had one supervisor when I worked for the YMCA who was really good about offering support for families in the community who couldn’t otherwise afford the Y services. I guess he watched me and noticed how I was taking care of my family. Then, one Christmas, he gave me his credit card and said, “I know, I watch you, and I see how hard you work. I would like to bless your family. And, if you don’t mind, it would really bless me to be able to buy your family some gifts for Christmas.” That was pretty special.
I was also able to take advantage of the resources of my job. For example, when I was first separated and trying to figure out how to be a single parent and the head of my household, I had supportive co-workers who journeyed with me. I also had college students, whom I worked with, who would help me when I needed babysitting. I had a wealth of babysitters that were able to help me and were willing to pitch in. When I worked at the YMCA, I was able to have my kids in their after school program. That support made it easy for me to stay later and get things done. I also had co-workers with young families who understood, and I became friends with them. There were lots of play dates that I got to take advantage of. I would give them a date night, and then they would return the favor and watch my kids.
I also always had my education to fall back on. I was a first-generation college student. That education and the experience I had from my college life, college career and internships helped me move up the ladder in my career. These things all worked together so that I could provide for my family even as a single parent. Not everybody has that social capital, and by that I mean the resource support from work, family and community that affords them the same opportunities I had.
Finally, my faith, my church community and my family were a big support. My parents lived nearby, and so they were able to pitch in when needed. I was blessed in that way. All around, I had a lot of support that helped me care for my family. In particular, though, I am so thankful for my parents. My mom worked in the home, and my dad was the breadwinner of our house. I’m the oldest of five. They were great role models for me. I grew up watching my dad work so hard, and I grew up seeing them serve their community and our church together. Neither of them went to college, but they gave so much to their children. They are a big part of why I’ve been able to be successful.
How was your faith a source of support for you and your family in trying times?
All along my journey, there have been God-winks that show up. Surprise gifts and interactions that remind me how God’s got this. I call them God-winks. It’s like God saying to me, “I got you. I got you. You’re not alone.”
There was a point where I was working as a resource coordinator for Communities In Schools. I had exceeded all of my goals in the year that I had been there. I enjoyed the work, but my children were all at very critical transitions academically. My eldest was about to start high school, my son was about to start middle school, and my youngest (I had had another child by this point) was about to start kindergarten. I wanted to be there for their transitions, so I wanted to be able to be home part-time. I was also feeling called to do coaching consulting work and to launch a magazine to highlight people in our community who were practicing exemplary stewardship.
The only way I thought I would be able to do everything effectively was to quit my job and to do the consulting full-time. And I did. One of the God-winks I got was that I got a couple of contracts to do consulting work with individuals and organizations that could provide the income I needed to leave my job. From the outside, it didn't make sense for me to leave my job, but I just felt the calling so strongly.
God provided for me the entire year and a half that I did that. It gave me the flexibility to be home when my kids got off the bus and to be present for them. But it took a leap of faith. It was scary, crazy, but it was also one of the best decisions that I had made. I was there to help them bridge their grade levels, and the time made us stronger as a family.
Sherry Waters is the proud mother of a blended interracial family of five. Sherry is a self-described stewardship practitioner, who believes that “to whom much is given, much is required.” She strives to steward and teach her family to use all of life’s experiences as a guide to caring for others.
Julia Faulkner is the Communications Fellow for the Center for Public Justice. She is a Capital Fellow with McLean Presbyterian Church in McLean, Virginia. Faulkner handles communications and writing objectives for CPJ’s initiatives part-time.
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