When life gets overwhelming, Sherry Easley pauses and reads aloud the etched wooden artwork that hangs in her bedroom:
“Restore a dresser: The first thing you do is take off the handles. For me, that was taking alcohol, control and self-will out of my life. The poly, the gloss. This is what others see. Or, what you wanted them to see. Start sanding! …”
Easley, a resident in Matthew's Hope's transitional housing program, created the piece herself. It's fashioned out of scrap wood salvaged from the discard bin at the Hope Chest wood shop, where she works part-time.
The piece is a reflection of her past; but, she has realized, it is permission to forgive that part of her life and concentrate on a better future for her and her children.
Easley and her two daughters, Alivia, 22, and Kelly, 19, live in one of the homes on Morgan Street that belong to the Matthew’s Hope homeless ministry.
They work together — sometimes all three, sometimes just Easley and Alivia — to sand, paint and glue wood scraps that result in original pieces of art. Round wooden circles become eyes on a face, semicircles become the ears or paws of a bear.
These projects give them family time, but, more important, Easley is learning how to help her daughter become self-sufficient. Alivia has Down syndrome, and before the family joined the Matthew's Hope program, Easley was doing everything for her daughter.
She thought this made her a good mother, but what she didn't realize, she said, is that she was actually hindering Alivia and her future.
BECOMING A BETTER MOTHER
“Before, I thought doing things for her made me a good mother,” Easley said. “Now, I feel like a good mother.”
Easley’s mentor has tasked her with pushing Alivia to see how far she can progress in managing tasks on her own.
“My job as a mother is to make them live successfully on the things they can do. … When they feel accomplished, that's what makes us successful and not self-condemning,” she said.
Alivia will graduate from West Orange High School in May; an advocate with the school’s Project Search program suggested Easley start looking now for a job for Alivia.
When asked what Alivia could do independently, Easley’s list wasn’t very long. Until she saw her daughter’s IEP.
“We went through her IEP and found her strengths and weaknesses, all these things I didn't even know she could do,” Easley said. “So I took Alivia out of her box, that I put her in, and said, ‘OK, Alivia, what can you do?’
“I'm trying to get her to where she's self-sustainable, to get her ready for the next season in life,” Easley said. “If something happened to me, would she know how to go to the grocery store? Would she know how to clean the bathroom? I'm trying to incorporate her in everything I do. When I get the sale papers and clip coupons, I show her what I'm doing.
“It's a process on how to live on her own and to be able to take care of herself,” she said. “When we do laundry, she folds the towels. When I clean house, she'll help me wash dishes. … She'll help me make beds, she'll help me prepare dinner.”
When Easley began pushing Alivia to do more activities and chores, her daughter was frustrated because she had everything done for her for so long. Both mother and daughter have come a long way in navigating this new path.
“I'm just excited that I get to know who she really is,” Easley said. “She (doesn’t) talk much; she'll mimic. (But) now I get to know who she really is. I get to try new things. She's my little partner.”
Easley has two jobs and goes to school but also is required to work five hours per week with Matthew’s Hope. Alivia goes with her mother on those days.
Her job is to help pick out the wood pieces, sand them and paint the base color.
Some of their art projects take a few hours, others take a few days, and there is no particular theme.
A few of them have sold, including one in a silent auction for $45. The money provides Easley a little spending money. Visit Matthew’s Hope Chest Creations on Facebook to view others for sale.
When Easley first got involved in Matthew’s Hope, she spotted a shelf that was being thrown away at the Hope Chest. She said she saw it as transitional housing.
It would ultimately become part of a six-level dollhouse — complete with miniature furniture — fashioned out of wood scraps, home scenes cut out from design magazines, stained paint sticks and 25-cent pieces of tile she bought from a sale bin in the Lowe’s flooring section.
It’s painted a cheery blue with her worries written on one side and encouraging words on the other. A tree blooms at one end.
“I envision it going into the new (Matthew’s Hope) building, maybe in the lobby area,” Easley said. “I know that it's a God thing because of the passion that went into making it and I know it wasn't me putting that together. ... When it comes easy, then I know that God had me do it. I don't question it, I just do it, and then it turns out beautiful.”
She is learning to trust — other people, her ability to thrive.
“Before Matthew's Hope, everybody preached at me,” she said. “With Matthew's Hope, they show you how. You want what they have, and you learn how to get it.
Easley, almost 50, did not have an easy childhood. She was in foster care from ages 9 to 18 before moving back home with her parents. The same patterns were repeating themselves, so she moved in with a co-worker. That's when she met her husband, from whom she is currently separated. This relationship was unhealthy, too, and she ended up living with her twin sister. She moved to Alabama thinking she could get some assistance from her husband's family, but that was short-lived. She returned to Florida, slept on her sister's sofa for six months and ultimately moved into a hotel, taking a server job an hour away.
She soon found herself seeking help with the local homeless program.
Part of Easley's healing has been through writing about her past and creating a timeline from birth to age 50.
“My mentor told me, 'You're learning about Sherry. You have this clean slate to write whatever you want.'” Easley said. “I have a clean slate with Alivia. All of that in the past, that was just survival mode. That might be my testimony, now might be my test, and that is my clean slate to start over.
“(Matthew's Hope doesn't) judge you for where you came from,” she said. “They look at where you're going. … I see my life differently now. I'm not the victim anymore.”
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.