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A New Beginning: Shonda N. McFadden

Issue No 4: Concrete Garden

Photo credit: Shelby Wormley

We painted the office walls red, the same color as the front door. None of us had a lot of home improvement skills but we did our best layer by layer. The grand opening was a couple months away and it was time to get the home ready. We raked up the leaves around the house and grabbed some things from Five Below to match the multicolor twin bed set for one of the girls' rooms. Friends, family and the local community raised money, donated furniture, decor and essential items to help turn the 2,016 square foot house into a home.

When the news got out that a group home for girls was opening in the suburbs of York Pennsylvania, local news organizations reached out to feature the story on the 5 o'clock news. It was the first of its kind in the area, a black woman owned residential group home named Genesis Home of New Beginnings; the home that would house four to six girls between the ages of 12 to 18 years old. After spending all winter preparing for the opening, in April of 2017, the ribbon was finally cut; Genesis Home was officially open. But before the grand opening, and the freshly painted walls, Genesis Home of New Beginnings came to fruition. It started as an idea; a vision that was written down and made plain.

Shonda McFadden, owner, founder, life coach and my big sister, had a vision to provide a home for girls who were displaced and institutionalized in the foster care system.

It's a group home, but it's in a regular community. It's a home-like environment. From the outside, you never could tell it's a group home. It just looks like a regular house in a suburban neighborhood. We try to have a home-like approach to the way that we, you know, interact with the girls. We're a family at Genesis, whether they're with us for an extended stay, or short stay, we're still a family there. -Shonda McFadden

Since the doors have opened, Genesis Home of New Beginnings has housed over 15 young girls. The home offers a holistic approach to healing the physical, mental, emotional, soulful and behavioral wounds that often cripple the lives of young girls placed in the [foster care] system; a system that many deem to be broken and one that Shonda knows all too well.

Photo Credit: Shelby Wormley

During her teen years, she was in and out of placement and group homes.

At that age, I was just living from day to day. I didn't have any long term goals, I was still searching for myself, I was still struggling, I still was very angry...I still was misplaced. -Shonda McFadden

At that age, the idea of her owning and operating a group home of her own wasn’t a thought or dream.

I didn't really have any long term goals at that age. You know, sometimes when you're younger you think about what you want to do when you grow up. But not at that particular age. I don't remember thinking about it, especially the 14 or 15. -Shinda McFadden

When all a child is exposed to is excessive trauma,addiction, chaos and instability, it’s hard to fathom dreaming of a life and a world bigger than your circumstances. The most important goal of the day is to survive the best way you can. Shonda learned that lesson really young.

My mom started her addiction when I was six or seven.

Although the Mom we know and love today is a phenomenal woman, who is now a leader, a minister and community advocate, she along with our dad struggled with addiction leaving my sister to care for us at times,while they were away. Most of Shonda’s childhood and adolescent youth was unstable due to constant moving around. There were times when she would wander the streets of Philadelphia looking for our parents after they disappeared.

Photo submitted by Shelby Wormley

She would leave and come back days, sometimes weeks or months later, because she was in her addiction. So, during that addiction, we went through a lot of things. I was the oldest. She ended up having three more kids with my dad and then,they both were in addiction. So a lot of times I was left with different people and as I got older sometimes I was left alone...oftentimes I was left alone. As I became older, I was left with my siblings to take care of them while they were gone. So, life was mainly moving from one place to another. -Shonda McFadden

Most of her memories from her early childhood years deeply impacted her life. She didn’t attend the same school for more than a year at a time and was surrounded by drugs, violence/domestic violence, and poverty. To cope and find solace during that time in her life she channeled her thoughts and feelings into her notebook.

I used to love to rap and write freestyles. I always wrote about my feelings; when I couldn't talk about them, I would write them down. -Shonda McFadden

Writing and music was her escape. In the 90s, rap was evolving. It depicted and reflected her everyday reality. She recognized much of herself in one of her favorite artist work, Tupac Amaru Shakur, the most influential rapper and artist of all time [period]. His work and music often addressed the common issues that terrorized black people that lived in inner cities. He wrote about living in poverty, the ghetto, coming from the concrete jungle. My sister, like many others, found refuge in his music. Lyrics like No one knows my struggle, they only see the trouble. Not knowing how hard it is to carry on when no one loves you,” rang all too true.

I loved Pac because he told stories with his lyrics. He didn't just rap about money or females or violence. He told complete stories about his life, about having hope about growing from nothing. That's the kind of artist he was. Just seeing that he had a mom who was in addiction, and then he made something more of himself.. that he grew to be world known...and flourished even after everything he’d been through. -Shonda McFadden

His stories and music made her feel seen and let her know she wasn't alone in her struggle. The parallels between his story and hers helped her navigate life. My sister always played 2Pac around the house. Although I was five years old when he died, my siblings and I knew the words to Changes, Dear Mama and Keep Ya Head Up like an anthem. She taught us we always had to keep our head up, even in the midst of grief and confusion, even when she went away too.

After running away, being in and out of group homes and placement from 14 to 16 years old, at 17 she entered Job Corps, a no-cost educational and vocational training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16-24. It was a place where she could have a new beginning and pave her own way. While there she became a certified nursing assistant for seniors.

I was going into Job Corps, still trying to find myself. I was kind of wild, defiant. I had a lot of anger and rage issues. -Shonda McFadden

A lot of these issues stemmed from the sexual abuse and trauma she experienced growing up.

By the time I was 10, between 10 and 11, I already had been molested by five different people. So it was always as I grew up. That was probably where a lot of my anger was from. -Shonda McFadden

All along while finding herself, she was healing herself, one step at a time.

I could just begin to heal by being able to express those emotions. What happened to me, it wasn't my fault. But it was becoming my problem. Basically, because I was the one who had to deal with the repercussions of it. So, you either have to continue to allow the people who hurt you hurt you, or you can begin to get healing; and I got healing. I went to talk to spiritual advisors at my church, I've healed by helping other people. I've healed by crying when I need to cry, instead of expressing every form of pain as anger. I learned how to heal, let God heal my heart, you know, share with him how I felt towards him, and about the things that happened to me. -Shonda McFadden

After completing the program, she got her first apartment at 17 years old and soon after began taking care of children caring for her first foster child at 18. Today she is the mother of six children.

I started taking the kids off the street. Parents who were being displaced or homeless would ask me to take their kids. It's kind of like kids always came to me. I was planning on adopting, but I never had to go to an adoption agency or a foster agency, people would call me or come by. It’s like God was bringing them to me so I knew that was my [calling]. Now I understand that those things I went through were because that was the call on my life. To have a home for girls. -Shonda McFadden

Shonda had the idea to start a group home in her early twenties, but it wasn’t until the murder of our father in 2012 that lit the spark again.

It really stuck when my dad was killed. I was thinking about the person who killed my father, how he had a lot of issues, he didn't have his parents around. -Shonda McFadden

The young man like many others was one of those kids who we overlooked. She wanted to do something to offer kids another way, a home. After taking the time to grieve she couldn’t shake the idea. She knew it was something she had to do. In 2015 she signed up for mentorship classes through SCORE a non-profit organization that offers business mentorship services. She had received her Associates in Business from the Consolidated School of Business but still needed some extra help to bring her vision to life. After working in York City’s after school program her friend Elmira Sexton introduced her to her mentor Rob who had his own group home in Lancaster.

At the beginning stages, I went to Rob and asked him a lot of questions. I would interview with him, talk to the mentors at SCORE, and just try to see what kind of program I wanted to develop, what would have been a good program when I was in the system, what would have helped me? -Shonda McFadden

Almost a year after the ribbon was cut, in 2018 Genesis Home of New Beginning got their first resident.

She came in April, the end of April..and was the only child I had for the next five months. It was a girl that no other placement would take. She kind of had every issue that we would see over the next three years and one. So, I believe that's why we only had her by herself for five months, just so we can learn how to deal with children with those kinds of problems or circumstances and diagnosis. We had that time to learn with her and to help her grow as well. -Shonda McFadden

Many of the girls who come to Genesis Home come with a history of hospitalization, severe trauma, neglect, suicide attempts, abuse and have been in placement since they were six years old or younger. By the time they walk through the door, they've already been institutionalized, after being moved to over 20-25 different placements.

A lot of the children that I receive at Genesis have the same kind of issues that I had growing up: issues with trust, stability, security, safety, anger, rage, pain, just trauma, and that that mainly describes every girl who comes into our program. They've been abandoned or rejected, have a hard time trusting and [have] been abused. A lot of our girls are not reunified; most of our girls aren't. When they come to us, their parents have lost complete rights or in the process of losing rights. Once they come to us, one of my main things is to love on them, and show them love, no matter what their behaviors are. -Shonda McFadden

There are times where girls have no other choice but to sit in hospital rooms because their social worker can’t find a placement for them even though they are not a threat to themselves or others. They.

I’ve seen children sitting in a hospital waiting for a bed somewhere else or just hoping that someone would say yes. -Shonda McFadden

Saying yes to someone despite what their file might say, or behavioral issues can make all the difference. Most of these kids just need a chance. Someone said yes to my sister; someone said yes to our family. People along her path spoke life into her when so many others around her told her no and ruled her out because of her problems. Not only does this happen to kids in the system, but specifically BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities. Problem children are often vilified by their behaviors while negating the fact the coping mechanisms they developed in their adolescence is what they needed at the time to survive in the moment; fight or flight. Some of the girls that come are so full of rage, anger, hurt and sorrow. One would argue that children in the foster care system have a right to be because it is a dated, broken system. The hope is that more attention and advocacy efforts are supported and created to help bridge the gaps and cracks in the Child Welfare System. These kids deserve better. They deserve to have people fight for them and believe in them. They deserve love, community and support. It all starts with a village.

Photo credit: Shelby Wormley

They say it takes a village because it takes the community, it takes the network just to make sure that your child has equal opportunities and has a right as a way to thrive in an environment. You know every parent is not in a position to provide their child with the luxuries or the best of everything. But just someone taking the time to pour into a child and to say a kind word or encourage them or uplift them makes all the difference. The people who made the most impact... I have my parents, but then I have people who step in along the way and they mentored me, they saw me, they spoke to me, they heard the things I said. They didn't just look past me. They actually tuned into what I was going through, what I was dealing with. Hey saw past my behavior issues and still took the time to pour into me and saw something better. So, I felt like it does take more than just your parents. Sometimes networks can be your grandparents or aunts or uncles, a special mentor or especially someone who shows interest in you and pours into you, makes you leave their company feeling better about yourself than you did before.

Genesis Home of New Beginnings welcomes partnering with local business, artists and educators for their enrichment classes and to increase their network and village. If you would like to donate to Genesis Home or sponsor a child for the holiday season or for their birthdays, contact Shonda McFadden at

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