For Shenita Hollingsworth, 46, the trajectory of her life began when she left home at age 14 and got pregnant at age 17. It’s been rough going. She prays a lot.
The story begins with a 14-year-old girl, the youngest of seven kids, who in 1984 decides her home life in Mount Baker is such that she needs to move out.
“I had no choice. There was too much going on,” says Shenita Hollingsworth, now 46. She doesn’t talk much about what was going on then.
But it was not a good beginning for the trajectory of her upcoming years.
The Salvation Army
Serves more than 420,000 people annually in Western Washington. Services offered without discrimination include rent assistance, food, clothing, summer camps, services for the aging, shelters for homeless men and women, shelters for battered women and children.
The stable home, all that stuff a kid needs. Not there.
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make.
So it’s not surprising that choices get made, choices that cause upheavals.
At 14, Hollingsworth got a job working at Dag’s, the now-closed local burger chain.
“I guess I thought I was grown,” she says.
At the beach on Lake Washington she met a young man. She got pregnant, and, at age 17, gave birth to a baby girl.
“I didn’t know any better,” says Hollingsworth about birth control.
The father was of Filipino background. His parents didn’t want him marrying an African-American girl, says Hollingsworth. He went on his way.
Hollingsworth remembers what her own mother once told her: “Mama’s baby, daddy’s maybe.”
She knew she was keeping the child, Shontia Delpin, now 29.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what the Salvation Army can do with your donation:
$25: provides two warm, safe nights at an emergency cold-weather shelter.
$50: provides one month of heat for a family in danger of having utilities shut off.
$100: provides a food box, which can feed two to three people for one week.
For information: SalvationArmyNW.org
“It was unconditional love. Me and the baby. She was my responsibility. We can have each other,” says Hollingsworth.
She had been staying with the baby’s dad. Now she found herself homeless.
That was the first time the Salvation Army came to help. It put her up in a women’s shelter on Capitol Hill.
In later years, it would again come to help Hollingsworth.
She was, at times, a broken woman in the depths of depression.
The Salvation Army is one of 12 charities supported by The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy campaign.
Hollingsworth’s mother, Johnnie Hollingsworth, took care of Shontia while Hollingsworth looked for housing. She found a transitional apartment at the old Sand Point Naval Air Station.
All this time, the young mom was working.
“I had no choice,” says Hollingsworth.
There was clerking at a Chevron, working at the Chubby & Tubby’s in Rainier Valley, clerking at the ShopRite, working in the cafeteria at the old Seattle Times building.
Life went on.
She was in her 30s when she met a guy living in her apartment complex. By then her daughter was living on her own.
You need companionship. Things happen. Hollingsworth got pregnant. Then it happened again.
The dad left.
Mama’s baby, daddy’s maybe.
Hollingsworth shows a statement from the state’s Division of Child Support on how much the dad is contributing to the raising of their 11-year-old daughter, Christina.
In March it was raised to $5.25 from the previous $3.12 per month.
$5.25 a month.
“I think he has a lot of other children, I don’t know. I haven’t seen him in a long time,” says Hollingsworth.
A few years passed. Then came a series of devastating events.
This past decade, Hollingsworth ended up taking care of her grandmother, Christine Williams (who died in 2012 at age 86 of heart failure); her mother (who died in 2009 at age 64 of cancer); and her sister, Cassandra Hollingsworth (she died in 2006 at age 42 of cancer).
At one point, her mother and grandmother were in side-by-side beds. Hollingsworth would drain fluids from both women’s illnesses.
“I was so tired I’d fall asleep praying,” she says.
Besides the ill adult women, Hollingsworth also was taking care of her own daughter and her sister’s two daughters, 33-year-old Lorinda, who has cerebral palsy, and the younger one, Tabetha, who is now 18.
This little group had been staying at a home in Auburn that was a Section 8 subsidized rental. When the grandmother died they could no longer afford it.
In 2012, Hollingsworth and the kids found themselves living in their aging SUV. A woman allowed them to wash their clothes at her home and sometimes stay with her.
In the car, “We slept the best way we could,” says Hollingsworth. They’d turn the car heater on and off for warmth.
That homeless stint lasted a month and then Hollingsworth found a rental home in Kent for $1,595 a month. It was not subsidized because it didn’t meet Section 8 requirements.
Through it all, The Salvation Army helped with food and toys for the kids, and now with water and light bills.
“It seems we’re always homeless around the holidays,” says Hollingsworth. “I don’t know why.”
And the agency helped in another crucial way.
Shirley Harris, service coordinator for the agency in South King County, started a group for women such as Hollingsworth.
“Miss Shirley, she believed in me. She held my hand, (said) that it was going to be OK,” says Hollingsworth. “No matter how bad things seemed, there’s always good.”
Harris says she knows the women. “They’ve been mostly disappointed, disappointed in themselves. We have to redirect them.”
When the Kent rental home developed a gas leak, Hollingsworth and the kids once again were homeless. She says the landlord decided it wasn’t worth fixing.
It was back to the SUV, Hollingsworth each morning dropping the kids off at school, then picking them up.
After a couple of months, she found a Section 8 rental home in Renton.
Scrambling around, she has managed to make the $2,100 rent payment. Hollingsworth gets paid by DSHS as the full-time caretaker of the niece with cerebral palsy. There are also Social Security benefits for the two nieces.
Still, by the time the rent, electricity, water, garbage, car insurance and gas for the car get paid for, by the 10th of the month there often is no cash left.
The Salvation Army again helps out.
Slowly, the turnaround began.
Hollingsworth earned her GED in 2014. She proudly brings out her cap and gown from Renton Technical College.
She then completed a nursing assistant program at Green River Community College.
Hollingsworth took on more responsibility. Her first daughter has two sons. One of them lives full time with Hollingsworth, the other part time.
Shontia is going to cosmetology school. She says the father of one son helps out with finances and is involved; the father of the other son “hasn’t been around for a while.”
Hollingsworth wants to help out.
But it gets to her.
“I tell Miss Shirley, ‘Why do I keep going through this?’ ”
Shirley Harris tells her, as she has many times, “It’s going to be OK.”
Hollingsworth prays a lot.