A Mother’s Story

By Angie Vineyard

If you ask Sheila Faison to point to one thing that has made the most difference in the lives of her children, the single mother of four will answer you quickly, “The Children’s Scholarship Fund.”

Hers is a story she never tires of telling. It is a story of frustration, desperation, hundreds of prayers and a blessing she can’t put into words. It is a story of parent teacher conferences, hundreds of tears, hard choices and sacrifice. And it is the story of her children’s future that finally sprouted wings some three years ago with a phone call from a friend.

When Sheila’s oldest son, Najee was five, he was more than his Kindergarten teacher could handle. Najee attended a public school and while he had little problem with academics, he grew bored easily in class. Time after time, Sheila would get phone calls and reports that Najee couldn’t sit still or that he was talking too much. They came so frequently that Sheila dreaded every day her son went off to school.

“It just got to the point where I thought, ‘Lord, I will not go through this another year. There’s got to be something else’.”

Disillusioned with the lack of structure for her son and skeptical about his future, Sheila called the Department of Education in Raleigh to learn of her rights. Told that, legally her son did not have to attend school until he reached the age of seven, Sheila chose to keep Najee home for a year and hired a tutor to give him one on one instruction. But eventually, he and his younger brother Kendall had to be enrolled in public school.

Sheila had her sights on Berean Junior Academy, a school with small kindergarten through eighth grade class sizes and a Christian emphasis. Searching diligently for ways to enroll Najee and Kendall in the school started by Berean Seventh Day Adventist Church, she refused to give up. A secretarial position became available at the school, which would also translate into tuition discounts for Najee and Kendall. But as a medical transcriber, Sheila was making $15 an hour. Taking the job at Berean would mean a 60 percent pay cut. She chose the secretarial position.

“It was a tough decision to make,” she said. “But I did what I had to do for my children because I knew that this was a better environment for them than what they would have encountered in public school.”

Sheila is quick to point out that her qualms are not with the public school system.

“I’m a product of public school and I turned out good,” she exclaims. “But the Christian background that they need and that input on a daily basis, I knew that this was a better place for them.”

Her sons flourished at Berean but the tuition was still more than she could handle. She still needed a miracle.

And then one day in 1998, Sheila got a phone call. Her children’s aunt had just watched Oprah and learned how hundreds of children had been given a second chance at education through The Children’s Scholarship Fund. Sheila scribbled down the number to CSF headquarters in New York and called for an application. Once it came in the mail, Sheila filled it out, mailed it and as she says, “went home and waited on my blessing.”

When the first round of scholarship letters were mailed to Charlotte families months later, there was one for Sheila.

“I was just overwhelmed. I opened the letter and I read it and I said, ‘Yes! We’ve got it!’ And my kids said, ‘Mama what are you talking about?’ And I said, ‘You all got your scholarship!’”

Of the 50 students that attend Berean, 14 receive scholarships from CSF. Of the fortunate 14 are the Faison siblings – Najee, 11, Kendall, 9, and seven-year-old Briana.

Their mother will tell you that they’ve flourished mentally, spiritually and physically. Singing in the school chorus and taking an active part in the school plays, her children have blossomed under the student teacher ratio of 12 to 1. Their minds have been stretched; their need for structure satisfied and each child’s self-confidence has skyrocketed.

And it shows. Najee, Kendall and Briana have all consistently maintained AB honor roll status since coming to Berean.

“My children get the same love and discipline that they would get if they were at home,” said a grateful Sheila. ” They have wonderful teachers who are Christian-rooted. If something were to happen, I wouldn’t need to get a phone call every day because the teachers would handle them like they would handle their own children.”

The Faison family was one of the first families to receive a scholarship.  They are currently in their third year.  When the scholarships were given out, each family knew that they would be awarded this assistance for four years.  Mr. John Walton has committed another challenge grant to continue families like the Faison’s for another four years.  This year Children Scholarship Fund of Charlotte will be hosting a campaign to match Mr. Walton’s challenge.  Lindalyn Kakadelis, Director of the CSF-Charlotte stated, “We must do everything possible to continue this educational option for Najee, Kendall, and Briana!  Thanks to this program supported by the Locke foundation and Children’s Scholarship Fund over 400 students have educational options.”

Mrs. Faison stated assertively “For right now they’re exactly where I want them to be. I wouldn’t have them any place else.”

Looking At The Big Picture

Ronetta Stewart is one of a kind. As a single mother of five children, ages eight months to 17 years, she is already convinced that providing them a quality education will greatly increase their chances of succeeding in life. Ronetta has counted the cost. Oftentimes she will forego new clothes for herself, movie tickets for the family or even a special trip to a fast-food restaurant. Her children’s education always comes first.

Although she always wanted her children to receive a private school education, Ronetta had no way to make that a reality. When she noticed a digression in their behavior and a drop in school performance, she began researching Pell grants at her local library. That’s when she happened to notice a little brochure for The Children’s Scholarship Fund, or CSF.

As a New York-based charitable organization that provides educational scholarships to children, CSF has assisted more than 40,000 children nationwide from low-income families. Over 500 scholarships have been awarded in Charlotte.  CSF only provides supplemental scholarships for children, requiring families to pay a portion themselves. Since Ronetta had nothing to contribute, she held onto the CSF application for two years before stumbling upon Providence Day. Last January she drove her son, Donnell, to the private school in Charlotte so he could take the TIP test, a required comprehensive achievement test, and she couldn’t help but be impressed with the campus.  “I said ‘Wow! This school is nice. I never heard of Providence Day,” recalled Ronetta. “It just so happened that the admissions office was open and I was just passing by. The Lord said, ‘Go ahead and ask’.”  Ronetta did ask and discovered that the school provided supplemental scholarships. While four of her children were tested, Ronetta lost no time in filling out the applications, staying on top of deadlines and turning over necessary paperwork as soon as it was requested.

  “She’s a pioneer for other families that would be interested in the application process,” said Kathy Cox, admissions counselor at Providence Day. “If other families were as efficient as Ronetta in getting the spaghetti strings of the application process taken care of, we’d be able to help more families.”  Based on their TIP scores, Providence Day agreed to provide substantial scholarships for Donnell, 14, and Jade, 13. CSF would make up the difference.  For Ronetta, the joint scholarships were nothing short of a miracle.  “I was at work when I got the call,” she said. “And later on I got the letter. I screamed ‘They got in! They got in! They got into Providence Day!”

Unfortunately, Ronetta’s siblings didn’t share her enthusiasm, looking at Ronetta’s strapped financial situation instead of the opportunities a Providence Day education would afford her children. But instead of discouraging Ronetta, those constant, pessimistic words only fuel the single mother’s resolve to do whatever it takes for her children to excel academically.  “I just ignore them,” she says matter-of-factly, “because I see something they don’t see. I’m not looking at what I can afford and what I can’t afford. I’m looking at the big picture, the end picture, what my kids are going to gain by being around decent people with different attitudes that are positive and not always negative. I’m looking at down the road. I will suffer for them to have the education.”  

As a college preparatory school for children in transitional kindergarten through the 12th grade, Providence Day currently enrolls 1450 students, ten percent of which are minority.  Although the school attracts students from a higher income tax bracket, Cox said, “We want to make sure that education is available, regardless of socioeconomic status.”  While Jade jumped into her new situation, Donnell was initially wary, saying, “Mom, they make too much money. What am I going to do with these rich people?”  Ronetta encouraged her son to be himself and told him, “People are just people. Just because somebody has money and you don’t, that’s not something for you to worry about because if you work hard, you’ll get your money.”

Donnell and Jade have attended Providence Day for seven months. But already, Ronetta can see a transformation. Where Donnell’s public school peers teased him constantly because he was always reading, now he’s thriving in an environment that encourages academic excellence.

“I see a change in my children, especially Jade. (At) 13, she’s influenced easily. In junior high school these days, more kids are having sex and doing things that they’re not supposed to. Jade is not.  Donnell is not. They have a better, positive attitude being here.”  When Ronetta’s 11-year-old son Rinard learned he wasn’t accepted into Providence Day, he cried for three days. But frustration and disappointment soon turned into determination. When Rinard sees his older brother and sister growing by leaps and bounds, he works that much harder so that he can hopefully attend Providence Day next year and follow in their footsteps.

Donnell’s favorite subject is Latin and he has aspirations to be an engineer. Jade enjoys math and science and has her sights set on being a paleontologist.  For Ronetta, the change she already sees in her children is well worth the sacrifice. “Sometimes the light bill is late. Sometimes the phone bill is late, but I have to do what I have to do to get them here.”  For more information about CSF or to learn how you can sponsor a family, call (704) 373-2378 or visit

Children’s Scholarship Fund ­— Making Life That Much Better

With dozens of requests pouring in for tuition assistance, the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Charlotte always has one thing in mind —children. CSF wades through thousands of applications, and so far has awarded more than 500 scholarships locally. But CSF doesn’t just write checks. CSF is also familiar with the stories of the children it helps. Stories of children, who for some reason need extra help, stories of children who have been through so much at such a young age, stories of children like Caleb Howard.

Caleb has a typical room for an 11-year-old boy. Textbooks lay scattered atop a wooden desk, hidden beneath his favorite Calvin & Hobbes comic strip book. Basketball posters and caricature pictures line the walls while an electric guitar, a recent Christmas present, is propped up beside his bed. 

But a closer look at Caleb’s belongings reveals a side of this boy’s life that is anything but typical. There are autographed pictures of professional athletes — Nascar driver Cam Straden, members of the WNBA Charlotte Sting, and Carolina Panthers Wesley Walls and Derwin Gray. There are also pictures of athletes standing or sitting beside a bald-headed Caleb in a hospital room. There’s a soccer ball autographed by the entire Charlotte Eagles team and a football with Panthers’ signatures. And not far from this prized collection sits a radiation mask, a hardened piece of mesh designed to fit Caleb’s face. It, too, is autographed. But instead of bearing the names of athletes, the signatures belong to doctors and nurses.  Caleb has leukemia.

Last April, when Caleb appeared abnormally sleepy, his grandmother, Pat Lineberger, decided to take him in for a checkup. His doctor thought Caleb was merely suffering from allergies. A blood test, however, showed the boy’s white blood cell count to be extremely high and his red blood cell count to be extremely low. Doctors congregated in the lab and whispered grimly while Pat prayed for a miracle. They told her his cell counts and scheduled Caleb for another blood test that week.  Pat could not control her tears on the drive home. “I just busted out crying as hard as I could,” she said.  But Caleb turned to her and said, “I’m going to be OK. God’s just testing my faith and I’m going to be OK.”

The second blood test confirmed what the doctors had initially thought. Caleb had leukemia. He underwent aggressive chemotherapy, spending weeks in the hospital. He lost his hair and missed school. But something amazing happened that even astounded his doctors. Only 14 days after Caleb was diagnosed, his leukemia went into remission. Eventually, his chemo dosage was lowered and his treatments were done on an outpatient basis.

“We give God the praise,” Caleb’s grandmother said.  Faith is easy to speak about for Pat because life has been so full of challenges. Caleb’s being diagnosed with leukemia wasn’t the first. But with every struggle, there’s always been a miracle along the way.

When Caleb was 5 years old, his life was turned upside down. Pat and her husband had taken Caleb on vacation. When they arrived home, they discovered that Caleb’s mother had abandoned him, moving to Illinois in search of someone she had met on the Internet. Pat stepped in to care for Caleb, enrolling him in kindergarten at Charlotte Christian School. But the next summer, her husband suffered a third stroke, leaving him paralyzed with neurological damage. Unable to be cared for at home, he was moved to a nursing home. The bills piled up and Pat struggled to pay her grandson’s tuition. Not knowing how she would keep him at Charlotte Christian, Pat faced the reality that Caleb might have to attend public school.

But then, Pat’s daughter heard about the Children’s Scholarship Fund on the radio and told her mother. Pat called, filled out the paper work and waited for the first drawing. “I just kind of prayed about it,” she said. Caleb was accepted in the first drawing and was able to stay at Charlotte Christian.  Pat had no idea how vital a role Caleb’s school would play in his life. A couple of years later, Caleb’s mother showed up and took her son away.  But instead of a new life together, the time was marked by abuse. Pat fought for custody of Caleb and eventually won. Caleb’s psychologist was adamant that he return to Charlotte Christian because the school was a stabilizing force in his life and afforded him the best environment to rebuild his self-esteem.

And then last April when Caleb was diagnosed with leukemia, his school rallied around him with a show of support that still amazes Pat.

“I don’t even think I can put it into words,” she said. “The school was so behind him!” Classmates came to see him, mothers brought scores of meals and parents donated a pool table, a foosball table, games, puzzles and numerous gifts. Cards were sent and prayers were offered. And when Caleb was too sick to finish the fourth grade, teachers donated their time to tutor him so he wouldn’t be left behind academically. Caleb was able to join his classmates last year for field day and the school’s annual Race of Praise. Perched in the back of a pickup truck, Caleb waved to hundreds of cheering classmates, parents and teachers as he circled the track, a one-man parade. By all accounts, it was a grand celebration of his leukemia going into remission. With all the struggles Caleb has faced in his young life, his grandmother is convinced that this school is exactly where he needs to be. And if it wasn’t for the Children’s Scholarship Fund, that simply would not be possible. Scholarships like the one Caleb receives are made possible because of individuals and corporations who prize educational choice and make generous donations. But with thousands of applications pouring in, the task is far from over. Please contact the Children’s Scholarship Fund to learn how you can help. (704) 373-2378

Pictured here are a few more students who have benefited from the Children’s Scholarship Fund in Charlotte, NC.