a story of perseverance: an interview with Kerri

by Georgia B., 15

For some, finding a connection, a feeling of community, can often be difficult. Unfortunately, Kerri has known this truth all too well—starting in her early years. 

Kerri’s stepfather was often dismissive of his role in her life; she mentions how he “didn’t want to raise other kids,” and thought of her as a “problem child,” solely because her brother was seen as such. And when it was discovered that she had dyslexia, her stepfather’s negative view of her worsened. 

Neither her teachers nor her family members were helpful with her learning difficulties. Her stepfather perceived her as unintelligent, and her grandmother was consistently hard to please, despite Kerri’s love for her. As Kerri details, her grandmother’s experience raising a family during the Great Depression led her to believe in the use of tough love over tenderness with her family members. Plus, she had more sons than daughters and consistently preferred the boys of the family. 

This manifested itself in her grandmother’s treatment of Kerri versus her brother. When her brother would misbehave, such as when he’d skip class, it would be dismissed; however, smaller missteps of hers like being accidentally late would be harshly punished. In addition to preferentially treating the boys, her reasoning for this unfair system was that he apparently “couldn’t control” his actions.

But amidst an abundance of negativity, Kerri had a beacon of kindness afforded to her—her aunt. She was her closest confidante, and while her aunt adopted two children, Kerri was treated like another child of hers.

When Kerri would be wrongfully admonished by her stepdad or grandmother, her aunt would defend her, insisting that her problems in school weren’t her fault. In addition, when Kerri struggled with bullying, her aunt understood, unlike her parents. Even when Kerri had problems with her weight, her aunt calmly voiced her concerns instead of resorting to anger like her stepfather would.

In spite of her aunt’s positive presence, Kerri’s other family members’ lack of warmth affected her deeply. They would often neglect to spend quality time with her or make her feel valuable. But even though they came up short, her aunt came through. She dedicated ample time to creating now-cherished memories with Kerri—from simply asking her to do various tasks, so as to make her feel valuable, to passing summer days by the pool. Kerri mentions how she “can’t remember what [her aunt] bought for [her].” Because the real gift her aunt gave her was that of time. “It can’t be given back,” Kerri adds. 

After high school, Kerri had plans to attend college. Unfortunately, she was unable to go. Despite having to go down a separate path than she thought, Kerri adapted. She was employed at a Middletown ShopRite, and worked there for some time. But on the job, Kerri suffered an injury, and she needed to go on disability. It was at this time Kerri’s life took an unexpected turn. 

While on disability, Kerri discovered that she had a mental illness. At this realization, she left her parents’ house and relocated to Ocean Grove, where she acquired her own apartment. And soon enough, Kerri was given the pleasure of doing what she now considers her proudest achievement—being a part of the Shore House community.

To get her start at Shore House, she first ventured to New York to receive training. Kerri notes that she came to know the organization as a welcome change from other previous programs. In the past, she had been made to feel like only a client, someone to be merely directed around. Shore House was different. She says how refreshing it was to be treated like a person, plus to be given something similar to a job there.

And since joining Shore House, she’s made numerous fond memories. Her favorite, she says, was when she got to go to a beachside concert with the organization. There she reports they won a sizable prize, which went to Shore House.

To this day, Kerri continues to battle with the fear of mistreatment and abandonment, rooted in her childhood struggles, from the lack of attention to familial belittling. However, the concern has been greatly alleviated. She explains that this really only happened with the sense of community she’s found at Shore House. Kerri’s feelings of insecurity have also luckily been diminished, with her grandmother finally saying that she was “proud of her for caring for her mental health.” 

And while it is true that feeling like you truly belong can be challenging, Kerri’s story shows that despite the difficulties of achieving community and emotional connection, the acts of but a few—her aunt, and those at Shore House—can make an immeasurable impact.