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2012 Twelve Days of Giving Flashback: Williams fam...
2012 Twelve Days of Giving Flashback: Williams fam...: Giving Profile: Meet the Williams family. To help this family, email causes@news-press.com. Video by news-press.com. (2012)
Theodore Williams Jr. and his daughters have a place to call home. / Amanda Inscore/news-press.com

Day 3

The holidays are a time for giving, and the needs in Southwest Florida are great. Each day until Dec. 23, The News-Press will feature the wishes of 12 families and people in hopes that neighbors can help their less fortunate neighbors.

How to help

The Williams sisters are in need of new shoes and underwear for Christmas. Art and writing supplies and accessories are other wishes. To help, email causes@news-press.com. The Oasis Youth Shelter is in need of gift card donations and help with buying a new van. It also needs donations for roof and fence repairs. To help, call Larry Barnhill at 278-5400.
Correction
In the Day 2 story, Ouida Taylor's phone number was incorrect. She can be reached at 226-1111.

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One evening, a few days into the school year, Theodore Williams Jr. brought his three daughters together to make one of the most difficult decisions of their lives.

The landlord would no longer allow them to share their grandmother’s town home, where they had been staying since the summer. They had to pack up and move. Again. He could bounce around to friends’ couches while looking for a job and a place for them to live. As a single father, no shelter would allow them to stay together as a family.

He asked the girls, Do you want to go to the Oasis shelter?

Williams and his daughters — Nessiah, 12, Jakeisha, 15, and Latedia, 17 — talked and cried. That night, the girls packed a few outfits, their favorite stuffed animals and blankets and headed to the Fort Myers shelter for older children. In the past, it has catered to runaways, chronic truants, and foster children with no other place to stay. More homeless teens are showing up at their door.

Its 22 beds have been full in the last six months or so.

“I love you,” Williams told them before heading toward the door. The girls tried not to sob.

Four months later, the memory stirs tears for their father, who is 42 years old.

“Don’t cry,” said Jakeisha, sitting next to her father on a recent day.

“You’re going to make me cry,” Latedia said.

“Stop looking at me,” Williams nudged Jakeisha. He turned from her gaze, cracking up through sniffles.

She reached to hug her father.

Last month, with the help of nonprofit organizations and Lee County Human Services, they moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Fort Myers. Williams has been the primary caregiver for the girls since 2003 and, during that time, their residences have been in flux. They have often stayed with family members.

“We’re very humble,” he said. “We’re very thankful and I know that we’ve got a long way to go.”

For the first time in years, the family has its own Christmas tree. Williams told his daughters the new apartment was their gift, but the girls could really use new shoes and underwear. Art and writing supplies, Hannah Montana bedsheets, and accessories are among some of their wishes.

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At Oasis, Nessiah, Jakeisha, and Latedia, stifled tears as they were assigned to separate bedrooms based on their age. Latedia loathed giving up her phone. The doors of the rooms had to stay open because, they learned, some children cut themselves to express their pain. Their bags were searched. It felt intimidating.

But, soon, they made friends.

“What are you here for?” Jakeisha’s roommate asked abruptly.

“I don’t have a place to stay,” she told her.

“OK then,” the girl softened.

Latedia’s roommate offered her an extra pillow and blanket.

They discovered the magic the shelter’s cook could make with spinach. They earned points for cleaning tables or adding a respectful “Thank you” and “Please” to staff members that they cashed in for rewards, like Twix bars or a Sprite.

Larry Barnhill is a program manager for Lutheran Services Florida, the nonprofit organization that runs Oasis Youth Shelter. Staff members admired the girls’ motivation and manners.

“They are polite, pleasant young ladies, who are real motivated about their education, concerned about one another and their dad,” Barnhill said.

After school and on weekends, Williams would take them to the library, the mall or a relative’s house so they could be together. Through it, his two oldest daughters managed to stay on the honor roll, their father said.

In the past month, the shelter has housed 18 homeless children.

“We’re not going to see children sleeping out in the streets with nothing to eat,” he said.

Williams has had full custody of his daughters since around 2003 after the state Department and Children and Families became involved when their mother left them home alone. Their mother, Yakeisa Williams, saw them on weekends and vacations, but for more than five years she was on the run from theft and child neglect charges. In 2010, she was sentenced to prison.

After her July release, Yakeisa felt even worse about her role in their lives when she heard her daughters were at the shelter. The 39-year-old lives in Tampa but is in frequent contact with the girls. She is grateful to their father.

“Through it all, he’s just stuck with them, no matter what and they went through hard times,” said Yakeisa, through tears.

They lived in Tampa and Lake Wales before returning to Fort Myers in June. Three weeks ago, he landed a job as a line cook in Estero.

Weeks later, the feeling of home settled.

“It felt really good to be doing my homework and laying down in my own bed,” Latedia said.

Her father agreed: “It’s a beautiful thing to be home.”

Connect with this reporter: Janine Zeitlin News-Press (Facebook) @Janinezeitlin (Twitter).

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