Tai, Rainn and Brooke Sheppard and their mother still share a bed in a Brooklyn homeless shelter despite an outpouring of attention that began this summer when The Associated Press wrote about how they overcame hardships to qualify and earn medals in the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Houston.
Ten-year-old Rainn won the 3,000 meters; Tai, 11, was second in the 80-meter hurdles, and Brooke, 9, was second in the high jump.
Many were touched by their plight and wanted to help; a philanthropist bought mother Tonia Handy a plane ticket to watch her girls run at the games and others came forward with tips for her to find a better job. But months later, even as the girls are being honored as Sports Illustrated Kids’ SportsKids of the Year, Handy is still looking for something better than the minimum-wage job answering phones at a taxi company and that elusive place of their own.
“I just want a nice mattress,” Handy told the AP this week. “Can I just have a nice mattress to lay my head and just relax and take a breather before I get up and start this new life?”
New York City’s Department of Homeless Services says Handy has been working with a case manager since October on a plan to leave the shelter system. Some options didn’t work out because of apartments being a long way from Brooklyn or scheduling issues that made Handy miss meetings with potential landlords. Handy says one job she had been offered was in another borough and too long a commute, while another interview didn’t result in an offer.
But the family appreciates the love they’re receiving, most recently on an appearance of ABC’s “The View,” where host Whoopi Goldberg showed the girls on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Kids issue for December that made it clear they had won and presented the family with $10,000, along with $40,000 for their Brooklyn-based Jeuness Track Club.
“That money is going to make a really big difference in our lives,” Handy said.
Brooke said on the show that joining the track club was the best thing that ever happened to her.
“It makes us more responsible,” she said. “And it gives us an idea of what’s going to happen in the future, like getting a scholarship.”