Goodfellows gives her eight grandkids a chance


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Nearly 30 years ago, Toni Jones, then a single mother of three and without much in the way of a future, changed her life.

Today, Ms. Jones, now a single grandmother of eight and a teacher of American history in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, lives the change she experienced.

For all of the past 10 years, at least some of her eight grandchildren have lived with her. For at least the past two, all eight -- ranging in age from 2 to 12 -- have lived with her in a North Side house that is small in size but grand in love and aspiration.

The reasons she has come to become mother to her eight grandchildren are as varied and sad as the headlines in the day's newspaper, including the killing of her son, Saleem Hudson, in 2004. It was a death that, she says, produced a rippling devastation on the rest of her family and became the impetus for why many of the children landed on her doorstep.

But hers is not a story of despair.

As Ms. Jones sat in her dining room on a rainy Monday evening, she talked only of hope and promise and of a litany of people who helped her make her way.

"No one plans on being a grandmother and raising the kids, but sometimes life does not turn out the way you planned," Ms. Jones said.

She is Example One.

It was the mid-1980s. She was 18 and pregnant. Her prospects were few. Her family grew. A son. Two daughters. She was alone.

"I kept asking: 'What was I going to do?' " she said.

She found a guardian angel in the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

"I wanted to be a teacher and a journalist," she said. "This guy [at OVR] made it happen."

With a scholarship from OVR, and with the aid of public assistance for child care and a monthly bus pass, she set off on six years of college -- 21/2 at Community College of Allegheny County and 31/2 at the University of Pittsburgh. By 1995, she had earned a degree in urban sociology and a master's in history and in doing so became the first in her family to graduate college.

"It was difficult, but I had counselors and supervisors that said we believe in you, we believe you can do this," she said.

They weren't the only ones. There was a "grandmotherly woman named Ruth" in the Natrona Heights Head Start program who preached to her of her potential. There was Marsha Ekunfeo, an eighth-grade teacher who "really pushed me, who told me: 'You come back and do for others what I've done for you.' " There was Mitch Nickols, a church pastor who with his wife "tutored me and taught me etiquette."

"It seemed everything fell into place," Ms. Jones said.

She went on to work as a counselor at the Sojourner House, a residential treatment facility for mothers with addictions. "It helped me see what happened to other people in the community that didn't get the breaks I had," she said.

In 1999, she realized her dream to teach when she was hired at Schiller Classical Academy, a North Side magnet school for grades 6-8.

The happy Hallmark-movie ending, however, took a turn that day in September 2004 when her son was killed; the ground zero for why she now finds herself with her children's children in her house, in her care and with a mantel almost too small to hold all their Christmas stockings.

"Things could be worse," she said. "They could be in the system where I couldn't help them. Here, I know they're safe. I know they're well-cared for."

That doesn't mean it's easy. Rent. Utilities. Food. Clothes. It adds up.

"It's hard and I have to struggle a lot," she said. Her words, however, bear no hint of burden.

"I'm not the strong one because I'm strong. I'm the strong one because there's no one left."

Nabhi Christian Ministries, through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund and Toys for Tots, will help ease that struggle this Christmas with toys for the eight children. Nabhi has worked with Goodfellows since 2005 and will help more than 300 families this Christmas season. Since 1947, the mission of Goodfellows has been to ensure that no child goes without a Christmas present.

It's a blessing Ms. Jones was hesitant to ask for because, as she said, "there's always someone worse off than you are."

That doesn't make the blessings any less deserved.

Christmas is about hope and hope is what Ms. Jones lives daily, whether at home or in her classroom.

"I'm determined that my grandchildren will have a chance," she said. "They will get a good education. They will be leaders and they will take pride in their community."

And this Christmas morning, they will have a little something extra under the tree.

"It's hard buying for eight kids," Ms. Jones said, "but I tell them whatever they get to be grateful for."

You can help by making a tax-deductible donation to Goodfellows by using the coupon on this page, or online by visiting www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows. Every donation will be acknowledged in the newspaper.

Today's total: $10,145



Grand total: $149,016.63



In memory of Joseph M. Fastuca $2,000

Anonymous $1,000

Anonymous $500

Anonymous $500

German Club $300

Alexis, Amanda & Ashley Hurwitz $300

Carol & Paul Stockman $250

In memory of Andrew Hackworth $250

Terry & Maureen Cavanaugh $200

Anonymous $200

Larry Basinski $200

Anonymous $200

Anonymous $150

Jay & Kelly Glunt $150

Sam and Barbara Costanzo $150

In honor of Butch & Mart Antonella $100

Anonymous $100

Anonymous $100

Brad & Leeann Golish $100

Anonymous $100

In memory of John M. Pierson $100

Anonymous $100

In memory of Stuart Hird $100

Hilde Munck $100

Anonymous $100

In memory of Dale Carpenter $100

Prachi & Gautam Patel $100

Anonymous $100

Peg & Ron Yori $100

Jonathan Manns, Andrew Price & Jackson Manns $100

Anonymous $88

Ken & Jill Nolan $75

Helen R. Durden $75

James P. Leindecker $51

In honor of Stan Bartman $50

Mrs. Mineko Avery $50

Ray Wojszynski $50

William J. Proudfoot $50

Mr. & Mrs. Allan D. Bobko $50

In memory of Rachel Saylor $50

Summer & Chelsea, Chad & Harley $50

In memory of Sam & Clara Iacovetti from Christopher & Andrew Ranallo $50

In memory of Alfonso Ranallo from Michael Ranallo & Kathy DiBucci $50

E. Dale George $50

Anonymous $50

In memory of Angelo & Raffaela Moraca and Ross & Carmella Harrold $50

M. Filip $50

Anonymous $50

In memory of Les & Audrey Fossick $50

John & Sue Yuhaschek $50

Anonymous $50

Jim Schrmack $50

The Abegg Family $50

Jinny Welker $40

Wm. T. & Sharon Lenard $40

In memory of John Knight Sr. & Ronald Knight $40

Bud $35

In loving memory of Carol Fehl & Charles Conley $35

In memory of Sue Nemeth $35

Anonymous $30

Anonymous $30

Marlene E. Becker $30

Anonymous $25

David A. Horning Jr. $25

In memory of John J. Zur $25

In memory of Katherine K. Zur $25

In memory of George E. Gross $25

Emily, Eric & Evan $25

Anonymous $25

In memory of Dorothy Corbett $25

Donna Pastore $25

Bill & Dianna Paul $25

Anonymous $25

Stankowski Family $25

Elaine Bigley $25

In memory of Jack Hines $25

John D. Kenst $25

In loving memory of William J. & Antoinette Wilson $25

In honor of Catherine Paige's 91st Birthday $25

Mary Lou Christie $25

In memory of Little Billy Merola $20

Anonymous $20

John Dollar $20

Joe Scripko $20

Anonymous $20

Anonymous $20

William & Marcia Thomas $20

Sandy Hook Elementary Children $20

Ms. Deborah Zourelias $15

In memory of Vincent E. Morgan $15

In memory of Connecticut School Shooting Victims $15

Karen Moore $10

Howard R. Crawford $10

Jean Bomeli $10

Bob Cramer $10

Anonymous $10

Mikey & Tommy Henshaw $10

Mallory $7

Mary Me $7

Will U. $7

Anonymous $5

neigh_city - holidays

Steve Ziants: sziants@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1474.


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