By Dylan Deprey
Little did Shalonda Ezell know it would be the dentist office waiting room where God confirmed how she would help her community.
As her and her son waited for his name to be called, a man with mental disabilities stood across from them on the other side of the waiting room.
“So my son looks and I say, ‘See I told you, you can’t talk about people like that’ and he said, ‘yeah you’re right,’” Ezell said.
It was in those words that she realized there was still hope in teaching her son regular life lessons.
“I heard it in my ear and said it to myself, ‘We Still Have Hope for our Youth,’” Ezell said.
Seven months’ earlier tragedy struck when her 13-year-old son Javaire was hit by an SUV, causing life-lasting mental impairment.
“Just like the man in the dentist office, it could happen to anyone, and it happened to us,” Ezell said. “That’s how we came up with the name, because I never gave up hope with my son.”
Following a call to her pastor, she knew it was her sign to help the children in her community.
Just north of Silver Spring Drive, and a slight drive up Teutonia Avenue to the Silver Mill Court Shopping Center sits WSHH for Our Youth, a non-profit retail store where everything is under $5. Its inventory depends solely on donations from the community, which directly goes into funding projects for children in the neighborhood.
Before Ezell was balancing her nursing job at the VA Medical Center, a family and being the go-to clothing provider for those in need, she wanted to make her son feel as normal as possible following the accident.
“Sometimes parents shelter their children out of safety, but it hurts them in the long run,” Ezell said.
It started with her organizing a giant block party for everybody across the City of Milwaukee. She then talked to her sons and around 25 children from the community, and simply asked, “What do you want to do with your life?”
“A lot of them wrote, ‘We want to build a store to give back to people that can’t have things that we have,” Ezell said.
By a democratic vote the children had helped decide her destiny. What began with collecting a few things from the community became a steady influx. It got to the point where she had to move the operation out of her house.
“The city put me through the wringer,” Ezell said.
She proved that it was real following a slew of paperwork and application fees to open a secondhand retail store.
WSHH has been in its location for a little over a year and just Like the clothing displays made out of used-doors, the store itself has opened a door of opportunity to the community.
Ezell said WSHH has provided job training for 20 youth who work in the store, and also provides funds to take inner-city children exploring outside of the city.
“Some kids in the neighborhood only know the park, so we try to take them out of the parks and off of the street corners,” Ezell said.
Although the children are the first priority, WSHH donates to any person who is in dire need of essentials.
“A lot of people drop a lot of stuff off knowing that if somebody puts a post on Facebook about a fire and a kid needs this or that and tag my name, the first thing to come out of my mouth is the address and ‘come and get it,’” Ezell said.
Whether it is a person in need of a winter coat or a woman and child with nothing because of a house fire, Ezell gives them whatever they need, and usually tries to stay in contact with the people she “blesses.”
Although in helping the community over the past year she has noticed that outside of her own support system, the community could support her a lot more.
“I’m doing this for my city, but I’m paying out of pocket for this,” Ezell said. “They’ll go to a Goodwill where the prices are skyrocket, and yes they create jobs, but then let’s build our own industry. Isn’t this the step we’re supposed to be taking?”
Ezell plans on staying in the location for another year before possibly moving locations.
As the New Year is right around the corner, Ezell also has big plans for WSHH. She wants to renovate a few inner-city houses and convert them into a free rec center. She also wants to provide at-home tutoring and begin work in urban gardening.
“I had a rough childhood myself. I just want the best for children, and it takes a person that’s been down that road to push forward,” Ezell said.
For more information please visit https://www.facebook.com/wshhyouth/