About Shelly Nazer
First grade for Shelly was a world full of finger painting, running on the playground, and learning how to draw the number eight like a racetrack instead of a snowman.
All of this came to a screeching halt when Shelly got called to the Principal’s office where she met two police officers. Her and her sister were then taken to the police station where they were separated and interrogated.
“Did you see your Dad sell drugs? Have you done drugs?” an officer asked Shelly.
“What does that mean?” Shelly thought. “I don’t understand.” She could hear her dad’s voice in the hall and thought he was coming to pick her up, but she was wrong. It would be years before she would interact with her father without glass in between them.
Shelly was given a teddy bear with a t-shirt that said, “West Valley Police.” It was the only comfort she had with her. There was no explanation for why she was there. There isn’t a lot of language to explain to a six-year-old that your parents were arrested for drug trafficking, drug dealing, illegal possession of weapons, and more.
After hours of being at the police station, Shelly and her sister went straight into foster care.
One day, Shelly saw her parents on the news. Her foster family shooed the girls away.
“I remember being like, ‘I want to see my Dad and Mom!’” Shelly recalls. “But it was like a mug shot on the television.” Her dad was sentenced to over 7 years in federal prison. Her mother was in and out of jail, battling addiction and mental illness.
Shelly had an incredibly hard time adjusting to the new living situation. Not only was it difficult to be away from her parents in a new environment, but the foster families also were not ideal. One family wouldn’t let any of the foster children sit on the furniture, like they were dogs.
“Foster care is really the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get a good family and sometimes you get a not so good family.” Shelly explains. “Social services try their best, but at the same time, they need homes. So, anyone who is willing to volunteer—sometimes the bad ones get through the cracks.”
One foster family was an elderly couple. Shelly would sleep at night with a long t-shirt like a nightgown with some green and pink striped bicycle shorts. Shelly recalls one time her sister telling her to not take her shorts off.
“Leave your shorts on,” she cautioned.
“Why? They’re too tight,” Shelly complained.
“Leave them on.”
A few years later, Shelly was shocked to find out that her foster dad in that home had been sexually molesting her sister.
Shelly never lived at a place for more than two years. She was in three foster homes, then placed in a kinship with her aunt. She lived with her mother when she had custody, once living with her grandfather, living out of a car, and her mother’s boyfriend’s places.
Shelly’s mother would sober up long enough to gain custody back, then fall off the wagon soon after. This resulted in a lot of back-and-forth between her mother, her aunt, and foster homes.
The last time Shelly lived with her mother in a trailer park, her and her sister got into a huge fist fight.
“My sister was so mean. She used to pick on me,” Shelly illustrated. “One day I decided to stand up for myself and my mom came home in the middle of the scene.”
“Get out! You can’t live here anymore!” Shelly’s mother screamed. Shelly was kicked out of her house at just 12 years old.
So, Shelly hopped the fence and went to the nearest gas station to call her best friend. To avoid being placed in the foster system again, she stayed with her friend’s family all throughout middle school. It was humble living, a small old home on the south side of Salt Lake, three-bedroom, one-bath. But they took her in and even cleared space for her to have her own room. And her mother? Well, her relationship with her mother was essentially over. Shelly remembers one time seeing her mother show up and ask for a clean urine sample so she could be cleared for probation.
Shelly loved school and received really good grades. Her education was her safe haven, no one would fight, yell, or hurt her.
For a brief stint, Shelly lived with her father after he was released. But he was high on drugs and Shelly had to sleep on the couch. They fought over his responsibilities and how he should be a better father figure. Not long after, he was arrested again when he kidnapped a girl while he was high. This time he ended up serving a sentence up to life in prison.
Enrolling into high school was a challenge. Shelly’s mother needed to register her and there needed to be a permanent address. This resulted in her having to move back with her aunt and go to school in Magna.
Living with her aunt this time around was much more enjoyable. Her grandfather was living there at the time and Shelly adored him. And she did so good in school that she could have graduated her junior year. Already making $16 an hour as a CNA, Shelly decided to finish out her education taking college courses, including an EMT class. And by age 17, she was living in an apartment with roommates.
“It was hard,” Shelly recalls. “I had to make a lot of sacrifices. I loved theater. It was another escape; I could be somebody else. And my Senior year, I had a good part, but I had to quit so I could go to work to pay the rent.”
Not long after college, Shelly married her best friend. The couple move to Texas, then to Oregon where they started their family of their own. They returned to Utah with their two daughters and settled in beautiful Cache Valley—where Shelly’s husband was raised. Soon they will be celebrating their fifteenth wedding anniversary. Shelly still loves theater and has seen shows from New York to San Francisco.
From her experience with foster care, it is no wonder that Shelly is incredibly passionate about helping others in similar situations.
Joining Little Lambs
Shelly first heard about Little Lambs from a Google search when hunting for a place to donate during the holiday season with her family.
“And it pulled up Little Lambs. I saw what they did for foster kids and it just touched my heart.”
Little Lambs has made efforts to make the transition into foster care easier by providing comfort kits for every foster care child from newborn babies, all the way to the age of 17. These comfort kits, which are a backpack full of age appropriate things, are given to every Department of Child and Family Services office throughout the state. Each child receives a backpack, blanket, and a book, then other items from five different age groups.
When a case worker would show up to Shelly’s foster home as a child, they simply grabbed things to shove in a garbage bag and said, “We’re leaving.” The less fortunate don’t have time to grab any personal belongings before being ushered to a police car. The child may have nothing of theirs to call their own except for the clothes on their back.
“We wrote them a check for $500 and went in and met Ted,” Shelly says, recalling her first encounter with Little Lambs.
The following year, Shelly’s family participated in an event the Alpine church hosts every year, assembling Little Lambs comfort kits. Shelly was hooked and frequently volunteered. Over time, Shelly brought all her experience with foster care and knowledge from volunteering in the community, raising funds for the PTA, serving on the School Community Council and Charter School Governing Board, and joined the Little Lambs Foundation for Kids Board of Directors as the Fundraising Coordinator.
How to help
When asked how we can get involved with Little Lambs, Shelly says a monetary donation is best. While tangible items are always appreciated, Little Lambs has ways to stretch the dollar, and find great deals which go a long way.
The next best thing is in-kind donations such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, blankets, clothing, baby formula, baby food, or diapers for the diaper bank.
In addition, Little Lambs always welcomes groups or individuals to host drives or make items like pillow cases, blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, tote bags,etc. to include in the comfort kits.
It has been wonderful to get to know Shelly and hear her passion for this organization. You can learn more about Little Lambs and the foundation board members at littlelambsofutah.org.
By creative writer: Jillian Loveday