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A Florida teen’s holiday hope: moving from a youth shelter to college

Holiday Hopes | At a youth shelter in Bartow, Shatner Booker-Lowery inspired both kids and staff members. You can make his dreams come true.
Shatner Booker-Lowery, 18, practices basketball in Bartow on Nov. 23.
Shatner Booker-Lowery, 18, practices basketball in Bartow on Nov. 23. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021
Updated Dec. 6, 2021

Editor’s Note: For the 16th consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Times presents Holiday Hopes, a series profiling people in need that gives readers a chance to help. The Times will update readers about granted wishes in January.

Shatner Booker-Lowery doesn’t ask for much. When he turned 18 on Thursday, all he requested was a basketball.

Roderick Jefferson, program manager of Youth and Family Alternatives Inc. in Bartow, wants to give Booker-Lowery one more gift: a chance at a college degree.

When Booker-Lowery came to the George W. Harris, Jr. Runaway and Youth Crisis Shelter in October, Jefferson was struck by his charisma and big smile. Booker-Lowery aged out of the youth shelter on Thursday, but Jefferson wants to keep helping him. That’s why he nominated him for Holiday Hopes.

Booker-Lowery is a sharp kid, Jefferson said. He graduated from high school in June and was accepted to Hope International University, where he earned a partial basketball scholarship and planned to study aerospace engineering.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been able to make things,” Booker-Lowery said. “I do want to play basketball, but I also want to have a career that I can fall back on.”

Related: Holiday Hopes: Largo seniors need help affording a caretaker this holiday season

To save up for school, Booker-Lowery got a job working as a carhop at Sonic, taking orders and serving meals on roller skates. He had enrolled and even attended a few practices with the basketball team, but his mother pulled him out before the semester started. He missed the housing deadline and the first semester of classes. He found himself staying at the youth shelter.

Booker-Lowery had a turbulent childhood. He has lived in Virginia, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, California and now Florida.

Still, he’s determined to make it to school in January. At the shelter, he practiced basketball twice a day.

“I’m just waiting patiently,” he said.

Shatner Booker-Lowery, 18, hopes to start college next semester.
Shatner Booker-Lowery, 18, hopes to start college next semester. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Jefferson will be helping him transition to college. They’ve been looking for housing options together, and Jefferson even offered to let Booker-Lowery stay with him.

“He’s got his head on his shoulders right,” he said. “He’s going to be a kid that changes the world one day.”

Jovia Dukes, teen lead supervisor at the shelter, said staff members love him.

“He’s a very cheerful young man who encourages the grown-ups to be happy,” Dukes said. “I can come in and not be feeling myself, and he’ll tell me, ‘Hey, your day is going to get better.’”

The other youths at the shelter look up to Booker-Lowery as a big brother. He’s inspired others to fill out job applications and take school seriously.

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“He’s just a very helpful, respectful young man, and I feel like everything he gets, he deserves it,” she said. “He just needs a little helping hand.”

To donate to Booker-Lowery’s college fund, visit his GoFundMe page at gofund.me/92430e7a.

correction: A previous version of this story said Shatner Booker-Lowery had been enrolled at Polk State. It has been corrected to say he was enrolled at Hope International University. The Tampa Bay Times regrets this error.