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One Pinellas foster kid wanted a family. Tampa Bay stepped up to help.

The generosity of more than 100 people Shane Sheil, a 16-year-old in Pinellas County’s foster care system, never met changed his life.

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the Jan. 9, 2007, edition of the then-St. Petersburg Times under the headline, “Better Than An Xbox.”

To read Lane DeGregory’s original story about Shane, click here.

• • •

Shane Sheil had asked for three things for Christmas. But he hadn’t really dared to hope for any of them.

At 16, he was tired of getting disappointed.

Both of his parents had died before he turned 9. When he was 12, his stepdad kicked him out of the house. He had spent five Christmases in foster care, bounced between 12 houses, including several group homes.

He was one of the oldest foster kids in Pinellas County.

For Christmas, he said, he wanted an Xbox. He'd never had a video game system. And a custom skateboard to ride to football practice at St. Pete High.

And oh, yeah, he said, almost as an afterthought. His voice got softer, like he could barely bring himself to say the wish out loud.

"I want a family," he said. "I write that every year. I mean I'm 16, but I still want a family, someone I can go to if I have problems.

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"It'd be nice to have a mom and a dad. Or even just a mom. Or just a dad."

Shane’s story appeared in the then St. Petersburg Times on Dec. 21, 2006. He still can’t believe what happened next.

"I was so surprised," he said a week later. "It was my best Christmas ever."

The generosity of more than 100 people Shane never met changed his life.

And best of all, he said, some of those strangers even offered to help other kids like him.

Shane Sheil, 16, rides his bike to and from school every day. He prides himself on his speed as well as being self-sufficient. (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [ LYTTLE, MELISSA | St. Petersburg Times ]

Love, from strangers

After the story appeared, 127 people called wanting to help - from as far away as Arizona and Indiana. Another 59 emailed about Shane. And several stopped by the foster care office to drop off gifts, letters and cards.

Someone donated $1,000 to the Heart Gallery, which features foster kids who want to be adopted. Another wrote a check for $150 for the gallery. A businessman sent $100 specifically for Shane.

A woman who works at an Allstate Insurance office in St. Pete talked to her co-workers and raised $600 cash. She bought Shane an Xbox 360, two controllers and three games and gave Shane the money that was left. He’d never had spending money.

Owners of a skateboard shop on St. Pete Beach called to tell Shane: Stop by any time. Pick out whatever you want. We’ll build you your dream board. Another family sent him a $130 gift certificate to a Clearwater skate shop.

One man offered to take Shane to Bucs or Lightning games; another to Busch Gardens. Three women called saying they’d like to be his grandmother. Two 20-something guys wanted to be his big brother. And a couple of teen boys emailed saying they’d like to just hang out, be his friends.

A dozen people wanted to adopt him

A doctor in Brooksville, who already has four teenage sons. A woman who has a son who’s into cars and football, like Shane. A couple who promised Shane if he moved into their home, he’d have his own room - for the first time. A middle school teacher. An officer in the 21st Airborne. A nurse whose children are grown.

The most touching call came from a high school football coach. In Shane’s story, he had talked about being at his own football banquet last fall, sitting alone at a big table sobbing, because he was the only player who didn’t have a parent. The football coach who called had a hard time leaving his message. His voice kept cracking, like he was crying. He wanted to help however he could.

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“So far, I’ve talked to seven families who want to adopt Shane,” his caseworker, Linda Rotz, said last week. "I already have a home study from one in Clearwater, which looks pretty promising. Another has called three times.

“What’s best,” she said, “is that some of these people are asking: If not Shane, is there another child that might need a home?”

In Pinellas and Pasco counties alone, more than 500 children are waiting to be adopted.

Shane Sheil, 16, takes a break from the steady stream of video game playing, to get some fresh air outside and listen to music on the radio of his friend Thomas Blake's car. (MELISSA LYTTLE | Times) [ LYTTLE, MELISSA | St. Petersburg Times ]

Holding on

“It’s all been so great,” Shane kept saying, as the calls and emails and gifts poured in.

For the first time ever, he had enough cash to take his girlfriend to the movies and buy popcorn. It finally felt like a real date.

For the first time, he could play video games in his room instead of having to go to the library and wait in line for a computer. He stayed up all night playing Call of Duty 2.

For the first time, he'll have a custom skateboard to ride home from football practice, or to his girlfriend's house, or wherever. He couldn't wait to show it off at school.

And for the first time he could remember, he said, he felt wanted. Like someone really was interested in him, in taking him home. Not just someone - 12 folks he'd never met wanted him to be part of their family.

"I just can't believe that," he kept saying.

He wants to meet some of the prospective parents, of course. He "can't even imagine" what it would be like to have a permanent home.

But he's also scared. Sort of. Not really. Well, yeah.

He wants a family of his own so badly. He has for so long. But he doesn't really want to move too far from where he is now.

"I mean, at least not so far that I'd have to change schools. I don't want to do that again," he said.

"And not too far from my girlfriend. I gotta be close enough, at least, to ride my skateboard to her house. Right now, she's the only family I've got."

Read Shane’s story:

To read the original Lane DeGregory story about Shane Sheil, “A mom and dad. Or Just a mom. Or Just a dad,” click here.

Update:

To see how he’s doing now, click here.

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