Twelve-year-old Tharon Simpson was with his younger brother, Terrence, at Bayside Marketplace one recent November afternoon when he said to a bystander: “I am so proud of my Mom.”
When the man asked why, Simpson told him that Sherina Akins, a single mother of three who scrubs and polishes floors on the overnight shift at University of Miami Hospital, had just added two more siblings to the family after adopting a cousin’s two children who were about to be placed in foster care. The cousin and his wife had lost parental rights.
The man, touched by the story, asked to meet Akins, who was in the store treating her new adopted daughter, 10-year-old Christyana, to a pair of earrings as a reward for making the honor roll. The man approached Akins, congratulated her for her generous spirit, and insisted on paying for the earrings.
Akins, who lives in North Dade, embraced her new adopted children -- Christyana and infant Isaiah -- as her own. She demanded that Christyana improve her grades and attitude, and enrolled her in after-school cheerleading and music lessons. In the span of a few months, Christyana went from being a marginal student to making the honor roll at Charles R. Drew K-8 School.
Akins treated her to lunch and a boat ride at Bayside, a place the girl had never been despite growing up a few miles away.
“My cousins couldn’t keep the kids, and I just want to try to get them a better life rather than have them in the foster system,” Akins, 33, said of her adopted children. “It was a sad situation, but I was glad to be able to help. Now, their mom knows where her kids are, knows they are safe with family, and nothing bad will happen to them. They will go to bed happy and wake up happy, just like my three boys.”
Akins sees great potential in Christyana and wants to be a good role model for her.
“I want her to see that hard work and being kind leads to blessings,” Akins said. “I took her to Bayside, and her eyes lit up. I want to show her things she never got to see. It’s sad, but I thank God I can show her now. She didn’t have anybody to push her. She is very smart. We just have to work on her attitude. She had not been taught discipline, and had nobody to say I love you and I care for you.”
Having a girl in the house is an added bonus, Akins said.
“I always wanted a girl, and now the boys have a sister, so they will learn to treat her with respect and they will learn to treat other women with that same respect,” Akins said. “It worked out for the best for all of us.”
Anybody who spends five minutes with Akins becomes her instant friend. Although she has no money to spare and has to store her bread in the microwave to keep rats from eating it (“I have killed 11 rats since moving into this house six months ago”), she maintains a positive attitude and is extremely generous with her time.
Her three sons, Tharon, 11-year-old Terrence, and 5-year-old Bronchea, play football through the Miami PAL program at Curtis Park in North Dade, and Christyana cheerleads there. Akins was the team mom for all three football teams -- the PeeWees, 11s and 12s. Among her duties: organizing halftime snacks, water bottles and cold towels.
When the park held a homecoming fundraiser this fall, the Akins kids -- with a lot of help from their mother -- sold the most raffle tickets. The kids each earned homecoming crowns, and Akins won a 50-inch flat screen T.V. in the raffle.
Whenever there is a school function, Akins is there.
“Sometimes it’s a program just for the kids, and I show up anyway,” Akins said. “Some kid will tell me, `This isn’t for the parents,’ and I’ll stay anyway. I want my kids to know how much they are loved and cared for.”
Working overnight, from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., allows Akins to spend time with her children after school. She scrubs floors all night, pays a friend to sleep at her townhouse with the kids, gets home around 7 a.m., gets the four older children off to school and then sleeps as much as she can. By late afternoon, she is re-energized and ready to take the children to their activities.
Through the Miami Music Project with Jeremiah Tindall in Liberty City, which offers lessons for free, Tharon and Christyana are learning to play the trombone and Terrence is playing percussion. The Miami PAL program is their sports haven, with football, cheerleading and other sports. Akins said the children have benefited greatly from their PAL “park family” Jennifer Alonso-Fontela and Carlos Fontela, Andra Barnes, Carol Gainous and Malcolm Moyse.
Akins’ children also participate in the Focused Movement Academy (FMA) in Little River, a competitive fitness program that uses obstacle courses with walls, ropes, bars, tires and rings.
Last year, the children went to an FMA competition in Orlando, and Akins surprised them and showed up.
The family is also involved with St. Andrew Missionary Baptist Church. Pastor Ricardo Moore and his wife, Danyel, have been a great help, Akins said. Her mother, Shiree, uncle and aunt Lorenzo and Grethel, sister Mercedes, grandma Arnett Richardson and cousin Tiffany, and close friend Dominique Mann also provide support for Akins and her children.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without the help of all the wonderful people around me,” said Akins, who was nominated for Wish Book by her case worker Smith Desravines of the Center for Family and Child Enrichment.
“In 26 years as a case manager, I have never seen a woman love her kids the way Sherina loves those kids,” Desravines said. “She is providing a loving, nurturing environment not only to her three sons, but two those other two children. She is very hard-working, affectionate, and is doing a great job with those kids. She would never ask for help, but she could really use it.”
She had to give up her car because she couldn’t afford it, so she has resorted to Uber and friends to get to work and to get the children to their activities. Having her own car would simplify her life tremendously, she said.
Her other biggest wish is a computer and printer for her children, so they can do their homework at home rather than having to do it at school before and after school hours. The children need dressers to store their clothing. Akins would also like a living room set, as her living room has no furniture.
Akins grew up in the Scott housing project in Liberty City, moved to Overtown, then Carol City. The oldest of five children, she took care of her siblings while her mother worked. She cooked and cleaned, so she said she is accustomed to handling the chores of a big family.
She attended Jackson High, and played volleyball there, but says she didn’t get her diploma because she didn’t pass her FCAT exam.
“I had all my credits, but I didn’t pass that test,” Akins said. “I’m not ashamed to say it. I would love to go back, get my GED and get my diploma. I can’t give my kids advice and push them to succeed in life if I’m not making that step myself.”
Since leaving high school, she has never stopped working. She worked at the movie theater at Sunset Place in South Miami, at a casino boat at Bayside, at the Disney Store, at Winn Dixie, and at Spares Bowling Alley. In 2017, she got a job as a “floor tech” in the housekeeping department of UM Hospital.
“Turned out I was really good at cleaning floors. Everywhere I go, I try to do the best job I can,” she said. “I have a very good job now at the hospital, and I am very grateful for it.”
Her dream is to someday open her own child care.
“I love kids so much,” she said. “I always have. I have the patience for it. They’re just looking for love, that’s all, and I have lots of love to give.”
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email email@example.com. (The most requested items are often laptops and tablets for school, furniture, and accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.