Shane Sheil, 29, has a message for kids in foster care. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “And don’t give up. You can do this yourself. Not all of us end up druggies or in jail.”
In 2006, when Shane was one of the oldest kids in foster care in Pinellas County, he told his case worker he wanted a skateboard and an Xbox 360 for Christmas — “and a mom and a dad. Or a mom or a dad.”
His dad had died when he was a baby, his mom when he was 8. At 12, his step-dad had kicked him out for bringing a pocket knife to school. Over the next five years, he bounced through eight foster families and five group homes, went to a dozen different schools.
The then-St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) featured a story on Shane that Christmas, and more than 100 strangers reached out to help. He got a custom skateboard and the Xbox, plus $300 — the first spending money he had. “The best Christmas ever,” he said at the time.
Seven families offered to adopt him. But none of them lived near St. Petersburg High School, where Shane was playing football. He didn’t want to move from his team and girlfriend, the only family he had at the time. “I chose not to be adopted,” he said. “After thinking about it for a long time, I thought, ‘What was the point?’”
Shane dropped out of school, got his GED, got married, then joined the Army. He did two combat tours overseas as an infantryman. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. He got divorced.
“After the Army, I moved around a lot, from homeless shelter to homeless shelter,” he said. “I had a whole lot more struggle.”
Four years ago, Shane’s biological mother’s best friend found him on Facebook. She had been searching for him for years. She introduced him to a couple in Illinois and he moved there to meet them. “They let me crash on their futon for a while, helped me get on my feet,” he said. “They told me that if they’d had a child together, it would have been me.”
He calls them Mom and Dad. “I couldn’t ask for better parents.”
He’s worked a variety of jobs. “Electrical, construction, plumbing, driveways, cars, computers,” he said. “Right now, I’m a meat cutter in East St. Louis, making $14 an hour.”
And he met a girl. They got married. He said she’s “everything I wanted in a girl. She has a 10-year-old son. We got a house, we’re trying to buy it. We’ve lived together for three years. We have dogs, a cat, an aquarium.
“I’m happy,” he said. Then he paused. “But I’m not content with my life. I mean, I’m not doing crazy good, but I’m not doing bad. I’m stubborn as hell, always striving for more.”
He doesn’t regret any of his decisions. He’s proud of what he has accomplished, and grateful for people who helped him along the way: his case worker, a few foster moms, his high school football coach and, of course, his new mom and dad.
“I hope to have kids of my own one day,” Shane said. “I want to be the dad I always wanted.”