Life changes. Quickly. Sometimes, too fast.
Ask Terrance Williams — he knows all too well. His mom, Ruth McMahon, died in December at age 60 of congestive heart failure. The death hit hard, like a sucker punch in the gut.
“We were so close,” Williams says.
Then, five months later, his sister, Joiette Pitts died after years of substance abuse. She was 32. Too young.
That passing was particularly jarring. Pitts had three kids — Malachi, 11, Jakayla, 8 and Jakyla, 7. For years, Joiette was in and out of her childrens’ lives as she battled drug addiction.
Malachi spent the first few years of his life being raised by his mother and grandmother because of the abuse between his mom and dad.
Then in 2012, the family’s home caught fire. “It really messed up the kitchen and dining room pretty bad,” Williams says.
Pitts was later arrested for breaking and entering. She did three months behind bars, got out then sought to rebuild her life with her kids. Then McMahon died. Pitts soon after.
Enter Williams, 42, and his girlfriend, Cheri Base, who have been together for seven years and raising Base’s, two kids, Nicholas Carpenter, 18 and Carissa Carpenter, 13, in a cluttered four-bedroom home on 20th Street in West Palm Beach.
Williams stepped in as guardian.
“My kids are older and I was getting out of the small stage and now I’m back dealing with basketball practice, choir, football practice,” he says. “It’s really busy.”
Base, 56, said the living situation is also tough. “The hardest part for them is that they lost their mom so young. I try to help Terrance as much as I can,” she says.
Malachi, who doesn’t look his visitor in the eyes when talking, said things are OK. “It’s somewhere to stay,” he says softly.
While Jakyla loves her uncle, she doesn’t like her new elementary school. “It’s been bad,” she says, declining to elaborate.
Meanwhile Jakayla misses her mom. “I was so sad, angry and mad when she died,” she says.
Money remains tight for the family.
For the past 18 years Williams has worked for Riviera Beach’s utilities department, making about $1,500 a month. Base works for the city’s water billing department and brings home $535 every two weeks.
“We do what we have to do,” she says. “The lights are on; we’ve got cable; they get food and water. We’re maintaining.”
Williams, staring off into the backyard where his three newest kids are playing, says they have so much energy.
“They keep me going.”
Terrance Williams is the guardian for his late sister’s three young children — Malachi Pitts, 11; Jakayla Pitts, 8 and Jakyla Pitts, 7. Their mother, Joiette Pitts, died in May. Williams, 42, already a stepfather to two older children, earns a modest paycheck working for Riviera Beach’s utilities department, too modest for the needs of his suddenly expanded family. He said the kids could use clothes and shoes. A new bunk bed would be nice as well. The air conditioner at the house doesn’t work, so Williams would appreciate a new one. Williams also needs a reliable used car to help him shuttle the children to their various sporting and choir activities.
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Photography by Calla Kessler/Staff
Nominated by Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Palm Beach and Martin Counties