TSD Memphis

Sun04202014

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Strength, support from Girls Inc. helps teen who lost her family

Deneshia Poole remembers watching helplessly as her home burned to the ground. She lost more than a home that day, as her mother, two brothers, two sisters and two cousins all died in the fire. by Amy Rosenberg
Special to the Tri-State Defender

“The only thing I could do was sit there and cry,” recalled 15-year-old Deneshia Poole.

The date was Aug. 16, 2008 – the worst day of her young life. Poole remembers watching helplessly as her home burned to the ground. She lost more than a home that day, as her mother, two brothers, two sisters and two cousins all died in the fire.  

 
Deneshia Poole at Girls Inc.’s South Park Center, where she has found common ground with others dealing with the pain of loss. (Courtesy photo)

Hopelessness and anger consumed Poole’s heart and mind in the days that followed the tragedy. She tried desperately to understand why her family was taken from her and found herself questioning her own purpose in life.

“I felt there was no reason for me to be living. I thought my life was over,” Poole shared.

Living with an aunt and uncle, Poole still found each day to be a struggle that summer. Concerned about her well-being and intent on finding constructive ways to occupy her time, Poole’s aunt turned to Girl’s Incorporated of Memphis for guidance.

“I didn’t want to be there at first,” Poole said. “I thought, ‘those girls don’t know what I’ve been through,’ so I had a bad attitude.”  

Poole spent afternoons at the Girls Inc. center surrounded by other teenage girls. Before long, she realized that even though her peers hadn’t experienced the same tragedy, they were all familiar with the pain of loss. In finding common ground with the other girls, she gained comfort, and, for the first time in a while, a sense of hope that she could overcome her pain. Poole’s newly adopted positive attitude soon carried over into school as well, and she began to see in herself what her uncle told her so often – that she was just like her mother.

“When I started trying in school,” Poole said, “I found out I’m smart just like my mama was.

Poole said the constant support and feedback she received from her new friends at Girls Inc. was life-changing, but perhaps more important was knowing she always had a place to go where she could be herself.

In 2011, Poole was recognized as Girls Inc.’s Challenger of the Year for her remarkable turnaround.

“It makes me feel so proud of myself, I just can’t believe it,” Poole said.

It’ll be impossible for Poole to ever erase the memories of that tragic fire. Yet now, on the third anniversary of the day she lost her family, Poole is able to replace her pain with more powerful, positive images, such as dancing with her siblings and cousins, the sounds of their laughter and the fun of a family water balloon fight. Those recollections, along with the support of her Girl’s Inc. family, are what push Poole forward. That, and knowing her mother is with her every step of the way.

“I know she’s going to watch me walk the stage at graduation,” Poole said confidently. “I have to do my best.”

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