CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Sharyn Hopper was already caring for her 26-year-old son when her two young grandchildren came under her full-time care in October 2011.
Nowadays, outside of a few precious hours on Tuesday afternoons that she spends with a senior bowling league, the 67-year-old Clinton Township resident’s time and attention are nearly consumed with taking care of children.
“I believe that God sent them here,” she said of her now 3-year-old grandson and 20-month-old granddaughter, the son and daughter of one of her adopted children. “These are my grandchildren. I think everybody would take their grandchildren if they were (in need). If they couldn’t, they would find some way to help them.”
It isn’t easy.
The constant attention the children require makes it impossible for her to work, meaning the family has to live off her late husband’s Social Security and assistance benefits for her son, Bob, who is missing a portion of his brain and has cerebral palsy.
At first, she wasn’t prepared to take care of babies again, though she had had plenty of experience caring for children. In her lifetime, she has cared for three biological children and 15 adopted children, all with some type of mental or emotional challenge, plus numerous foster children.
She and her late husband, A.J., adopted siblings in multiples, not wanting to split apart brothers and sisters. The spectrum of special needs was diverse. With some, you would never know they had challenges; others have more severe afflictions.
Hopper doesn’t distinguish her foster children and adopted children as such. To her, they’re all just “my children.” In all, including the children she cared for while running a daycare, she has watched and cared for 286 children, she said.
She moved from the greater Flint area to Clinton Township three years ago.
“When I left Fenton, I thought I left that security. They were wonderful up there, too,” she said. “I thought, ‘That’s it. I’m not going to have that support anymore.’”
But, in Clinton Township, she found an outpouring of help from people. She’s not sure how word of her situation spread — likely word-of-mouth from her neighbors, she guesses — but, sure enough, people began turning up on her doorstep, dropping off diapers, food, clothes, cribs and other things for the babies.
“One lady just came to my door and brought me a big bag of clothes,” she said. “Had I not had that help, I don’t know what I would have done. I would have kept them (the grandchildren), and I just would have struggled harder.”
Her faith has helped, she said.
“I think God gives everybody a mission, and my mission was to take care of these children,” she said. “There are days that I wonder if I’m going to get through it, but God’s always there.”
The Rev. Bill Davis, of the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Clemens, first met Hopper when she parked her car outside the church for the Stars and Stripes Festival. There she was, getting her children out of the car seats.
“She’s a person who has given her life to raising children,” said Davis. “She has a gift for raising children, and she has used that gift to contribute to society.”
Despite the struggles, there are good moments. Like when her 3-year-old grandson, Jeremiah, smiled and laughed at the Nov. 23 Santa Parade in Mount Clemens. At last year’s parade, he became so overwhelmed that they had to leave.
And, since August, her granddaughter, Elizabeth, has started crawling, walking and talking. “It was wonderful,” Hopper said.
“I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what God has in mind for them,” Hopper added. “But today, they’re here and we’re doing the very best we can do.”
Friend Kelly Vernier recalled a recent train ride. Bob was having trouble getting up the steps, onto the train.
“It took a few minutes to get him up the stairs, but she was so patient doing that,” Vernier said. “She has her hands full, but she is really good with those kids.”
Michele Henderson still calls Hopper, who she considers her mother, every day.
It was Hopper who took her in at the age of a 14. Up until then, Henderson, now 39, said she had been “shipped around a lot” within the foster care system and, as a result, had emotional issues.
Nowadays, when Hopper isn’t taking care of her own children and grandchildren, she’s usually helping someone else in need, Henderson said.
“It goes beyond, into her community,” Henderson added. “She will stop what she’s doing if a friend has an emergency and make sure that friend gets through that emergency. She will make meals upon meals upon meals for somebody she knows is unable to cook for themselves. … This is what she does; this is her passion in life.”
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