Darlene Shephard Knows the Way to a Young Girl’s Heart
On Sunday afternoons Darlene Shephard packs her bag with lollipops and card games before heading to Florence Crittenton for visiting hours with the girls. They sit around tables in the café; talking, laughing and playing games. It’s a cheerful place canvased with colorful walls and sunlight pouring through its many windows. There’s a drink station against the wall with sugar- free options for everyone. Admittedly, Miss Darlene is a bit of a rule breaker with her sweet treats though.
“My claim to fame is I started like a big sister and now they call me grandma,” says Shephard.
Forty years ago she joined the Florence Crittenton Auxiliary, and has poured her heart into the program ever since. She’s served on the board of directors, helped with events, and always pays holiday visits. She also helps with parties and ensures every girl’s birthday is celebrated. Tuesdays, she volunteers at Flo’s on 7th, a thrift shop founded by the auxiliary.
“All the proceeds go to the girls. If you can’t give money, we need good things, gently used. We are proud of what we have on the floor,” says Shephard.
Florence Crittenton was founded 120 years ago and is the second oldest nonprofit organization in Arizona. Once a home for unwed mothers, the program has since transformed to meet the needs of today’s youth. Their mission is to give every girl whose life they touch safety, hope and opportunity.
They help at-risk girls ages 10 to 25 overcome issues of abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy, teen parenting and behavioral and mental health problems. One of their many programs is residential, housing forty girls in their four cottages.
“I was never blessed with children. I found I could give myself to these girls and be their family. We aren’t there to replace their family, but we are the family they need then and there,” says Shephard. “I bring them candy and cookies and play Spoons. Leaving them happy and full of sugar. When the staff sees me they say, ‘Oh no! She’s back!’ But I try to think of healthier snacks for them, too.”
Miss Darlene is the grandma every girl needs. She listens and has a “what’s said at the table, stays at the table” policy; unless there is an issue concerning any one of the girls’ safety.
“I can’t ask questions, but I don’t need to know their backgrounds. I’m there just for them. I don’t judge,” says Shephard. “They all have stories to tell and all I need to do is keep my ears and my heart open.”
Shephard is being honored with the Visionary Award during Florence Crittenton’s 15th Annual Teaming up for Girls Luncheon on March 16. The featured guest for this inspiring fundraising event is Simone Biles, 2016 Olympic gold medalist, World Champion and foster care advocate.
“If someone says a swear word, one of the other girls will say, ‘Hey, be respectful! Not in front of Miss Darlene!’ I want them to respect me, but more importantly, I want them to respect themselves.”
For more information on Florence Crittenton, please visit, FloCrit.org.