HALTOM CITY — Charlie Sisk had the American Dream. He was born poor and learned a trade that brought him wealth. As a mechanic, he toured the United States setting up, repairing, and monitoring industrial cranes. His work saved companies hundreds of thousands of dollars in accident prevention and training, and he made a tidy salary that should have set him up for life.
Then his wife was diagnosed with cancer.
They fought the disease for five years, spending almost everything they had saved on medication, only to lose their battle. It was the second time Charlie had lost a wife; his first having divorced him after he lost his thumb in an accident. After thirty-four years of marriage, his soulmate’s passing left him with a single direct relative: a daughter who now lives in Jacksonville, Mississippi. But he’s far from alone. Now in his seventies, Charlie has raised six children and three generations over the last fifty years.
The latest additions to the Sisk family arrived recently: a pair of boys brought to his home by Child Protective Services. He took them in without hesitation, even though they technically aren't related to him by blood.
Both boys are descendants of Charlie's first wife, who brought two children into their marriage. The youngest will turn five soon, at which point the family will lose the only financial assistance they’ve ever used: food support from WIC. But Charlie isn’t worried.
“I’m a blessed man. Blessed to be able to take care of the ones who couldn’t take care of themselves,” he said. “And CPR took care of me when I was down.”
The Hard Work of Play
Forced into retirement by a series of back surgeries, Charlie is the quintessential homeowner served by the Community Powered Revitalization (CPR) program. He can’t bend his back anymore. His resources dissolved with the pills they were spent to purchase. But despite his limitations, he and his third wife, Susan, have soldiered on.
The Sisks frequent the Adventure World Playground in North Richland Hills. The children run amok while their guardians watch from a perch on the wall that surrounds the equipment. The eldest boy, an introvert by nature, tends to hang out quietly in the shade of the slides and tunnels. His little brother runs circles around the rest of the family.
In a community full of young couples and their rambunctious children, the Sisk family is an anomaly. While other boys are darting from one side of the park to the other, Charlie and his charges are methodically migrating from one area to the next. While other fathers are hoisting their daughters up to play on the monkey bars, Charlie is watching his “sons” from a nearby bench, held at attention by steel plates in his neck.
But the love is the same, if not greater.
Charlie's and Susan's boys are not normal grandsons. The first came into their care after his father was arrested on drug charges. Four years later, his half-brother joined the family. His father, too, had been swept up in the drug trade. The infant had to be carefully monitored for the first few years because he was born addicted.
But when the option to take the children on arose, the decision was easy for Charlie.
“I didn’t give it no thought,” he said. “You don’t need no thought when somebody brings a little baby up here and wants to know if you’ll take care of it. CPS? You can’t tell them no. Where would you be if somebody dumped you out?”
Perhaps because of his strong faith in Christ, or possibly because of the example set by his mother, Charlie was compelled to take custody of his great-grandsons. On a limited income, and in spite of his own lingering medical conditions, the Sisk boys are making it work.
Life at Home
Years ago, Charlie was offered $100,000 for his aging house. But the home, his for 43 years, meant more to him than money. It’s the only roof he has ever slept under, aside from the house where his mother raised him while his father was away on the police force. The porch, uneven and hazardous as it was before CPR fixed it, was the site of cherished memories. The eight-year-old reads to his four-year-old brother on the swinging bench next to their front door.
Ramshackle as the place was, it was home. But it was also a source of shame.
“I was born and raised in a real poor family, and I didn’t want none of my friends to come to my house,” Charlie said. “I didn’t want my babies to do that.”
Over the years, he’s had to part with plenty of memories. The hot rods that he built from scratch and the professional tools that he used to build them are all gone. The latter were sold to make ends meet. As difficult as it is for him to say it, Charlie’s working years are well behind him.
“It brings a tear to your eye when you think about it,” he said. “I sold some of my tools that I used on the big cranes and I cried for three days. It’s just a chapter of my life that closed. I love working. I would have done all of [the work I needed to be done], but when you have all these medical problems and you can’t even draw a straight line, let alone cut one, it’s kind of hard to do it.”
Fortunately, he wasn’t alone.
Thanks to the support they receive from their local church, Charlie’s boys have never gone without. But collecting toys and repairing a dilapidated house are two very different challenges. The home’s interior is sparse, but the exterior was downright dangerous.
Charlie constantly worried that his wife would slip on the uneven concrete at their front door. The garage — his last refuge as a working man — was so beaten down that he couldn’t open the rolling door without help from a neighbor. One final hot rod sat, unfinished, in the middle of an impressive and underutilized collection of tools. So the help he received through CPR meant more to him than a fresh coat of paint.
“It changes people’s lives,” he said of the program. “When you’re living in a home and you’re so depressed about the condition it’s in, to have y’all give it a facelift puts a lot of pride back into a person.”
Because of the incredible investment of this community — from governments down to individual volunteers — Charlie and his non-traditional family have one less reason to worry; one less fear to wrestle with. They can move forward into a challenging, but full and beautiful life.
The unfortunate fact is that there are hundreds more men and women like Charlie in our community. We need help to reach them. And, with you at our side, we’re sure that we can.
Will you join us?