Written and photographed by William Bryant Rozier
Shandreka Gray had to endure all of the instabilities (the moving-around, the school-everywhere) and some of the chaos unfortunately associated with growing up in foster care. When Gray wanted to foster kids of her own, she proceeded at her own pace, moved away and moved back to Fort Wayne, IN, and renewed her licenses.
Why run to accomplish something, when you can walk self-assuredly?
"That's why there are six kids at my house," Gray said. She has a teenage daughter who just turned 16, a 17-year old son, and four foster children (a girl age 10 and three boys ages nine, six, and five).
The high hurdle for foster parents, said Gray, "is transportation, circumventing the realities of fostering children around work hours and other responsibilities. Especially if you have multiple appointments (counseling and therapy sessions) like I do. I wanted to help people [with my business], don't get me wrong. But I originally wanted to help other foster parents."
Indiana Family Transit (IFT) is a transportation service offering scheduled pick-ups while charging a flat weekly rate, unlike services like Uber and taxi rides. A client's location and hours for transport must fit within IFT's previously established weekly route. Additional routes are possible, if location and times are applicable.
IFT boasts 14 weekly clients. Gray shuttles foster children from the SCAN office downtown to their appointments and family visits; she has a corporate client in Hoosier Pride Plastics, transporting eight employees back and forth from their home at the Allen County Work Release Center.
All of IFT's clients currently reside on the north end of Fort Wayne. Gray's day starts at around 6:15 AM and is over by 7:45 PM, Monday through Saturday.
Gray's own foster caseworker refers new families to her, but most of her marketing is word of mouth through her Work Release Center contacts and social media posts.
Gray splits job time between IFT and her other job in the group home industry, where she worked for 12 years, looking after mentally challenged individuals. Before all of that, she worked at the now closed Fort Wayne State Developmental Center, known for its care for those mentally challenged "with the most psychological issues and handicaps that need 24-hour care," Gray said.
She recently stepped down from being a home manager to a role with responsibility as a direct support professional. The job isn't too hard; she needs more time and attention for IFT.
"I’ve been taking care of people since I was eight years old. I've always had a lot of responsibility placed on me at an early age, being a caretaker was a natural part of my personality."
And Gray has always been an entrepreneur, more of a serial entrepreneur. She owned a daycare for about five years and sold her own from-scratch bath and body products. None were what you would classically call successful.
Gray's Kool Kids Clothing Boutique opened back in 2012. She was prepared but not enough, and the boutique faltered a year later.
"I learned not to have a business partner," Gray said. "I never had the option of depending on anybody else [in my life], not even my parents," Gray said. "I didn't think I would have to apply my survival and coping skills to my business. I became okay with that."
Gray thought Kool Kids Clothing Boutique was a failure. She brushed the doubt off though.
"I wanted to apply [the preparation] to something else. Three months later I did this. Exit Kool Kids Clothing Boutique. Enter Indiana Family Transit."