The Cherry Family
By Sherri Ackerman
When Demetrius Cherry’s commissions plummeted at his cell phone sales job two years ago, his family of six lost their house in Land O’ Lakes and moved in with friends.
“We were literally homeless,’’ recalled his wife, Nina Cherry.
Within a few months, her husband found another job at a similar company in Tampa, but he still wasn’t earning enough. The family spent the summer living in an extended-day hotel while trying to get on their feet.
To make ends meet, the 6-foot-8 former college basketball player found a side job coaching Tampa Bay Christian Academy’s boys’ basketball team. The private school in Tampa became a lifeline for the Cherry family.
Despite their financial turmoil, both parents set their sights on finding good, stable schools for their four children. They never dreamed private school would be an option, but Tampa Bay Christian Academy seemed a perfect fit.
The school, with prekindergarten through 12th grade, could accommodate all four of their kids – a huge plus for a family that had grown even more dependent on one another during the past few months. The Cherrys also liked the focus on college preparation and individual instruction.
“I love this about this school,’’ Nina Cherry said. “They recognize who needs help and who needs to be challenged.’’
When a school administrator told her about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, Nina Cherry immediately Googled the program and learned it provides low-income families with tuition assistance at more than 1,500 participating private schools.
The Cherrys qualified for the scholarship through Step Up For Students, the nonprofit that helps manage the program, and enrolled their children. Not long after, Nina, a former telecommunications training manager turned stay-at-home mom, landed a receptionist job at the school.
“This school has been amazing for us,’’ she said. “It’s like a family for our kids. I love it!’’
With the added income from Nina’s job, the Cherrys soon were able to move into a nearby rental house. All the pieces of their life came together – and Tampa Bay Christian Academy played a big part.
“We are really blessed to be here,’’ Nina Cherry said.
That’s how her children feel, too.
Daughter Journie Paul-Cherry is a fifth-grader who likes her teachers and wants to be a veterinarian one day. Little sister Bryce Cherry is a kindergartner who excels in math. Their brother, Elijah Cherry, is a second-grader earning straight A’s every year.
“He’s on the headmaster’s list,’’ his mother boasted.
Her eldest son, Jaedin Henry, was always a good student, too, his mom said. But at his former neighborhood high school, Jaedin started making some bad decisions and his grades suffered. When his family lost their house, he really struggled.
“I was a lot more distracted,’’ the 15-year-old sophomore said. “I kept trying to be cool, trying to fit in. But I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know what happened.’’
Watching his parents work so hard to get the family back on solid ground inspired Jaedin. Once he enrolled at Tampa Bay Christian Academy, he focused on his schoolwork. Going to a small, private school was a big change.
“It was an adjustment,’’ he said.
It wasn’t until he started playing basketball at school that he really felt like he fit in, Jaedin said. Now he routinely makes honor roll, like his brother and sisters, and plans to go on to law school or the military one day.
“I’m good with my words,’’ the history buff said. “I can be very persuasive.’’
His advice for other students facing life obstacles: “Keep in touch with your parents,’’ Jaedin said. “We’ve always been close. You have to really stay in with your family and talk.’’
And set a goal for the future.
“Mine is college.’’
Have you seen the scholarship in action, or do you have an idea for a story? Please contact Sherri Ackerman, public relations manager, at sackerman@StepUpForStudents.org
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