Shante Saulsberry was born into a world of abuse, drug addiction and poverty. She wants to help others break these cycles.
But she doesn’t have millions of dollars or tons of experience working in the nonprofit sector. So how in the world is she starting a women’s shelter? She’s got two things that money can’t buy: her inspiring story, which helps her connect to people, and unrelenting persistence that drives her to see everything through to the end.
Born in Abuse
As children, Shante and her sister were placed in the California foster care system because of their mother’s drug abuse. Eventually their aunt and uncle adopted the girls when Shante was 10. Even though this finally gave them a stable home, different forms of abuse persisted.
When she was 17, she was kicked out of the house because she had a boyfriend her aunt didn’t like. She moved in with him, only to experience domestic violence. Her aunt still wouldn’t let her come back to the house. Even though the boyfriend treated her horribly, she felt that at least someone was looking out for her.
“I felt that protection because I’d never had it,” Shante says. “That is how a lot of women end up staying in their situations, because they feel protected.”
She and her boyfriend soon had a son, Taivon, but the abuse continued after his birth, until Shante left her abuser when she was 19.
A few years later, she married another man who finally provided her with stability and protection unlike anything she’d ever experienced in her life. They had a daughter together and were married for 14 years, but eventually divorced after years of infidelity on his part.
All the while, despite her circumstances, Shante stayed focused on her education and work. She built a career in the legal profession, first as a stenographer and then as a paralegal. Through this field she connected with Sheri, a federal officer, who started out as a friend and confidant but is now Shante’s wife.
A Chance Encounter
Soon after moving from Miami to Phoenix in 2019, Shante encountered a homeless woman named Janice. She bought her breakfast and chatted with her for a while. She learned about her challenges and her abusive past. The two quickly connected through shared experiences, but one thing Janice told her stuck out.
“The people here in Arizona, they don’t help,” Janice said. Shante reached out to shelters on her behalf and received no responses.
Shante decided that she was going to change this. She was going to start her own women’s shelter which would provide dignity and protection for women in the same situation as Janice. And she had the perfect partner for this venture in Sheri. Sheri’s years of experience as an officer could help her create an environment of safety and protection for women like Janice.
But there were a few problems: Shante was in the midst of recovering from devastating blood clots that nearly killed her, plus she had no experience running a shelter or the money to start one. But Shante has never let challenges hold her back.
“What started as one simple gesture has turned into one big mission,” Shante says.
Now she and Sheri are in the midst of raising $7 million to build Janice’s Women’s Center in the Phoenix area. She named it after Janice, who Shante hasn’t been able to contact since November 2020. The plan is to build 52 tiny homes out of shipping containers to provide individual shelters for each family. The goal is to break ground in 2022.
In addition to raising money via traditional methods, they’ve also opened a for-profit boutique called Janice Vaincre Boutique to raise money via the sale of clothes and other items. Vaincre is French for “to overcome.” Although the challenges ahead are steep, Shante has already overcome much bigger things than raising a few million dollars.
Her son Taivon is now a student at Arizona State University, with plans on becoming a doctor. He has full confidence that his mom can pull this off.
“I have never seen my mom quit on anything,” he says. “Even if she’s not too sure, she still somehow pulls through.”
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2021 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos Courtesy of Janice’s Women’s Center
Scott Bedgood is a freelance writer and the author of Lessons from Legends: 12 Hall of Fame Coaches on Leadership, Life, and Leaving a Legacy. He lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife Sami.