Susan Terry's children call her "Nunu" - which is easier than explaining they consider her their mother, father, grandmother and great-aunt.
"I just say we're a family," Ms. Terry told The Evangelist.
The matriarch, who's 62, has raised nine children born to her daughters and niece, with six still living in her Troy home. This most recent group ranges in age from six to 20 years old.
She relies on her resourcefulness and Catholic faith to make ends meet and give them opportunities to rise above the addiction and poverty that caused them to live with her.
"I can tell how hard it is for her," said Terah Jones, Ms. Terry's granddaughter and a junior at Catholic Central High School in Troy. "She does do a lot - a lot of sacrifices. It's pretty remarkable. You have to be pretty selfless to do that."
Four of Ms. Terry's siblings died of drug-related causes. Other relatives also got into trouble with the law and substance abuse. Her daughters and niece ran into the same problems.
Her three children with her ex-husband were biracial. Ms. Terry lost her faith for many years when she saw the prejudice with which people treated them: "They didn't even give my kids a chance."
Taking custody of the new generation of children, combined with a more tolerant society, has renewed her faith.
"At times it was a lot, but it would always work out," she said.
At one point, she cared for two infants: "I swear, it was like twins. My mother had seven, and all I kept saying was, 'I don't know how she did it.'
"I just ask God to give me the strength to keep going on," she added. "I just thank God that they're healthy. It works. I'm here another day, and I'm not going crazy."
Terah is using her tutoring income to buy her school uniform and supplies this year. She and her brother, 14-year-old Michael, pay for their own cell phone bills.
Ms. Terry will forego other needs to afford new school uniforms for the handful of children in the family who attend St. Augustine's School in Troy. Previously, they participated in a uniform exchange program. Most summers, she finds school supply donation programs in the city.
The matriarch is working the overnight shift as a home health aide and volunteering at St. Augustine's parish bingo to receive discounts on school tuition. One of the children receives Social Security income, and they're all insured under Medicaid. Ms. Terry uses the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) and food pantries to get by, as well.
God and parish
Other than that, she relies on God - "I really have so much faith, it's ridiculous," she says - and her parish family. "They touched my life, you wouldn't believe."
St. Augustine's parishioners donate food baskets to the family every Thanksgiving and clothes and toys every Christmas. Without this help, Ms. Terry said, "They would have had Christmas. But it wouldn't have been the same."
The teenagers help with household chores, and Ms. Terry's brother and adult son chip in when they can. The children's mothers have also become more involved in their lives.
The family recently moved from a three-bedroom house, where children slept on bunk beds and Ms. Terry slept on a couch, to a four-bedroom place with a backyard. Though the neighborhood is dangerous and she doesn't let the children walk around alone, she said, "This is great for now because it's bigger."
She might not be able to control her neighbors, but she can control the children's education.
Terah is thankful for that: "I look around and see everything I was sheltered from," she said.
But for Ms. Terry, Catholic schools mean the children have more than a safer environment: "They have faith. They respect people. I wanted them with morals. I wanted them to have better than what I provided the first time around."
College is approaching for the two CCHS students, and the 20-year-old is already on his own. "I'm so proud of them," Ms. Terry boasted.
She said taking in children is hard, but worth the sacrifice: "You can't do it without faith. Hang in there. Do it for them. Make it so that they can have a life. And you have to want to do it."
Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2012
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I just wanted to say how proud i am of my aunt Sue.With all the tragedies and heartbreak that have bestowed our family she is a prime example of why you should never give up and rise to the occasion.I only wish i had half the strength she has.She is def.an angel here on earth.love you aunt Sue