Updated: August 2, 2013 6:23AM
“Mama was my greatest teacher, a teacher of compassion, love and fearlessness.”
— Stevie Wonder
Regena Gaines lives on Gary’s west side in a neighborhood known as Concord Village. She has never married, but came close. Her fiance was killed in an automobile accident about 15 years ago.
Gaines, 52, is raising seven children, one of which is her birth child.
“I was born in Covington, Tenn.,” Gaines began. “Mama brought me here when I was a young girl, but I would spend every summer back in Tennessee.”
In what part of Tennessee is Covington?
“About an hour’s drive from Memphis. My grandparents were farmers. I’ve been in the fields pickin’ cotton. I remember swingin’ on the porch; the tin roof and the outhouse, too. We’d have chicken for dinner. You’d go out to the henhouse and kill one. We’d cook a whole hog all day and all night.”
A different life than the ones your children live here in Gary.
“I took the kids down there; they enjoyed the cows and finding snakes. They ask me, ‘Mama, when we goin’ back?’”
Did you attend high school around here?
“Horace Mann; I graduated in ‘79. I was in drama; I loved drama. My teacher was Mr. John Taylor. I was in a skit where I had to portray someone who had lost a loved one. I did my tears and everything. I played my part.”
Let’s fast forward to the present. I’ve been told you’re a pillar of this community.
“I love my community and I love my children. We’ve had several events since 2010, including a basketball tournament, Splash Day, and a Fourth of July celebration for the children. We had a Fourth of July celebration for the adults, too. We also put together a ‘70s party at Tolleston Park.
“I’m gonna take you to the (Concord Village Community) Center so you can see all the photos of our events displayed on the walls.”
How long has the Concord Village community been in existence?
“For 44 years; since 1969. I have tenants who have been here since its been built. There are individual houses and some duplexes.”
Is it low-income housing?
“Yes. I’ve been here 23 years.”
Tell me about your children.
“My only biological child, Ashley, is the oldest at 23. I eventually adopted the other six. My baby, Sean, is 14 now. He was three days old when I picked him up at Gary Methodist (Hospital). I have four boys and three girls. Kenya and Gage just graduated from Thea Bowman. All of the younger ones attend Bowman.”
What possessed you to become a foster parent?
“Foster parenting had been on my heart for many years. I started out baby sitting. I’ve been keeping kids since I was 15. I was working as an assistant coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club in Gary and also as a nurse’s aid when I finally decided to become a foster parent. I took my classes.”
“They started calling for children. I never said no.”
I’m sure you were paid to be a foster parent.
“It never was about the money. During my classes, the teacher asked, ‘Is there anyone here just for the money?’ There were about 25 of us in the class.”
“When I looked around and saw all those hands held high it kind of hurt me. There were only two of us who wasn’t there for the money. We were there for the compassion and the love to give to a child. I wanted to give those kids a home. I wanted them to be able to say, ‘I have a home and a family.’”
Regena, I know it can’t be all peaches and cream. I mean, kids will be kids.
“I believe in hard love. Yeah, I do. The Bible says don’t spare the rod. My rules are my rules, and you gotta follow my rules. They gonna respect me and I’m gonna respect them.”
As a whole, the kids today?
“I think the generation started changing in the early ‘90s. They have no compassion. They don’t have love for one another. Everything is ‘My turf.’ They’re dropping out of school. There’s nothing happening at home. We have a lot of children who don’t have their parents at home. You got children raising children. I hate to see that.
“A lot of children around here call me ‘Auntie’ or ‘Mama.’ I have no problem with that. I always gotta yard full of kids.”
Do you make sure yours are dressed in their “Sunday go to meetin’ clothes” when the time comes?
“Ever Sunday; we all there.”
You’ll always have a love for children.
“As long as the Lord gives me breath. I want the best for mines, but I want the best for other people’s kids as well. I know a lot of these kids do struggle. I know some of them are hungry and I want to feed them... .”
Regena, please, try not to do that. You’re going to have me in tears, too.
“I did close my license once all my adoptions were final. I have to concentrate on getting them raised proper. My compassion and my love comes from my mama. My mother is the same way.”
It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. I’m sure Ashley, Kenya, Gage, Rodell, Tyree, Desarie and Sean Gaines of Concord Village can attest to that.
And may God bless their angel mother.