This is Home: Sherri Cleaver gives back to community where she grew up 

Her mission is making sure that students are treated with respect and dignity. And Sherri Cleaver, a social service and community partner coordinator, is doing it every day at the school she graduated from—North Dallas High School.

Cleaver, who has been working for the district for 25 years, has been at North Dallas for the last 10 years. She started working for the district straight out of college as the community liaison at Paul Dunbar Learning Center. She later became a specialist who connected schools to community partners and resources and, after a few years, had the opportunity to go back to working at a school. 

Through Cleaver’s tenure with the district, she has seen four superintendents and various reorganizations and described her experience as happy and wonderful. 

“I want kids to see me on the other side of the desk and for them to see me no different than them,” Cleaver said. “I tell kids all the time that I am you and you are me, and so together we can be successful.” 

Currently providing access to wraparound services for families who are in a housing and food insecurity crisis, Cleaver said she feels privileged and blessed to serve the North Dallas High School community.

Her social work degree from Texas Woman’s University came in handy when she built the program from the ground up, removing  the term homeless. She said she didn’t want to perpetuate a stigma or embarrassment for any of the students or families who needed assistance.

She was hired under a Title I Priority for Schools grant to create a holistic plan to help students who were facing a housing crisis. At one point, North Dallas had the highest homeless population due to the school’s central location, as well as the proximity to city shelters, Cleaver said. 

Her program has included a parent center, food distributions, a clothes closet called the  Bulldog Boutique, a partnership with Upward Bound through SMU, a teen moms program, and 20 partnerships throughout the community like the NDHS alumni and Church of the Incarnation. 

“It’s really important to me that I expose the kids to things that are outside the community, so that they can be comfortable when they get out there in the real world,” she said.

Cleaver said that her mom taught her that people need to be able to feel comfortable when they walk in any room, and she’s taken it to heart, implementing this idea with the students.

She coordinates mentor programs because she wants the students to see themselves as leaders,she said. Mentors from corporate sponsors to religious faith organizations come in weekly to meet with the students. 

“I just don’t want them to feel any more hardship and to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Cleaver said. She added that she wants to create a safe place for students, such as teen moms, who are already facing societal stigmas and other obstacles.

Cleaver said that it’s not only about showing students that there’s help to overcome challenges, but it’s important for the parents to know that, as well. It shows them that students have access to necessary resources and support.

By doing these seemingly simple things, Cleaver said she can walk away knowing that she has made a student, a family, a mom, or someone struggling feel better about their situation, because she always keeps in mind poet Maya Angelou’s quote that people will forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel.

Among the many students and families who have been able to find that light at the end of the tunnel because of her work is student Yaritza E., a teen mother who will  attend Texas Woman’s University in the fall because it has a program that accommodates students with children. To learn more about the student’s journey, click here

While it may seem like Cleaver is a one-woman team, she said that providing support to students is a team effort, and works in collaboration with her colleagues such as counselor Tiffany Brown, who provides students with programming during breakfast, for example. 

“It’s just the little things, but you would be amazed at just what some bacon and eggs can do to help make kids feel comfortable,” Cleaver said. “At the same time, they don’t know it, but I’m checking in with them. I’m checking to see what they need.” 

For Cleaver, her work is not only about the students receiving support and services, but also teaching them to give back to the community so that there will be other generations of North Dallas High School graduates who are helping their community.

“I just want to empower students and let them know no matter where you’re coming from or what your circumstances are you can still do it. It doesn’t define you,” Cleaver said. 


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