Updated: Oct 16
Dedra Stewart believes that there are three things in this world that we all have a responsibility to care for, “Children, animals, and the elderly.” With this principle in mind, Dedra and her wife Deborah have stepped into the role of caring for their parents, their two dogs, and their niece and nephew.
Dedra began caring for her niece, Summer, and her nephew, Corey, at a young age. She advocated for them to receive mental health care and tirelessly worked to make sure their treatment took care of the whole person.
Summer is now 23 and living independently in Houston. With the support of her aunt, Summer was able to graduate from Bellaire High school in Houston Texas and establish her career there. Ms. Stewart is amazed by her “determination to succeed”
Corey is 28 years old. Ms. Stewart characterizes Corey as being “extremely loyal to his family.” He has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, hypertonia, Williams syndrome, Autism, and bipolar disorder. Ms. Stewart remarks that it has been difficult to get him the mental health support he needs. When it comes to Corey’s care Ms. Stewart “will do anything and everything to make sure he never ends up on the street.”
Ms. Stewart’s story with the TJC started with the struggle to find a safe living environment for Corey following his discharge from the hospital. Ms. Stewart worked tirelessly to make sure Corey had the support he needed while she skillfully navigated through the TennCare system to enroll Corey in ECF CHOICES. He now receives 24/7 care at a residential treatment facility.
Ms. Stewart’s main priority was Corey’s safety, but she never lost sight of the greater picture, which was ensuring adequate treatment. She hopes that with proper support and treatment for his mental illness Corey will be able to live a fuller life. While it wasn’t easy, Ms. Stewart celebrates that through the whole process Corey, “never had to spend a night on the street.”
Ms. Stewart recalled that the TJC gave her tools and information that allowed her to make people listen when the system was being dishonest. She was able to protect Corey’s rights to treatment and safety and found the experience to be empowering.
In reflecting on the value of her support system, Ms. Stewart believes that she could never have done any of this without the support and understanding of her wife and her mother. They are a critical force for good. They supported Ms. Stewart in these hard times, listening to the struggles and remaining a positive force of hope that things would work out. Ms. Stewart notes, “As much as I have advocated and taken care of others, they gave me the strength and courage to have that voice and keep fighting.”
Caring for her family means stepping up to the plate each day to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves. Ms. Stewart stated when asked what it meant to be a caregiver, “It means I will advocate for them until my dying breath. I will never stand by while someone is being abused”