Meet Becky Greenhagen, 901 Panhandle St.

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Becky Greenhagen kicked up her feet on the pole on her front porch, puffing the last of her cigarette before ashing it into a brick next to her chair, a pile of butts mounting-up like a monthly memorial to the neighborhood: the survivor still lives at this house.

How long have you lived in the neighborhood?

About a year and a half, with my roommates.

What do you think of it?

There’s a lot of traffic, but seems pretty quiet. Animals running around like that (a cat runs across the yard of a house across the street).

Are you a student?

I’m getting my Master’s at UTA in social work. I was at UNT before that, helped start a group called PUSH (Persevere UNTil Success Happens) about foster care.

Wow. Could you elaborate on that, foster care?

I was a foster child.

Two percent get out of high school.

That’s my big thing, is to get them through school and into free housing, and so they don’t have to make it on the street.

Nine out of ten are drug addicts. Alcohol.

I grew up in an abusive environment. I went through 12 homes, until I was emancipated at 17. My parents lost their rights to me. My brother and sister were adopted. I wasn’t. People would say, ‘Oh, we’ll adopt you, we’ll adopt you,” but nobody ever did.

I joined the Navy at age 18. That’s when I came to Texas. I lived in Nebraska.

What was the incentive behind joining the Navy, if any?

I didn’t have anybody.

I went all over the world. We would land aircraft and unload cargo in the Persian gulf. Then we would go party [laughs].

I got back into school two years later and became a chemistry major. I wanted to go to med school and be a surgeon. I always wanted to help people. But it never felt right.

Then one day my friend suggested that I take care of foster children. It never crossed my mind until then.

What happened after that?

I got my internship, and a stack of parents’ sheets would come in: ‘I don’t know how to help my child,’ they would say. I became a qualified mentor to the parents, so that’s what I do. I’m a professional family therapist.

It’s very stressful, very emotional. It’s demanding. It never stops. They need someone.

This kid is nine years old, meth addict because that’s what he was taught to do to survive. So then he makes the stuff. They are ten and have done things and seen things that nobody else would ever know about.

Can you describe the situation for foster children in America?

Eighty percent of foster children are medicated. They are guinea pigs. They’re targeted. Their care-takers aren’t equipped so they give them medicine. Every prescription means more money from the government. On average, every foster child is on three medications.

What about you, did you deal with that? 

I was always a very strong and stubborn child. I learned to be a mother at the age of eight. I was a survivor, I had to be. I had never fallen down and struggled. I refused to be like my parents.

I hated school but I was always a straight-A student [laughs0.

I was the odd one. I left. I got out of that cycle. 

So where do you work now? 

Cumberland’s Children Home. A lady who heard me speak publicly came and asked me if I would like to come visit and speak to the kids. I e-mailed them and basically said, how about I come and speak everyday and get paid? I created my own position.

What happens to foster kids as they age in the system? 

They run right back to their family they are taken from. They go back to that environment that they were familiar in. It’s the only stability they have.

I try to tell them, ‘You are no longer forced to be in that environment. You can create your own life.’

How do you cope with failure?

I do all I can do. I can’t save them. I can only do what I can, my best at the end of the day. I tell them, ‘I’m not going to work harder than you do, but if you’re not, there’s another one waiting.

They are trying to figure out who being an adult is. Then the world wants them to be responsible in all these other things, but they don’t even know how to have their own identity yet.

Can you describe the situation in Denton?

On average there are probably 100 children in foster care at all times. Others who are no longer under a caretaker are homeless, going from couch to couch at friends’ houses, sleeping in the hall at school.

There’s not very many facilitators to care for them here. There just aren’t enough resources.

A police officer will arrest the runaway because they are called out to find them, and they wont even respond to calls for 16-year-olds. There’s no point if they are going to keep running.

You said you’ve been through 12 homes. When did that start? 

From nine to 17. I saw so many different cultures, issues, religions, morals. I’ve been to 17 different schools.

So relating with people, I’m like a butterfly, but I don’t get attached. There’s not a person, not a human being that’s been in my life from birth to now, that can give an accurate description of who I and what I’ve been through.

I tell my girlfriend some things.

You said that you confronted different religions – did you come to your own conclusion?

I’m a Christian.

I heard of God when I was young. I wasn’t a troublemaker when I was a kid, but I did drugs. It wasn’t until I was 15, that God spoke to me. I became a Christian and my heart changed.

Can you talk about your relationship with God in the midst of trial?

I’ve never had to worry. Something will happen, it always does.

He knew I was strong. He made me that way for a purpose.

So many times, just when I think, ‘Oh, how am I going to do this? Pay bills?’ He’s like, “You think I forgot?” And he always comes through. There’s nothing that can shake me. He reminds me, ‘Every single person that you’ve touched…’ – you never know what one word, what one sentence, what one thing said to that person would make a difference.

I know a guy whose psychiatrist said to him, ‘You won’t live past the age of 21,’ and that one negative comment drove him to say ‘I’m going to prove you wrong.’

My family, everyone back home is saying, ‘You’re going to be a prostitute, an addict.’ They don’t know the Christian Becky, and I’m going to show them.

I remember my second, fourth and sixth grade teachers telling me, ‘You’re too smart to quit school.’ They would never know that because they spend 30 seconds to say that, a person is going to become successful.

I told God my ten-year plan: ‘I want to be a public speaker, get a job after school, work with kids,’ less than a year I had all that. I’m just waiting. I want to go over to some African country. I would do missionary work and have my own orphanage.

How much school do you have left?

I’m done in May. It’s a one-year program.

I see the tattoo, could you explain it?

It’s Psalm 51. People look at my tattoo and say, ‘What the f&^# is that?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I love Jesus Christ. I was messed up and he saved me. You don’t have to get right before you – you don’t come to him all cleaned up. You come to him as you are. He rescued me.’

I’ll say, ‘You can line up everything I love in this world and murder it and I wouldn’t deny him.’

Can you share your experience as a bisexual Christian? Would you ever want to be with a man?

I would. The reason I dress like a man is because I don’t want to be treated like an object. I was abused when I was young, and I don’t trust men. There was this one guy who I thought, ‘Maybe,’ but he didn’t love me for who I was and wanted me to dress a certain way – controlling. I just gave up.

So many Christians get hung up on the externals. They forget that God doesn’t look at the outside but at the heart. He knows my heart. He knows that I want to love, love, love this person and not lust after her. I want to bring her into relationship with God. I want to model what it’s like to be in a relationship with Jesus for her.

I mean, it’s not so much  about what sin your not committing as much as it is God knowing you. You can know God but God not know you. It’s about having him inside of you, about talking with him, feeling what he feels. It’s not about being perfect. Nobody is perfect.

 

 

 

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The Pecan

 

 

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“They always run that stop sign,” said Bob Saringer, 62, on the corner of Egan and Alice Streets, where he’s lived for 18 years across from Calhoun Middle School.

Many of the students walk home through the neighborhood, located just north west of the downtown square, avoiding traffic as they dart across busy Oak and Congress Streets, clutching backpack with two hands.

“We hope there’s not a day when someone gets hurt,” he said, the sun fading.

Saringer, who retired from UNT two years ago, said that he’s seen a lot of new and diverse neighbors throughout the years.

“There were renter problems, with parties,” he said about the continual fresh import and export of college students who rent homes in the neighborhood.

“Every time, we would go knock on the doors, introduce ourselves and say, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood! We like a nice, quiet neighborhood.’”

Saringer helped establish the new homeowners association in 1995-96 for the neighborhood.

“We decided to call it the Pecan,” he said. “Panhandle, Egan, Congress Area of Neighbors.”

Among the neighbors, a multitude of former (and current) stray cats can be seen peeking through the lattice and windows of homes, kittens keeping to the porches.

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Bob Saringer, and Amos (left).

“That’s Amos,” said Saringer, his thumb pointing to a black feline that trailed him on the evening walk, as he paused to lay in another neighbor’s perfectly sheared lawn of cool Saint Augustine grass.

These are everyone’s cats. “We all look out for them, and for each other,” he said.

Considered the inner-city neighborhood, there is no shortage of character, charm and diversity.

Filling homes are a few pastors and not a few members of The Village Church, well-known musicians, business-owners and politicians.

The Pecan neighborhood is one of the oldest in the city. Many of the homes were built in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, as the northern edge of Denton.

Homes which have noticeably undergone renovation, filled with families, stand at a contrast to some original and seemingly untouched town-homes, interspersed down Egan and Panhandle Streets.

Some sides of the road are dead silent and dim past 9 p.m., while other streets glow with lights strung around open windows and doors, their tenants heard laughing and playing music from within.

“It’s always cool to hear the kids playing out around the track of the middle school, and hear the bands, the square. It’s actually very comforting, and gives it a nice feel,” said Saringer.

Jeffry Eckles, who lives off Egan and makes a living as a freelance bass player, likes to go over and have coffee with the neighbors, “something you can’t always do in other neighborhoods,” he said.

“It’s a walking neighborhood. I can walk to the square, the bank, the store,” said Eckles, who hosts a night of jazz performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays at The Whitehouse, a coffee shop down the street.

Nicknamed “Jamhandle” for all of the bands and performers which one can hear practicing, Panhandle Street borders the football field of Denton High School, it’s stadium lights blazing overhead.

“First down, ten yard line,” announces the scorekeeper, echoing over the trees.

Beyond the stadium, one can hear the low hum of the Denton High School drumline, a full moon hanging over the risers, sparse on a Monday night.

 

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Denton High School students practice during rehearsal for an upcoming competition, under a full moon Sept. 8.

 

Students from Calhoun cheer them on. Ella Eckles, 12, is with her friends, and without her dad for the first time.

“I think it’s really cool living in a college town,” she said.

“I walk to school everyday. I’ve seen a lot of fights. But I kept a lot of my friends.”

Many of the students who live in the area that attend Newton Razor Elementary School, later go onto Calhoun and then to Denton High.

Joy Faulks, assistant principle of Calhoun, watches the stands (and this reporter) to make sure students are safe.

“I just looked at the numbers today: 691 students,” she said. “They are learning who they are.”

To Faulks, the diversity of the schools in the district – minorities share nearly an equal percentage with whites – reflects positively as the schools boast some of the best scores in the city, she said.

“It’s a slice of the way the real world is,” she said.

Robert Brannock, director of the Denton High School percussion section, said that many people can carry wrong views about the neighborhood.

“This school gets a bad rap for being an inner-city school, and for the diverse population,” he said.

“We have a pretty good thing going here. A lot of people have false assumptions, which isn’t very accurate.”

The presence of crime in the area is minimal, according to Denton Police.

“As far as I can tell, it’s pretty safe,” said officer Erich Coulston, as he waited outside Mary Jane Stadium with Faulks and a student, who waited for a ride home after the football game.

“Calhooligans,” he joked. “That’s what we call them.”

As for the neighborhood, “there’s not a whole lot going on there,” Coulston added.

However much is going on where it is, drugs are not unique to Pecan, said Panhandle resident Jordan Kerzee, who attends The Village Church down the street.

“I mean, there’s a lot of drugs,” he said. “But there are drugs everywhere.”

Kerzee said that upon moving to the neighborhood in 2007, he confronted much of the stereotypes surrounding the school district.

“People would say to me, ‘Are you going to raise your kids at DHS?’ Yeah, why wouldn’t we?” he said.

“It’s right there and it’s really nice. Secondly, what’s wrong with DHS? Most of the time the answer was some kind of like, ‘Well, what about minorities, or black kids or are you worried about the ghetto?’ that kind of stuff.”

“That’s so dumb. That’s such a dumb opinion,” he said.

Kerzee estimated that The Village Church makes up about 15 percent of the residents of the neighborhood-at-large, extending to Oak Street and Bonnie Brae Road.

“The Village really cares about this neighborhood. It’s the neighborhood that we live in,” he said.

Kerzee brought up on his computer a map of Denton showing demographics, called a racial dot map, of 2010 census data nationwide provided by the Cooper Center, viewable here.

North of the railroad tracks and south of Interstate 35, blue dots cover the majority of the landscape. There’s a cluster of orange dots, pockets of green, and dense packs of red, with small spots of brown in the mix.

But there’s one small rectangular area, just north of campus, that is unique.

“You can see that this is…probably one of the most diverse areas,” said Kerzee.

It’s like confetti.

It’s the Pecan.

 

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Shoes hand on a electric pole wire on Panhandle Street, during a Denton High School football game Sept. 4.

Shoes hang on a wire on Panhandle Street, during a Denton High School football game Sept. 4.

 

“At one point, they meant something. Another time, they meant nothing,” said Jordan Kerzee, renting a home off Panhandle Street, about the shoes. He noted that it doesn’t necessarily mean a drug dealer lives nearby.

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