“In this house there isn’t chaos”

By Amy Whipple & Will Halim

To say the least, Tracy has a lot going. When Shacoya Bates from Every Child, Inc. arrives for a visit, Tracy has almost everything ready at her dining room table: a stack of paperwork, her planner, notes about both the forms and the planner, and a notebook with user IDs and passwords.

Tracy has the smooth jazz music station playing softly on the television in the living room and her two cats poke about. Her 13-year- old granddaughter, Anya, has just called to say she’ll be staying after school for the homework club to help get back on track—and maintain her B average—after a sick day the day before.

Shacoya and Tracy huddle together at the table. Tracy pulls a form out of her stack; it’s for Anya’s school lunches. She says, “The directions told us, ‘If you check “foster care,” do not do any other thing,’ right?”

“What does the note say?” Shacoya asks.
Tracy says, “The note says—” She and Shacoya read aloud simultaneously, “—the form is incomplete.”

“We did this together and we read this together. More than once,” Tracy laughs. Paperwork is absurd. Keeping track of everything is absurd. Though she’s only in her 50s, Tracy suffers memory loss from electroconvulsive therapy treatments. “Shacoya knows we have to write everything down,” she says.

They complete the form and, in short order, run into computer problems for changing a hotel reservation for an upcoming conference on ADHD and Executive Function (impulse control, organizational skills, “just about everything that it takes for daily living”)—both of which hinder Anya’s day in addition to depression and PTSD. Shacoya has been able to secure funding so that Tracy can go to the conference and learn more about how best help Anya. And Tracy, being Tracy, will certainly find a way to pay that information forward, be it through a local support group, class, or just one-to-one interactions.

A few years ago, Anya was living in a car under a bridge with her brothers and their mom—Tracy’s former daughter-in-law—an active addict with unchecked, severe mental health issues. Tracy recalls this part of Anya’s past matter-of-factly: “[Anya] threw a fit and the next thing I knew, I was getting a phone call, and I went down to Carson Street and there she was laying in the middle of the sidewalk, crying and hysterical.” Much of the work between Tracy and Anya is helping Anya through the guilt of being the one who got out, the PTSD of being a little girl on the streets. Shacoya helps by finding outlets for Anya—guitar lessons, summer camp—and for helping Tracy piece together the details.

Tracy and Shacoya work their way through the to-do list. They change the hotel reservations and call a friend to remind her to get her clearances so she can stay with Anya. Scheduling their next visit is a crunch: literally every single square in Tracy’s planner has something marked in it. “I don’t even know how you fit me in,” Shacoya teases.

The kicker? Every last thing Tracy does is out of the goodness of her own heart. It’s all volunteer—advocating for Veterans’ Court (Tracy herself is an Air Force veteran), mental health awareness classes, sobriety groups—or Anya—her guitar lessons, weekly appointments, outings through Every Child. Even something as “simple” as getting to the VA for a yoga class, for Tracy’s own self- care, is a schedule negotiation (in this case, fixing her car in order to get to the VA).

Shacoya checks in on how Anya’s school year is going, making sure she and Tracy are already planting the seeds for Anya to continue her education after high school. Tracy confirms the rules of the house: homework and dishes first before hanging out with friends at the park. She also says that the military won’t be in Anya’s future because the military has too many of its own rules. “She thrives in chaos. In this house there isn’t chaos,” Tracy says.


“She bounces between being a very old soul who’s seen a lot and, at times, she’ll snap back to being that little girl. Emotionally, she’s still that little girl.”

Shacoya says, “You guys are a really good team.”

“We’re working on it. As you change from a grandparent to a parent, that’s a big adjustment. She’s used to being the parent. That doesn’t work here.”

*** Some names and identifying details have been changed to comply with the family’s specific privacy requests ***

Story Credits

Writer: Amy Whipple
Photographer & Web Producer: Will Halim

Disclaimer: the narrative expressed in the article is solely those of the author(s).
if you find this story offensive or inaccurate in any way, please contact us for (re)moderation. Please make sure your phone# is accurate to receive our call.

Underwritten By:


Are you angered by the death of George Floyd? We are.

Are you concerned that property destruction and violence are driving the focus away from peaceful and just demonstrations? We are.

Are you ready for Pittsburgh to go back to normal? We are not.

Murder in broad daylight, by agents of the state, is horrific and shocking and cannot stand.

But there are many other and more subtle ways to choke life from BIPOC, all very normal in the before times, such as:

All of this normal, accepted behavior is slow motion violence:  failing to act systematically, diligently and persistently, as documented by a scathing scientific study (commissioned by City of Pittsburgh) that indicates that Pittsburgh is the worst city in America for Black People.


Yes, we ALL want to feel comfortable and good about ourselves– displaying black screen as avatars, discussing/arguing in social media echo-chambers, posting public statements that you “stand with them.” But feeling comfortable without changing a thing at the expense of BIPOC, especially our Black brothers and sisters, can no longer be an option.

Please watch this video of Van Jones about latent danger of racism and then look at yourself at the mirror. Next, ask people in your own network and circle of influence to do the same.

Back to the old normal is not acceptable.

What are you going to do to create a better now?


Will Halim
Founding Director of Storyburgh


Storyburgh is run by freelancers/part-timers who each have own individual views. The opinion expressed here is my own and does not represent that of the entire group.


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