Three Manteca children living in the Sleepy Hollow Trailer Court have been given permission by their parents to live with a Manteca police officer and his wife.
Mike Kelly had been given temporary custody of the 14-year-old boy and his two sisters, ages 7 and 8.
After a week living with the Kellys, the boy, an eighth grader, went to live with a grandmother in Texas.
The two girls remain in the Kellys’ custody.
Kelly said he worked with the family as a private citizen and not a member of the police department.
“Mike Kelly is a saint,” said Caroline Thibodeau, head of the Manteca Unified School District’s Health Services Department.
Rescuing these children from poverty has taken a team effort, though.
Manteca Unified School District Health Services counselor Linda Donaldson has worked with the kids for the past three years. She was first introduced to the family while they were living under a bridge on Moffat Boulevard.
She said the children would walk to Lincoln School every morning from their tents.
At school, program coordinator Randi Fowzer would work with them at her desk on their breaks.
“It’s my role to help and go above and beyond when I can, like a lot of our staff,” she said.
The Lincoln School teachers and other staff members pooled their money together over the holidays to extend the family’s stay at a motel for two additional weeks – something that was initiated by Kelly.
“Mike Kelly dove in head first and he’s doing everything he can for those kids,” Fowzer said. “He and his wife have provided food, shelter, medical, clothes and just being there to sit down and do homework with them.”
The Kellys have two children of their own and a drug dog named “Rusty.”
“I don’t know how he did it. He took the kids to the doctor three days after he got them and they are now on 11 medications. They look so fantastic now and they are so happy,” Donaldson said. “I have been such a huge part of their lives and I want them to bond with the Kellys.”
Thibodeau said the children’s’ mother made the very difficult decision to grant the Kellys temporary custody when they could no longer support the three.
“Surprisingly they were OK with it,” the mother said on Thursday, standing outside the trailer park. “They were all excited and told all of their teachers at school. They had no hesitation in going with him.”
The couple said they had been living in a motor home in the trailer park, but were forced to move out by the owners and move it onto Oak Street near the downtown where it was stolen. That was four months ago.
Since then, they’ve been staying with different friends at Sleepy Hollow.
She explained the children hadn’t been making it to school, which resulted in multiple visits by Kelly. Those visits, she said, helped the officer form a bond with the children. He’d later provide them with two donated bikes.
The younger children are now in tutoring and after-school programs in another school district where they are being helped to catch up with school, she added.
Child Protective Services staffers said the parents “did the right thing” in getting their children into a better environment.
“I don’t like to have to ask for help. I wasn’t brought up that way,” the mother insisted. “Our kids . . . won’t be bouncing back and forth. I want stability for the children.”