Zelinda Richards-Elliott wins state award
Zelinda Richards-Elliott, a family specialist with the Georgetown Independent School District, was recently recognized for her tireless fight to help the homeless students of Georgetown. In a ceremony held at the Frost Towers in Austin, she was awarded the 2013 Outstanding Case Manager of the Year for the state of Texas.
“I was blessed to be able to share this moment with the love of my life, my husband, Mike, along with two of my sisters, Zynthia and Zylvia, and my amazing mentor, Sandy Lawrence, who nominated me,” Zelinda shares.
According to Sandy, it was Zelinda’s “optimism and energy” that singled her out as an outstanding colleague. Zelinda works with at-risk youths, families who are homeless or in a transitional state, and migrant children, and children in foster care. She has reason to sympathize with those going through hardships.
As a child growing up in Georgetown, Zelinda watched as her newly widowed mother endured financial struggles after the death of her father. At one point, the family moved in with her grandparents as the struggle became too hard.
“They were such caring, loving, and giving people,” Zelinda reminisces. “I am a strong woman because of my childhood and for having two strong women, my mother and grandmother, as role models. Because of my upbringing, I can empathize with the plight and the economic hardship [of the homeless]. I have always felt like it was my calling—paying it forward.”
During the first twenty-one years of her employment with the GISD, Zelinda helped those in need while juggling the demands of her life as a single mom raising a son.
“It was challenging at times,” Zelinda recalls. “But I’m a firm believer that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”
Zelinda is now married and finds her new life to be a blessing. She enjoys a great support system and draws strength from friends and family. The experiences she’s garnered over twenty-two years of working with the homeless have etched both good and bad memories into her soul.
“One of my fondest memories was when I received a call from a former student, just thanking me for believing in him,” Zelinda beams. “He was boarding the plane to leave for basic training, and I was his last call to make. I was so touched I couldn’t even speak.”
Zelinda has had many “speechless” moments as she has watched former students and families return to the community to “pay it forward.” Some people have sponsored high school seniors for graduation, while others simply find ways to give back and donate.
“Sadly, I do have a few heart-breaking stories, too,” Zelinda says. “It’s never easy to hear that a young adult wants to end their life or they feel they have nothing to live for because of their circumstances. Nothing surprises or shocks me anymore. I see more of the lack of parenting and neglect now more than ever.”
Zelinda encourages the community not to assume the homeless don’t exist just because they aren’t visible. Anyone can positively impact the lives of homeless kids by donating or getting involved.
“Simply take the time to get to know your neighbors, and become genuinely involved all year long, not just during the holidays,” she encourages Georgetown residents. “I was blessed to have had ‘earth angels’ growing up, and I will continue being one myself. We all can use a little reminder that we best help ourselves by helping others.”