Debra Harris is no stranger to adversity. Growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, she and her four siblings were taken from their mentally ill mother and placed in foster care when Debra, the oldest, was just eight years old. The children spent more than a year in foster care before custody was awarded to their maternal great-grandmother. It should have been a happy time, but Debra and her siblings endured years of physical and mental abuse before finally being returned to their mother.
For two years, Debra was once again part of a poor yet happy family, but when her mother stopped taking her medication, Debra and her siblings were split up again. Debra moved in with her aunt and finished high school, becoming pregnant shortly thereafter. The baby’s father stayed around but rarely held a steady job. The couple had a second child. Despite being the family’s sole supporter, Debra refused to go on welfare. “I didn’t want to be a statistic,” she says. For herself and for her children, Debra wanted more.
She ultimately married the father of her children, but it was not a happy union. He’d turned to drugs and was abusive. Debra worked even harder to pull her family out of poverty. When she was finally promoted to a management position and given a raise, she discovered she was no longer eligible for food stamps. Debra was stricken by what she saw as the unfairness of a system that rewarded those that gave up and penalized those struggling to get out of the cycle of government assistance.
Debra finally left her first husband and married Perry Harris, her husband of 24 years. With Perry’s loving support, Debra went to school to become a medical assistant, working full-time all the while. The pair had two children together and shortly thereafter took in one of Debra’s aunt’s children as well.
The growing family moved to Tallahassee in 1999. Debra got a job working in the lab at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, a full-time position she maintains today, working 10-hour shifts, eight days on and six days off. With her family provided for, Debra started thinking about how to give back. Foster parenting seemed an obvious choice. Intending to foster only one child, the first call Debra received was about three sisters. Recalling her own childhood, Debra couldn’t say no. The Harris’s immediately fell in love with the 6-, 5-, and 4-year-old girls, legally adopting all three.
Despite the many blessings in her life, Debra still felt as if something was missing. She started laying the groundwork for a group home. She found a suitable house and, with the help of Kenna Bridges, organized a Board of Directors. She and Perry worked tirelessly to prepare the space that would fit as many as five residents at a time – the Making Miracles Group Home (MMGH) was born. Debra’s vision was to help the women become self-sufficient to take care of their families.
Since 2010, MMGH has helped more than 25 women, either pregnant or with a child under the age of one, move up and move out. Many of the women have been in foster care or on welfare. Most have endured some type of abuse. All want a better life for themselves and their babies. Referencing Titus Chapter 2, Debra says, “As educated women, we have to equip our children to succeed in the future. We need to help those that are trying to improve.”
Until 2012, Debra and Perry ran MMGH without outside financial help. Today, still running on a shoestring budget, MMGH relies on donations, volunteers and the prayers and support of Canopy Roads Baptist Church and other local congregations to keep the home running. For the women served by MMGH, the home is a fresh start and a chance to become independent. For Debra, it is the realization of one more dream on a long road of giving back.
MMGH will be hosting a 1970s-themed dance and silent auction on January 31. For more information, visit makingmiraclesgrouphome.org or at facebook.com/MakingMiraclesGH.