Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

There's more to needy young mother's story

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I felt obliged to write this.

I felt obliged because of what's happened since last week's column about how Winnipeggers opened their hearts and their cheque books to Chantel Henderson.

More than $2,000 arrived for Chantel and her 12-year-old daughter Caley within a day of my initial column.

And the cheques and hampers and gift cards kept coming this week.

Another $3,750 worth by Friday.

But there have been charges from the blogosphere that I misled readers about the 26-year-old single, working mother who told me she was on the brink of being evicted from her tiny West End home after falling two months behind in her rent.

It was asserted that my columns on Chantel had left the Free Press "facing a crisis of public trust."

But there was more to it than that.

Chantel also became a target.

And the bloggers weren't the only ones dumping on Chantel.

 

"ö "ö "ö

I first heard about Chantel, not from Chantel, but from a sympathetic next-door neighbour, who sent an e-mail looking for help for the young mother.

So I spoke with Chantel and wrote the column.

What readers liked about Chantel was her courage and commitment to her child.

Chantel was a mother at 14, but that responsibility had motivated her to continue in school and try to be a role model for her daughter.

"You want to set an example," she told me last week. "Be someone she would look up to."

A heartwarming and uplifting story, I thought.

Especially against the horrific backdrop of the Phoenix Sinclair murder trial.

But not everyone saw it that way.

The blogosphere started after her, me and the Free Press.

 

The suggestion was Chantel was spending some of the money she had been so generously given in ways the donors would not approve. Chantel and her daughter were reportedly seen walking out of a Gap store, their arms full of shopping bags "from high-end stores."

There was another report, laced with innuendo, that Chantel was spotted in a pool hall "enjoying some liquid libation."

Chantel says neither story is true.

She says she did go shopping, though.

At Wal-Mart.

But then one of her family members also wanted to take a swipe.

A cousin who's about the same age and a single mother of three wrote me an angry e-mail suggesting that Chantel was undeserving of the donations.

"Saturday," Camille Henderson wrote, "the day after one of her co-workers drove her to pay her rent, she was out partying, (and) called my younger sister to come and drink with her."

Chantel confirmed calling the other sister early Sunday morning and asking her to join her for drinks.

She said she called from her mother's house where she had been drinking.

Caley had been left home that night.

Then again, Chantel is old enough to drink, Caley is old enough to be home alone, and there was reason to celebrate. So what's the point.

Optics, of course.

This week, I asked Chantel what she has done with the money I gave her last week.

She said had spent $1,500, most of it paying off debts, including money she borrowed from her mother.

It's not my role to sit in judgment of her and how she conducts her life.

Those who have donated money to help her and Caley may have a different view.

But, I share this story about Chantel, who was taken into care by Child and Family Services when she was 10 and a mother, I remind you, four years later.

On the night I drove to her house to deliver the cheque to cover her rent, there were sled tracks leading to the door.

Chantel said she and Caley had been out delivering flyers.

And when I phoned her on the evening Remembrance Day, she was excited for her daughter.

Caley had been at the Minto Armory ceremony that morning.

It was the first time she had worn her uniform.

"She's in air cadets," Chantel said proudly.

Few of us are perfect role models.

Chantel isn't either. But she's trying in extremely trying circumstances.

Trying where so many fail.

 

"ö "ö "ö

 

Now it's my turn to take a hit.

A deserved one.

As I was saying, it was suggested that I had misled readers about how imminent Chantel's eviction was, and that appears to be true.

It would have taken at least 10 more days if she had failed to come up with the back rent according to her landlord.

So was my error and mine alone.

For that I apologize.

But, you should also know this.

When I asked her landlord if Chantel's fears of being evicted were justified, he said they were.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2008 B1

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