The passing of Newton County Juvenile Court Judge Sheri Capes Roberts in April marked a tremendous blow to the Newton County community, especially its youngest residents.
For more than a decade, Judge Roberts watched as many of Newton County’s most underprivileged and troubled children made their way into her courtroom. Shielded from the public’s view — Juvenile Court actions are private by law — Roberts disciplined and even incarcerated some of the many children who passed through her court. More often than not, however, she counseled, advised and set forth protective measures for those most in need of services and support.
According to those who knew her best, children were her passion; she always wanted what was best for them — always wanted to help them as best as she could. What many did not know was she did not just do that through the court system. Roberts also personally put time and money into a private venture to ensure that the youth in Newton County did not go without the basic needs every child should have.
Four years ago, Judge Roberts established ‘Threads,’ a clothes closet to provide clothing, shoes, bedding and other items to children in need of support.
“It was a dream of hers a long time ago because she knew the need. She started buying stuff, often at a discount, with her own money to get it started. She would go online and go to sales to get items—we’ve got items for everything from newborn through 5X," Janice Chaney, a family friend, explained. "When you look around you’ll see the items still have the tags on them. They came from Kohl’s, Belk’s, and Dillard’s—places like that.
"Then, through word of mouth, we started to get good donations of nice items to add to the clothes closet that would help fill in the gaps when we were out of stuff.”
During those four years, Roberts filled an entire warehouse with items for children to choose from — everything from shirts, blouses, skirts, boys’ trousers, shoes, bedding and even jewelry.
“She was real generous,” Chaney said. “She would provide the clothes free of charge to the foster kids and truant kids who came through her court system because she saw the need. And she didn’t just help the children; she helped provide for the families that were in need too. She would tell them, ‘Get what you need, and if you can’t find it let us know and we’ll find it.’ She even helped a family that got burned out of their home.
"She just loved helping others. It was in her heart.”
Scharita Greene, program coordinator for the Newton County Behavioral Health Court, estimated that Roberts served more than 200 families through Threads.
“A lot of times the foster children would come into court and the foster parents would tell her they were out of their clothing allowance or they didn’t get one," Greene said. "She would just purchase things for them because it continued to be a constant need. Judge Roberts loved those kids just like they were hers and she wanted them to have nice things and have things that they needed.”
And it wasn’t just about giving the kids the clothing.
“She wanted the kids to have the experience of shopping for themselves,” said Talessia English, program coordinator for the Family Treatment Court. “She wanted them to be able to pick out what they wanted — things that were nice.”
With Roberts’ passing in April, family, friends and colleagues were left in a quandary: what to do with the warehouse full of clothing and supplies she left behind. That’s where Newton County Schools came in.
The decision was made to donate much of the items in Threads to the school system to help students in need.
“Each individual school is creating their own clothing closets. Some already have a clothing closet and some are starting a clothing closet so they get to use these things,” said Amie Cumming, Director of Student and Family Support for Newton County Schools. “Usually the clothing closet is made up of donations but this stuff is all brand new with tags still on them — shoes that we don’t normally get — so this is going to be exciting for them to have a clothing closet with brand new clothes in it. All of our students—any of our students in need — will benefit from this. We’ll even be able to help some families as well.”
Cumming added, “We’ll even have bedding now. We’ve never had that before to put into storage for our students. Sometimes, especially high school students, will leave home for whatever reason to go stay with someone else and they just have a spot on the floor; this will give them blankets and air mattresses and things like that to sleep on.”
“This is what she would have wanted,” said Greene. “She would have wanted the children to have access to all of these clothes. She knew that a lot of times there was great need in our schools so partnering with the school system is definitely a great way for her legacy to continue.”
“The Clothing Closet meant so much to her,” said Gigi Capes, Roberts' sister. “She created that completely on her own based on a need she saw. It was totally grassroots; there were no grants. She converted an old office space and purchased so much of the clothing and items out of her own pocket. She didn’t have her own children so she provided for and did what she would have done for her own kids.”
Capes added, “It was just so reflective of how she looked at what she did. Some people would just see a troubled kid—she would see someone to reach out to because they needed help. She was able to do that through her Clothes Closet. She knew that providing the children the opportunity to have new clothes or just clean clothes would help them psychologically, lift their self-esteem, and help them fit in at school.
"It meant everything to her and having the school system receive these items to continue her dream and her legacy is absolutely wonderful and just so fitting. It’s exactly what she would have wanted.”
“Judge Roberts was a champion for children,” stated Samantha Fuhrey, Superintendent of the Newton County School System. “There was never a time that I reached out to her for assistance that she wasn’t willing to lend her advice, counsel, and pitch in to accomplish a task on behalf of the children in our community.
"In fact, she was so excited about the poverty work we are doing in our school system that she signed on to assist even before the details of our efforts were available! Judge Roberts’s legacy will live on in all those with whom she interacted, and the establishment or enhancement of school-based clothing closets will definitely leave a lasting impression on our students for years to come.”