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TCC grad creating safe spaces for people with intellectual disabilities

Shernita Artis understands the importance of creating a safe space for people with real needs.

After 15 years of working as a government contractor with little room to grow, Artis will graduate on May 13 from Tidewater Community College with an Associate of Applied Science in Human Services.

“I found my passion and finally got around to pursuing my real life’s work,” Artis said. “So many days I wanted to give up on this dream. But I know that anything built quickly doesn’t last long. And the things you go through in the storm make you stronger.”

She and business partner Valerie Butler developed Family Extensions, LLC, a licensed residential group home for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Norfolk.

Artis, 38, said her degree provides the foundation for her business. “I love helping people feel part of a community,” she said. “And now I can help develop service plans for my clients with special needs.”

So far, Artis has hired a program director and other staff to provide 24-hour care for clients. They also provide support in the areas of personal care, socialization and other functional skills. The goal is to support the individual’s desire to become an inclusive part of their community.

Shernita Artis in her own words

Artis’ journey to a college degree has been a winding road. She spent two years at a for-profit college pursuing an online degree. She did not perform well and decided to try again – this time in face-to-face classes at TCC.

“TCC was convenient to my home, and the professors were knowledgeable and really care about their students,” she said. “They’re also working professionals so they bring a lot of real-world experience to the classroom.”

She participated in TCC’s Human Services Club and credits Professor Ivory Warren for investing in her future. “She was relatable and allowed us to speak our minds,” Artis said.

Her long-term goal is to own and operate two additional group homes and provide day services for people with intellectual disabilities.

“I now have a new direction, and I’ve weathered the storm. This next chapter is going to be very interesting,” she said.

A Norfolk native, Artis is the mother of 14-year-old twin girls and a son who is 20.

She reminds students coming behind her to, “Stay focused no matter how hard it gets. Just don’t give up because anything worth having is worth the struggle.”