Vanessa Cain knows firsthand that unexpected surprises can accompany motherhood. Cain grew up in the old Newtowne 20 community in Annapolis, Maryland with her mother, Ethel Bass (“Sissy”) and siblings. Bass reportedly passed away in 2012.
“She was just known for having a big heart,” Cain said, reflecting on memories of her mother. “When she cooked, people in the community loved her famous spaghetti. She called it goulash. If she knew you were thirsty, she’d give you water. People called her the community mom.”
Cain is following in Bass’ footsteps by serving as a community mom and guardian. She now resides in Glen Burnie while raising De’Aubrie Sheppard, her 10-year-old biological daughter, and Princess Bradford, an 11-year-old who developed a fondness for Cain. The young girl has known “Aunt Vanessa” for approximately four years. Princess and Cain met when Princess attended one of De’Aubrie’s birthday parties.
“After that, I started spending the night over her house and I started liking it there,” Princess said.
When the young girl asked Cain if she could move in because she did not like where she lived, Cain listened. Princess has experienced living in different homes and attending different schools from the time she was a baby. Cain’s cousin once cared for Princess, but she was moving.
Today, Princess resides in Cain’s household. Cain said that Princess has lived with them for a little over three years.
“She’s nice, funny and pretty,” Princess said, referring to Cain. “She’s always taking care of her family and people that she loves.”
Princess has grown to regard Cain as a second mother. She remarked that mothers are important for kids to have because they take care of their children and are there for them.
“So, if you have any problem, you can talk to them and they will understand the problem,” Princess said.
De’Aubrie is also fond of her loving mother, who she said displays kindness. De’Aubrie’s father is deceased. Cain’s daughter enjoys watching movies at home and participating in game night with Cain and Princess.
“I like to have fun with her and go out to restaurants,” De’Aubrie said, speaking about Cain. “She has a positive heart.”
Cain is a hands-on mother who recalled Bass’ experience of being a strong, single parent.
“She always said to us [her children], just keep your faith in God and everything will be okay. When we were kids, we didn’t understand it, but now I understand what she meant,” Cain said.
Cain added that protecting kids is important, in addition to making them feel unafraid to bring topics of concern to their parents or guardians, even if the adult may not like the subject matter.
“I feel like that is very important because now I see a lot of kids that are not shown that love. They take it somewhere else,” Cain said.
Cain comprehends what it is like to experience homelessness and need help. She was working three jobs when her mother died. Unexpected circumstances led Cain to experience credit problems. Since Bass did not have much life insurance, the funeral home needed money, according to Cain. She was faced with the choice of paying rent or helping to lay her mother to rest. But the financial struggle placed Cain on an uncertain path. Strangers later helped Cain and her biological daughter by letting them live in their home. Princess later joined them.
Cain reflected on a time when she was barely making ends meet while taking care of De’Aubrie. She still listened to God’s guidance when Princess expressed her desire to live with them.
“Things just started moving into place. I ended up finding a two-bedroom apartment with one and a half bathrooms. I surprised the kids. I told them as long as we’re together, I’ll make sure we’ll never be homeless again,” Cain said. “I let them know that no matter how hard the struggle may be, no matter how much you think you don’t have the strength, you’ve got to keep your faith in God.”
Cain is a faith-filled woman who said that additional breakthroughs for her family unit are coming.
Myra Harris knows Cain from church. She agrees with Princess and De’Aubrie that Cain possesses a caring, sacrificial spirit.
“I see Vanessa as phenomenal. Vanessa goes above and beyond the call of duty,” Harris said. “She does things for her daughter and Princess. She treats Princess as her own.”