Teens’ real-life adversity, triumph inspire Christmas play


"Christmas at Tucker." 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Free and open to the public. Tucker First United Methodist Church, 5095 LaVista Road, Tucker. 770-938-3030, tfumc.org or www.christmasattucker.com.

Two homeless high school superstars are the inspiration for a Christmas musical drama being performed this weekend by a Tucker church.

Members of First United Methodist Church of Tucker read about the trials and triumphs of sisters Chelesa Fearce and Chelsea Shelton in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this year and decided to make homelessness the topic of their annual musical drama.

The two girls spent most of their high school years living in extended stay motels, shelters or the family car. Chelesa, who graduated with a 4.5 GPA and was valedictorian for the Class of 2013 at Charles R. Drew High School in Clayton County, recounted for the newspaper how she would study by a stove light in a single room she, her sisters, brother and mother shared at an extended stay motel. Sister Chelsea was the 2013 salutatorian at Atlanta’s Carver High School, with a 3.7 GPA.

Chelesa attends Spelman College, and Chelsea is at the University of West Georgia. Both are on scholarships. Their story has since traveled around the world.

“I was just blown away by the girls’ determination to excel despite their circumstances,” said Jonnie Johnston, a retired educator who attends Tucker First United Methodist.

Johnston, one of four people who helped write the script for Sunday’s play, brought the girls’ story to the attention of church music and arts director Tom Moore. He was looking for a way to tie the traditional biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, to more modern-day issues.

Both girls, their mother and siblings along with friends and school officials are expected to attend the performances of the musical drama, titled “My Heart, Your Home,” the fourth production of the annual “Christmas at Tucker” event, which draws about 1,300 people each year. This is the first year that the play is set in contemporary times.

Sunday’s production features 150 musicians and actors. It is the story of a modern middle-class family’s encounter with a homeless teenage girl who at first keeps her situation a secret. But she eventually tells the daughter in the family as their friendship grows. The traditional biblical story of Jesus’ birth also is interwoven throughout the play, Moore said.

One scene in the play shows the homeless girl and her mother in a shelter. The woman who plays the homeless mother revealed, during the reading for the part, her own experience with homelessness years ago, Moore said.

That experience further illustrated for Moore how often people don’t realize the prevalence of homelessness in our society.

“It reminded me that there’s many others in our community we don’t know about that have similar challenges …,” Moore said. “We’re hoping, through this program, some real efforts will be initiated in the Tucker community to help end homelessness.”