"I never really understood my story until probably about a year ago," Kerri says.
Both of Kerri's parents struggled with drug addiction and her dad spent most of her childhood in and out of prison. She and her siblings were often in foster care—"at least a few times, probably like two or three," she says, "maybe more." When she was able to live with her parents, the experiences left her feeling neglected and unloved.
"My dad would hide in the basement," Kerri recalls. "We weren't allowed to go into the basement because it was his area. Or my mom would be in her room with the door shut, and we weren't allowed to go in there."
The actions of her parents were hard to bear. Kerri felt that she was unwanted, even unlovable: "I didn't have someone in my life that truly cared about me."
ANGEL TREE STEPS IN
While incarcerated, Kerri's father heard he could send Christmas presents to his children through Angel Tree®, a program of Prison Fellowship®.
"My mom opened the door, and [Angel Tree volunteers] brought in these presents," Kerri remembers. "They told us they were from my dad, and he was in prison. And we were like, 'What? How did my dad get us presents if he can't even see us or talk to us?' "
For Kerri, what mattered the most was the knowledge that there were people out there who cared about her. Angel Tree was able to step in and fill the void that Kerri felt in her life. In addition to presents at Christmas, Kerri also began attending an Angel Tree camp in the summer.
THE NAME OF JESUS
It was at camp that Kerri first met Jesus.
"I was really angry my first couple of years [at camp] because I didn't feel love at home," Kerri shares. "I didn't know who God was, who Jesus was." Kerri had only ever heard the name of Jesus used as a curse word. "I was really confused. I was like, 'Why am I coming to a place where people are saying God's name in vain all the time? This doesn't make any sense.' "
But Kerri kept participating. And over the years, she began to realize just who this Jesus was that everyone kept talking about. And then one day something clicked.
"I just realized I want to be all in for this Jesus," Kerri says.
It was at camp one summer in high school that Kerri first knew she was loved.
"We were in the chapel," she recalls. "We were all singing … I had never experienced a moment like that … just a group of people singing for God and His joy."
She remembers how the camp counselors, her mentors, told her they loved her, and even more importantly, that Jesus loved her, too.
Today, Kerri is an Angel Tree camp counselor. As she approached the end of her time as a camper, God "tugged at her heart" to come back as a staff member. She is now able to use her story to share the love of God with others who are just like her.
"Thank you so much, Angel Tree," Kerri says, "for not only changing my life, but changing all these other kids' lives and bringing a broken community together and making it whole."