If you met him, you probably wouldn’t know that Greg Shirley had a rough start to life. He’s a Nashville recording artist, successful business owner, husband and dad to five children. His love for life shows through his beaming smile and how he treats others around him.
He credits ACH for his success. We credit his strength, resilience and determination to change his family’s legacy.
During our 100th Anniversary Alumni Reunion on October 3, we had a chance to sit down with Shirley and learn more about what brought him to our organization and how he has used that experience to his advantage.
Q: What led you to ACH?
A: My father was an alcoholic with a very unstable lifestyle. My parents’ relationship and our life were very turbulent. We were constantly on the move, mostly on the run from the various illegal and troublesome situations my father would get himself into. He was often abusive to our mother as well as us children during the times he was drinking.
We grew up with very little structure, everything from our homes, schools, friendships, were all temporary. This is where my love of music became not only a hobby, but a tool of coping with the sadness and frustration that children in these types of lifestyles are subject to. It was during one of the brief but many incarcerations of my father that my mother fled to Fort Worth, Texas. She later filed for a divorce.
At the time, I was 10 years old and my sisters were eight and six. We often lived in motels in the Fort Worth area. My mom would walk to work as a waitress at the local bars. It was during this time my mother began to abuse alcohol and drugs. She became distant from us and would be gone days at a time. I would take small jobs to get money to get us food. One time we went into a neighbor’s house and were caught taking food from their kitchen. I believe this is when Child Protective Services was called in. They picked us up and took us to ACH.
Q: What was your experience like when you arrived at ACH?
A: While trying to locate our mother, ACH staff gave us much needed attention. We got immediate health care, clothing, food - just the basics. But to us, we were finally in a structured, nurturing environment. We missed our mother, but even at that young age, we knew we were better off at ACH.
Q: Is there a particular memory that stands out?
A: Our house mother bought me a cassette player along with the Grease soundtrack. I was so proud to have something of my very own. She had noticed I loved listening to the radio. I treasured this gift, but most of all, I treasured that someone had taken notice, not of my bad behavior, but of the lost child that was behind it.
Q: What does it mean to you to be back in Texas performing and celebrating with ACH for our 100th Anniversary?
A: I’m so honored to be asked back here to celebrate ACH and all the positive effects it has had over the years, not only on children and their families, but the Fort Worth community as well. I know my time spent at ACH has had a lot to do with my involvement in helping children.
Shirley and his wife of 25 years have fostered children and made several trips to Honduras to help build safe houses for abandoned children. He made it his priority to provide a solid life for his family and lead by example. That meant putting his singing career on hold.
He returned to writing songs and recording five years ago. His new album, Raised on the Run, is about his life as a child. Fittingly, his son, Dallas, came up with the name.
Shirley brought his story full circle when he sang a few of his songs and shared about his childhood during ACH’s Century of Caring event in Sundance Square on October 4, 2015.
You can find Shirley’s music at www.gregshirley.com and on iTunes.