Playing on summertime AAU basketball teams, Alexis Grant had plenty of diversions to keep her mind off the struggles of everyday life.
When her teams weren't traveling to tournaments, she and her friends where she lived would pass days playing pickup games at a local outdoor court or taking a dip at the public swimming pool.
Because it was easier to laugh than to cry, the girls would kid about going back to their "mansion" to eat dinner.
But it wasn't a mansion. It was the Salvation Army Center of Hope, a homeless shelter in Charlotte.
Those tough times were only five months ago. Since then, Alexis' mother, Terri Williams, has found work and a place to stay for herself and her three daughters.
And with the help of a Concord church, Alexis has found a second home at First Assembly Christian School and has adopted the Eagles basketball team as an additional family.
Alexis is one of the main reasons First Assembly's girls' basketball team has surged, losing only two of its first 11 games. Though the senior guard recently missed three games with a bum ankle, she is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals per game.
Alexis, her mom and sisters Jasmine Grant, 20, and Britnee Williams, 16, moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Charlotte before Alexis' sophomore year. A natural basketball player, Alexis played two years at Charlotte Vance High, where she was named all-conference in the ME-CA 7 4A as a junior.
While things were looking up for Alexis with basketball, things at home were not. Terri lost her job as a night auditor/front desk clerk at a Charlotte hotel, and bills were piling up.
Alexis said the family knew it was temporary when they moved into the shelter last summer.
Besides traveling with her AAU teams, visits from church members provided diversion at the shelter, especially Concord's King's Way Baptist. Adults and teens would provide dinners, entertainment and recreation for the residents.
Alexis convinced church volunteer Suzie Lloyd that if she drove King's Way's shuttle bus to and from the shelter, Alexis would get other teens to attend Wednesday services. Lloyd couldn't resist. Alexis' family eventually followed when the church provided the service on Sundays, too.
"Here's this girl that was very bright and talented," said Bobby Price, youth pastor at King's Way. "But I had no idea that she was a basketball player when we met."
Price said the church has a motto: "You can't help everybody, but everybody can help somebody." Several families have chipped in to pay for Alexis to attend First Assembly, he said, because of Alexis' new commitment to her spirituality and her wish for a fresh start in as many aspects of her life as possible.
Terri got a job working as a convenience store clerk and was able to move her family into a Charlotte apartment. Alexis attended Vance for about a month of her senior year, then transferred to First Assembly.
Alexis gets to school by catching the city bus to the University City area, where Johnson's mother picks her up and takes her to First Assembly. Bill Middlebrooks, the Eagles' head coach, sees to it that Alexis gets home after practices and games.
The rest of the family is doing OK too. Alexis' sister Jasmine attends Central Piedmont Community College, and Britnee is a student at Vance. Price said there's a chance Britnee eventually may attend First Assembly as well.
Middlebrooks said colleges are interested in getting Alexis to play for them next year, and she hopes to do that. She understands that her story is not yet complete, but that the turn of events over the past few months is inspirational.
"My mom always said things happen for a reason," said Alexis. "For my mom to lose her job, and us go into the shelter and meet this church ...
"I actually wasn't going to church regularly. I had never heard of King's Way or First Assembly. It's just a big coincidence... They just offered me a scholarship to go to First Assembly. That's just crazy."
It's a long way from living in "the mansion," but life is good for Alexis Grant.