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18-year-old working to gain custody of younger siblings

MacKenzie Jackson, right, is working to gain custody of her sister Meagan, 16, left, and brother Spencer, 14. Photo by Michael Vosburg1 / 2
Friends, from left, Sarah McAbee, Jennifer Peltier, Zahara Mohamed and MacKenzie Metcalf’s brother Spencer, 14, work to assemble end tables Thursday in the family’s new West Fargo home. Photo by Michael Vosburg2 / 2

The community has come together to help an 18-year-old and the two siblings she hopes to become a legal guardian for after they were orphaned in January.

MacKenzie Jackson has been working for the past month to gain custody of her siblings: Meagan Jackson-Metcalf, 16, and Spencer Jackson-Metcalf, 14.

On Saturday, hundreds attended a benefit for the siblings at Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo, giving about $15,000 during the sloppy Joe meal and silent auction.

“It was really overwhelming, I didn’t expect that many people to come,” Jackson said. “It was a really good turnout. The people that were there were very supportive.”

Since launching a website last month, more than $13,000 have been donated to the family, well past Jackson’s goal of $5,000.

“It is still so shocking,” Jackson said. “It’s difficult for us to believe that this is really happening to us. Not saying we don’t appreciate because we do.”

Jackson said her father, Cory Metcalf, 43, did the best he could to take care of his children after their mother, 39-year-old Rebecca, died in 2012 of heart failure.

“I got really close with him,” Jackson said. “For sure, he was my best friend. We were a team. That’s what he would always say.”

Jackson soon took on the role of household mother, but her younger siblings were placed in foster care in October after social services staff deemed the living conditions at the mobile home they shared with their father and grandmother were unsuitable.

Metcalf battled alcoholism and suffered from a number of health ailments Jackson said. He was found dead on Jan. 4 by Jackson’s grandmother, Betty Jackson, in the home they shared.

An autopsy released last week determined Metcalf died of heart failure.

After Metcalf’s death, Jackson knew she wanted to bring her family back together.

“I feel like that’s what my parents would have wanted,” Jackson said. “But it was (Spence and Meagan’s) decision.”

Other relatives offered to take custody of Meagan and Spencer, but it would have meant uprooting the two to another city and school system. Meagan is a sophomore at West Fargo High School and Spencer is an eighth grader at Cheney Middle School.

Jackson began asking how she could gain custody of her siblings and found that because she is an adult blood relative, she could begin the process.

Jackson found a stable place to live in West Fargo after a property management company donated 12 months of rent on a new townhome to the family.

“We’re going to spend the year saving up to pay the next 12 months,” she said.

Jackson, her brother and sister spent evenings last week unpacking what little they have and assembling some small furniture items they were given.

She also worked with Cass County Social Services to create a plan of care for Meagan and Spencer, which includes everything from how she will handle homework to finding a dentist for Meagan, a task Jackson said she took care of last week.

Shari Doe, director of the Children and Family Services Division for the state Human Services Department, said it is always a priority for human services departments to keep children with their biological families. The state does not have immediate data on the number of siblings who have been granted guardianship.

Doe said while Jackson’s age may be a factor in her candidacy for guardianship, it is certainly not the only guiding principal of whether she will be granted custody.

“Any agency that has custody of a child takes many factors into consideration when they are trying to place a child,” she said. “We want children to be with their families, whenever they can be. We want to make sure they are safe wherever they go.”

Doe said the agencies also consider if the situation can be permanent and then if all the children’s needs can be met.”

While Jackson has completed many steps in her plan for her siblings, there are many to go, such as finding a working car and planning her own future.

Jackson had hoped to attend school this year while working to support her siblings.

Last week, she was told she would receive a one-year scholarship to Josef’s School of Hair Design, to fulfill her goal of becoming a hairdresser.

Tawnia and Dan Olson, longtime friends of Jackson’s parents helped set up Saturday’s benefit. Dan Olson was Metcalf’s best friend and Tawnia had known Rebecca since childhood.

Tawnia Olson said she wasn’t surprised by Jackson’s willingness to care for her brother and sister.

“Her parents had their struggles with certain things, addictions,” Tawnia Olson said. “(MacKenzie’s) always been one to make sure everything was good. I think she had to grow up a long time ago, so she’s definitely more mature than your average 18-year-old.”

Jackson is scheduled to appear before a Cass County judge on Feb. 19 to request custody of Meagan and Spencer. She will turn 19 on Feb. 20.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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