A Texas Southern University faculty member got the surprise of a lifetime for her efforts to raise a family despite all the odds against her after Hurricane Harvey.
The Cypress mother opened her doors after she met a baby in need -- an infant who was homeless after Harvey.
"I've been fighting hard to protect this baby and make sure she gets the best," said Dr. Bernada Baker.
Baker is the founder of The Princess Within foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower women. After Hurricane Harvey, she found herself empowering a little one who changed her life. Then-7-month-old baby Bella was inadvertently swept into her arms. Bella and her father had been living in a car, homeless, before the hurricane. Bella's father said Bella had been abandoned by her biological mother when she was 1 month old. During Harvey, their home, the car, was swept away, leaving Bella with nowhere to go. After seeing the baby's story on social media, Baker decided to volunteer to help out by babysitting Bella.
"I just started out helping. I was thinking, 'The baby needs some clothing and a bed. I'll raise some money.' So I raised, like, $700, bought her a toddler bed, bought her some clothes, a jumper. That's all I was doing. I was just trying to help," Baker said. "Her dad needed some more assistance and, before I knew it, she had moved into my home."
While Bella's father searched for work and to make himself more stable, Baker took care of Bella, slowly falling in love with the little girl's charm.
"She's just a precious little girl. She's not your average 15-month-old. There is just something amazing about this little baby Bella," Baker said, smiling.
Soon enough, she realized she wanted to care for her forever. Baker and the father agreed that it was in Bella's best interest for Baker to adopt her. Baker said the father turned over his parental rights to Baker, who has since started the adoption process.
"I was, like,'We can't afford to let her go into the system,' so I was very strategic about my approach and worked ahead with dad so that we didn't have to get Child Protective Services involved," Baker said.
But adoption fees were costly. Baker said the estimate was between $10,000 and $15,000, which she knew she'd struggle to find, but she couldn't risk Bella being put in a place that may not have been safe. She tried holding fundraisers, but the payments were coming due.
"I don't know how we're going to do it, but I know we have to do it," Baker said, near tears.
On Wednesday, help came.
Cricket Wireless heard her story and the company's Cricket Cares decided to partner with hip-hop legend Paul Wall to donate $4,500 for adoption fees along with $500 worth of baby gifts and a year of free wireless services.
Baker entered her workplace Wednesday after being told she had to attend a business meeting. Instead, she was surprised by Paul Wall, Cricket Cares team members and others, who greeted her at the conference room door.
"I'm still in the process of processing it all because it is a lot," said Baker, almost crying. "I'm definitely overwhelmed, still in shock. This will definitely help us speed up the process."
Wall, who is adopted, shared a bit of his own story with Baker.
"I was adopted when I was a child. My biological father was on drugs. My stepfather adopted me. When my biological father didn't want me, it made me feel like I was an unwanted child. When my stepfather did want it, it put something in me to this day, showing me that I was loved and wanted and that someone did love me, so I definitely want to thank you for what you're doing with baby Bella," Wall said.
Baker said the money will help her speed up the adoption process, as the bills keep coming. She hopes she is able to go through with the adoption by July.
"My mission is to empower girls to discover the princess that lies within and to encourage them to excel in life and, when this baby was literally dropped on my doorstep, I was, like, 'This is my mission.'" Baker said. "I'm so grateful for everyone's help."