BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Neighbors know it as the “Orange House.”
Each time Lance Felder comes home from school, he finds something new — triangle football streamers hanging on the railings, orange buckets on the front yard fence or large, laminated photos of him taped on the brownstone’s façade.
The decorations come from his biggest fan — his mom.
Shiretta Felton, the self-proclaimed “Gridiron Mom,” has been fundraising for her son’s college tuition for the past year, setting up a tent in the front yard of their Halsey Street home with poster-size photos of her only child and tulle and bows wrapped around the front in his school’s team colors.
“Football is his love and it’s the football that’s helping him get through school," Felton, 53, said. "That gridiron saved his life and mine.”
Felder, 24, is a senior at Lincoln University, playing as a tight end for the Pennsylvania school’s Lions.
After what his mother described as a rough couple of years, she turned to stoop sales to raise money for Felder’s education.
Her mother and sister died within five months of each other, she said, coupled with the recent April death of her grandmother, whom she took care of.
“I’m a part-time worker, I couldn’t work full time because I was a caregiver,” Felton said.
“So I needed to find a way to keep my son in school, and I just started selling stuff in my front yard.”
Since Memorial Day of 2015, Felton has been setting up each weekend outside her home. Neighbors give her belongings to sell, she said, adding to her array of shoes, hats, rugs and swimming gear.
Passersby started paying closer attention after she decided to hang a large banner outside reading “My Son’s College Fundraiser,” photos from his games, adornments of footballs and encouraging signs.
Each time someone donates, she takes their picture and fixes it along the fence in appreciation.
Photo credit: DNAinfo/Camille Bautista
“I think that’s an amazing thing. Not too many parents would go the extra mile that she does, every Saturday she’s outside,” said neighbor Janell Smith. “The people on the block, we love it.”
The mother and son have received visits from strangers who have dropped off checks or left donations at the door, Felton said, and since her campaign started they’ve raised about $2,000.
Felder has one more semester before he graduates in December, he said, and the family is looking to raise about $13,000 for his return to Lincoln University.
As a result of his mother’s decorations and efforts, he gets stopped frequently in the neighborhood, he added.
“A lot of people know me from playing football or basketball, but if it’s someone I’m not used to seeing, they say, ‘I saw your house’, or ‘That’s him,’ or someone from Facebook happened to see it.”
The Health Science major hopes to play professional football and is working on receiving a certificate in personal training.
Football served as a saving grace for him when he struggled with behavioral issues and started playing in his early teens, his mother said.
“Then he got on the gridiron, he got focused and he found his voice,” Felton said.
At first, it was difficult for her to watch his games and see Felder get injured in a contact sport. But during his first season at Lincoln she went to every game, she said, even traveling round-trip from Brooklyn to North Carolina in the same day.
“I see how hard he works. I’ve seen him on the football field where he took a hit, he went to the emergency room," she said.
"I’ve watched him sleep with the football helmet in his bed. I’ve watched him go to practice when it was snowing, when it was raining, no one was showing up. He stayed on dead-end teams, I watched him go to school, I watched him struggle.
“So when I saw him going to Lincoln and I saw the change in him, I said, I’m going to do whatever it is I have to do to keep him there.”
This weekend she’ll start a raffle for Lincoln Lions gear and she’ll continue fundraising through the end of the year.
“All I want people to know is, no matter how hard it gets, never ever give up. Work that faith, all things are possible,” she said.
“He has to finish school. Don’t ever give up on your child and, if your child has a dream, just step out on faith.”