Bridge to a Purpose-filled Life

Anita & Jay Sherley: 2023 Good Neighbor Award Winners

REALTORS® Anita and Jay Sherley offer life-changing wisdom to help at-risk young adults turn their lives around.

Anita & Jay Sherley

Anita and Jay Sherley’s pledge to help at-risk adolescents and young adults of Helena, Mont., began more than 30 years ago. That’s when they began to welcome troubled young people into their home. Through their close ties to local businesses, schools and volunteer boards, they would sometimes meet young individuals in the community who were struggling as a result of poverty and neglect. Even while raising three children of their own, they began serving as unofficial foster parents to young adults who’d lost their way. Eventually, they conceived of the idea for Life Houses Inc., a nonprofit organization whose mission is to give young adults a safe living environment to build emotionally, socially and spiritually.

In the 15 years since they founded Life Houses, the Sherleys have worked to perfect a mentorship model that has helped more than 200 young adults learn to live productive, independent, goal-oriented lives of purpose. Many had been homeless, recently released from incarceration, or aged out of foster care.

“The model we lean on the most is life coaching,” says Anita, who still leads the nonprofit’s board of directors. Jay jumps in to teach kids how to drive, fix fences, use a hunting weapon—a little bit of everything, he says. Their “influencer team” of volunteers also hosts house meetings on topics such as job skills, communication skills and relationship skills.

“We see these young adults become fantastic young men and women and find themselves,” Anita says. “There’s nothing better than to watch that metamorphosis.”

The Sherleys purchased their first Life House for young men in 2007, and later that year gathered a board composed of people “who had a heart for young adults,” Anita recalls. They formed a 501(c)(3) in 2008 and soon expanded to support a larger men’s home as well as rental homes for young women experiencing housing crises. Today, Life Houses can host up to 11 residents at a time in one house for seven men and another for four women.

Working as real estate professionals, the Sherleys say, has helped them establish and expand Life Houses Inc. “Real estate puts us in a place to take the pulse of the community in a way that might not be possible in other professions,” Anita says.

Adds Jay: “Yesterday, I met a lady at an estate sale who said, ‘I hear you have some homes for young adults, and if you need furniture, I’ll donate items to the house.’ It’s good to be out there and see people with giving hearts.”

Surmounting Hurdles

“Anita and Jay strongly believe the work they do is not work, but a calling,” says Life Houses Executive Director Christine Roberts. Along with immense rewards of responding to the call, the Sherleys have faced challenges.

Finding time was among the biggest issues the couple faced at the outset. “Doing real estate and life coaching and trying to run a business at the same time can be very difficult. With the cry of our hearts to God, so many people in our community have stepped up to take the load off our shoulders and ensure less work for everyone,” Anita says. At each house, a leadership group takes on responsibilities to ensure that the residents will be supported long after the Sherleys retire from their organizational duties.

“Every life coaching meeting, we get so much more than we give—like the ones who hug you tightly, the ones who speak up and you see they’re getting it, the moments you must be tough on someone who later thanks you, or the ones who finally believe they belong and are loved. Nothing is more beautiful and fulfilling.” –Anita Sherley

Occasionally, it appears the coaching isn’t getting through to a resident, Jay says. But you never know. One man who wouldn’t open himself up to Jay, Anita, or the other residents departed the house abruptly, leaving his room a mess. A couple of years later, he called Anita on Mother’s Day, telling her about all he’d learned in the house and how it wasn’t a loss for him. “We plant seeds and hope they grow, and then they come back and say this made a difference,” Jay says.

“It makes you cry,” Anita says. “We get way more out of it than we give.”

Growth Opportunity

“This home gave me the opportunity to grow,” says Life Houses resident Jacob Thurston. Now 21, Thurston had been in and out of group homes as a teen and was “couch surfing” when his girlfriend introduced him to Anita. Over the course of 15 months, he’s gone from being unsure he wanted to live in Life Houses to being among its leaders and guiding newcomers. “Without Anita and Jay, I don’t know where I’d be now,” he says.

Josiah Jerome was struggling with substance abuse and had just lost his brother to alcohol poisoning when he became the first resident of Life Houses in 2008. “I decided to clean up my life,” he says. He went on to marry one of the first female residents. Josiah and Cassie Jerome today are parents to three kids and live in Dallas.

“Jay and Anita are amazing people,” says Jerome, who now works as a finance director for a charter school. “They’ve always been so down to earth and welcoming. They live life fully, whether doing a hot dog cookout in their backyard or going rappelling on a mountain outside our town. They taught us there is another reason to live. Jay has this unique gift to help young men turn around their lives, step into their full potential and move out of the circumstances surrounding poor decisions in young adulthood.”

Anita Sherley, CRS, GRI, and Jay Sherley, GRI, from Helena, Mont., are brokers at Big Sky Brokers LLC, and founders of Life Houses Inc.


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