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2010 Washington, D.C. Beat the Odds Videos
2010 Washington, D.C. Beat the Odds Slideshow
Looking at Chelsea’s 3.5 grade point average, it is hard to believe that she didn’t have any formal schooling until the 11th-grade. Her mother homeschooled Chelsea and her siblings but by the time Chelsea was in fifth-grade her mother had stopped teaching her. Chelsea’s father was an alcoholic, and her parents divorced after it was revealed that he had been sexually abusing Chelsea for years. Chelsea’s mother, abused herself as a child, cracked under the pressure to care for a family following the divorce. Suffering from depression, she was unable to pay the bills, provide food and other essentials. The mother had never believed in structure or discipline, and during the day, she would often leave Chelsea and her brother alone. At the age most children were learning in school, Chelsea was attempting to teach herself. But she says she was “often discouraged because I had no one to answer my questions, no one to explain the material.” In the absence of parental support, the three siblings got through the hard times by depending on each other. Eventually, her older sister told someone at their church about the neglect and lack of schooling, which led to the authorities removing them from the home. Chelsea and her brother now live with their aunt and uncle in a stable and loving home. It was quite an adjustment for her aunt and uncle, who already have two children, and nearly doubled the size of their family by taking in two teenagers. Chelsea relished having the structure and stability she had craved, but it took time for her to feel completely safe and at ease in her new surroundings. Her aunt described how Chelsea would instinctively horde food, soap and other essentials, because she was so used to getting by on so little. She also had to work extremely hard in and outside of school to fill the holes in her education. Seizing on opportunities like summer school, evening classes and personal tutors she has not only caught up, but is earning straight A’s. She has even begun participating in some extra-curricular activities this year—volunteering at a homeless shelter and teaching English as a second language, tutoring children in biology and participating in her church play. Chelsea’s love of learning is now evident in all that she does and everyone who meets her. Just two years ago Chelsea never imagined college to be a possibility. Just last month she was visiting universities and considering majors.
One of the first things Nick will tell you about himself is, “My life is my mom and school.” When Nick was in ninth-grade, his mother suffered a catastrophic ruptured brain aneurism and stroke that left her completely incapacitated. Even before her illness, his mother was the most important person in his life. His mother’s family immigrated to the United States from Cambodia in search of a better life and, once she had a family of her own, wanted nothing more than for Nick and his siblings to get the best education possible. She worked long hours at the family store and took out loans so he could receive a high quality education. However, Nick’s life changed completely when he found his mother unconscious and unresponsive on her bedroom floor. After trying to wake her, he and his sister called their father, who told them to dial 911. His mother was rushed into emergency brain surgery, but slipped into a coma that lasted three weeks. She eventually emerged from the coma, and Nick was relieved that she could “squeeze my hand when I asked her to, able to blink twice to say yes and blink once to say no.” That was two years ago. Today, Nicholas’s mother can speak, but she cannot feed herself, walk, or even move from her bed to her wheelchair. His mother’s illness has had a huge impact on the family and especially on Nick. The financial burdens for medical care and rehabilitation services required that Nick transfer from private to public school and his father took over the responsibility for running the family store, in addition to his full time job. Nick stepped up by sacrificing his weekends to work at the store and, since the family cannot afford a nurse or part-time caretaker, he spends much of the rest of his time caring for his mother when not in school. His daily routine begins with feeding her, brushing her teeth, dressing her, assisting her with her daily exercises and remembering all her medications throughout the day. Thinking about his life now, Nick says, “I thank God for saving my mom, but I still ask him to give her even more strength to get back to her old self.” Although things are difficult, Nick has not shied away from his many responsibilities. “I will always know how to handle any situation, no matter how horrifying or scary,” he says. Nick’s guidance counselor marvels at the strength and determination he has shown over the past few difficult years. Even with all of his obligations, Nick is a top scholar—ranking in the top 10 percent of his class—and he managed to complete 200 hours of volunteer service at Montgomery College last summer. He has also played on the varsity football and wrestling teams for three years. He wants to study business in college but insists the most important prerequisite for the school he attends is its proximity to his mother.
When she graduates in May, I’eisha will be the first person in her family of seven to graduate high school and go on to college. Although the other people in her family have not managed to complete high school, she credits them—especially her mother—with motivating her to succeed in life. A naturally shy young lady, I’eisha has had to learn to be an advocate for herself. As a child, I’eisha’s family struggled to find a permanent home, and she often lived in fear of her father, who was physically abusive. I’esha recalls the childhood memory of her father attempting to strangle her mother with a phone cord. Soon thereafter, the father went off to prison, forcing the mother to care for I’eisha and caring for her four siblings on her own. The family was often uprooted; living in hotels and emergency shelters until a counselor finally helped them to find their current apartment. When she began school at Booker T. Washington Public Charter School, she was often teased for her under bite, which impacts her speech. She says that she felt like she stuck out and she often did not want to go to school because of the bullying. However, I’eisha began weekly sessions with a speech therapist who works out of the school which has greatly improved her ability to articulate words and speak in public. As I’eisha has gained more confidence, she has sought out more and more opportunities for herself. Her mother is still on public assistance and I’eisha sees that there are not a lot of good jobs out there that she could take to support the family. On her own initiative, she applied for and was accepted to the “Year Round Passport to Work Program” at Howard University, and also participates in the “Project Northstar” tutoring program. In these programs, I’eisha has found some amazing mentors who are helping her to realize her full potential. She works at a daycare center and enjoys working with and caring for younger people. Her plan is to attend Temple University in Philadelphia and become a pediatric nurse so that she can do what she loves doing most—caring for others.
Throughout her childhood, Asia Smith never had a place to call home. She and her mother were constantly moving and their lives were in flux. At one point, Asia and her mother lived in the condemned home of Asia’s grandfather, which had no electricity or bathroom. Seeking a more permanent arrangement, they moved from the hotel in which they were staying to the home of a family friend. Unfortunately, Asia’s mother was working long hours at a bar/restaurant and began abusing drugs and alcohol. While her mother was working, Asia was being physically, emotionally and sexually abused in the home. One day, when Asia was 11, she got what she described as the biggest shock of her life. She was at her friend Holly’s house for a sleepover when she learned that her mother had been charged with murdering her grandfather. Her mother was convicted and is now serving a 30-year prison term in Jessup, Maryland. Asia was very close to her grandpa and described him as the father figure she never had. She says, “Not only did this take away my mom but it took away the one other person that meant the most to me, my grandpa.” Family is really important to Asia, and it’s been very difficult to not have them in her life. However, Asia has had a stable home with her friend Holly’s family, where she has remained ever since that sleepover. The Chittenden family has truly embraced Asia as one of their own. She instantly gained three sisters and the girls are all very close. She credits therapy and her strong foster family for not giving up on her and helping her to open up about her past experiences. Today, Asia is an active and hardworking senior at Poolesville High School. She manages the volleyball club and has challenged herself by taking honors classes every semester. Despite everything she has been through, she does not show the slightest hint of anger or resentment. Her friends and family will tell you that she is a fighter, but that she is also one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Asia hopes to use her experiences to help others. She recently spoke to a group of 35 upcoming foster parents about taking teenagers into their homes. She says that she “speaks very passionately about the subject of children in need especially since I have been there and am there right now,” and that she “can’t wait to finish her schooling so I can start to make my difference in the world.”
Arianna is at the top of her class at Lake Braddock High School. Looking at her transcript, you would not know that Arianna has overcome so much. Her father has mostly been absent from her life, and Arianna was being raised primarily by her mother and grandparents. Arianna looked up to her grandfather, who was the first in his family to graduate from college. Unfortunately, he passed away after a long illness when Arianna was quite young. Then, her grandmother fell ill with colon cancer, and passed away shortly thereafter. Her mother cared for both parents through their illnesses and became very depressed after they passed. When Arianna was in sixth grade, her mother attempted suicide. Because the family couldn’t afford a phone, Arianna ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911. Her mother survived the attempt, but she continued to live in anguish over her own situation of helplessness and poverty. Her mother’s situation allowed an aura of despair to pervade Arianna’s space as well. She was also being bullied in school for being bi-racial and poor. With her own health and welfare at stake, she began missing school and cried out for help. Eventually, authorities removed Arianna from her home and took her to an alternative residential program, where she received treatment and academic support. She is currently living in a foster home, seeing a therapist and thriving in her studies. Speaking to Arianna, it is clear that she is a very bright young lady with an intense love of learning. She excels in her science and math courses, and is also a talented artist who has shown her paintings, photos and jewelry at shows across the region. She had initially attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, but had to return to Lake Braddock because the school bus dropped her off too far from home and her mom had no means to transport her back home. Nonetheless, Arianna continues to pursue every opportunity that comes her way. She is in the top 15 percent of her class with a 3.9 grade point average, is taking nearly all Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and wants to study engineering in college. She’s on the Science Olympiad team, and attended the “Minority Introduction to Engineering and Science” program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this summer. Even with all of her academic obligations, Arianna finds time to give back in her community: tutoring young children in difficult subjects; volunteering at an Occoquan River cleanup; and participating in Leukemia and Lymphoma walkathons. Despite everything she has been through, Arianna approaches life with an extraordinary amount of energy and enthusiasm.