If Ashley Dewey were to write a story about her childhood, she might title it “The Girl Nobody Wanted.”

From a small child until the age of 16, she and her six siblings endured physical and emotional abuse. Ashley acted up in school. Other kids teased her about her acne. She got into fights and was suspended from time to time. One day, her mother came into the classroom and hit Ashley with the heel of her shoe because she’d gotten a D in behavior. Ashley wrote in a journal she kept for class, “I hate myself and I’m going to kill myself.” The teacher sent her to a social worker at the school. Authorities came to her home, and she attended counseling sessions. She pretended everything was okay because she didn’t want to leave her siblings.

At 16, she got a job at McDonald’s, and her mother began charging her rent. When Ashley spent the money on clothes one week, her mother said she had to learn responsibility and put her out of the house. She stayed with various friends, dropped out of school, and drank and smoked marijuana. She persuaded her father, with whom she’d had sporadic contact, to take her in. Soon, he said she was ruining his love life, and he put her out late one night too.

The next day, Ashley went to the courthouse and asked to be emancipated. “I told them my mom and dad didn’t want me.” The authorities called her parents, who confirmed her statement. The court decided to put her in a small group home for girls in New Orleans. She was afraid to go there because one of her sisters had a bad experience in a group home, but Ashley loved it.

“It had a library to do school work. Everyone had dinner at the table. It was like a family setting even though it was residential counselors. They took time to talk to me and teach me.” She stopped drinking and using drugs. She attended one of the city’s worst high schools. Her first week, a girl set fire to a bathroom and when the students evacuated, they witnessed a drive-by shooting.

Ashley spent most of her time at school with the teachers. Especially helpful was geography teacher Joy Butler-Paloade, who was and continues to be a solid pillar of support. Ashley liked math, and once, when an algebra teacher suddenly quit, she asked another math teacher to teach her the lesson and then she taught the teacher-less class. The students listened to her. She became student body president, homecoming queen, and a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters. She graduated third in her class.

Ashley is now a senior at Southern University in Baton Rouge, majoring in accounting, and works part-time as a teller at Chase Bank. About the Beat the Odds award, she said, “It’s a blessing when you get rewarded for changing your life for the better.” She returns twice a month to the group home in New Orleans to encourage the girls now living there with her example.