Students overcome many obstacles to graduate

Patricia Thomas, James Lennon, Sabrina Barnes, Amanda Landers and Carl Johnson

Graduation from high school is cause for celebration in everyone’s life, but it’s even more notable for students who have overcome major obstacles along the way. Such was the case last Tuesday for graduates who were feted at the Children’s Home Society of Florida’s Youth Transition Center.

“This is our largest graduating class yet. They don’t have families – moms or dads or grandparents – so we really wanted to make the party a special one,” said Matt Anderson, CHS program director of the seven students who received diplomas from either Indian River or St. Lucie County high schools.

“Education is one of our core values in the Transitional Living program. We want them to obtain at least a GED, but it’s always better to get a high school diploma rather than a GED. It seems to be picking up momentum.”

The students’ studies were augmented thanks to a grant from Quail Valley Charities, which enabled the use of an online program through Smart Horizons.

The teens and young adults who enter the Transitional Living Program are provided with safe housing in a supportive, nurturing environment where they can finish their high school education and prepare for their future through Life Skills and Job Readiness programs. Some have, or soon will, age out of the foster care system, and others are referred through high school guidance counselors, resource officers, police departments, homeless liaison contacts, police departments and other sources.

Three of the seven graduates were unable to attend the party, but their excuse was the type counselors like to hear – they had conflicts with their work schedules. Hard-working and ambitious, the graduates are firmly focused on their future.

“What I want to do, and what I have a passion for, is to come back and help other kids like you guys helped me,” said James Lennon, who was starting school the following day to pursue a degree in business management and accounting.

“This place has helped me so much, said Patricia Thomas. “I think that without this place, without these resources, I wouldn’t have graduated.”

Thomas has plans to join the military and to eventually become a teacher. She is in it for the long haul, including basic training and four years of active duty.

“I know I want to be a teacher for kids on the bases. I have friends who grew up on military bases and I want to be with those kids when their parents are out there risking their lives.”

“We applaud all of our graduates. We know that it hasn’t been easy,” said Sabrina Barnes, CHS Treasure Coast executive director.

She thanked the board members for all their fundraising, advocacy and support, and, pointing to the graduates, she added, “This is why we’re here and why we do what we do.”

Barnes credited the passionate professional staff for positively impacting their charges by planting a seed and leaving an imprint in their lives.

She encouraged the graduates to adopt a forward momentum mentality and to keep trying when things get difficult.

“It’s easy to give up,” she said. “Making a mistake is not a failure; it’s just another way to learn.”

It was a sentiment echoed by CHS board member Dale Jacobs who advised them to take advantage of obstacles and struggles by learning from them. He also highlighted two of the 10 lessons given by Naval Adm. William McRaven at a Navy SEAL graduation. Stressing the importance of doing even the little things right, the first piece of advice was “make your bed every day. The day can be difficult, and you may not have successes, but if you make your bed every morning, no matter how bad the day is you will always come back to the one thing you might have done well.”

Next, he told them to never give up their dreams.

“It’s not always a literal phrase. It’s a feeling and an attitude for things that are in your control,” said Jacobs, adding that while dreams are important, working hard and having a good job is what will pay the bills.

Janet Baines, a longtime supporter and board member, offered her congratulations as well saying, “I learn every time I come. I’m inspired; you all do that to me.”

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