Finding her place
Giving a teenager high-quality resources outside the classroom change a life. It has for Courtney Calhoun.
“These programs open the door to a world of possibilities,” she says.
As for this energetic 17-year-old from Independence, a world of possibilities includes entering a private college this fall with almost 75 percent of the cost already covered by grants and scholarships. That’s a long way from the shelters Courtney once had to call home.
Courtney’s parents tried to provide for their family of six, but jobs were inconsistent. Prospects for steady employment worsened when the recession hit, and the family ended up in a homeless shelter. While the parents were out looking for work, the shelter staff wanted the children to be involved in out-of-school programs at a United Way-funded agency.
That was fine for the two youngest children, but not for Courtney, who was 12. She didn’t think she needed it.
“I was so snotty and bratty; I did not want to be there,” she recalls.
Courtney now realizes how she actually needed to be there. In addition to having to deal with inconsistent addresses and her parents having inconsistent paychecks, Courtney had endured a lot of bullying as a child.
“For one, because I am of mixed race, and then because of these,” Courtney says as she reveals severe burn scars covering her right shoulder, neck, upper chest and left leg that were the result of a pot of hot food falling on her when she was one.
What Courtney began to feel at the shelter’s after-school program was that she belonged.
“It was relaxing there,” Courtney recalls. “They wanted to have fun. No one knew I lived in a shelter.”
Friendships formed. Role models among the staff emerged. Courtney said she suspected most of the other kids likely had complicated lives like hers. “A lot of us had baggage, but the staff was down to earth. They weren’t judge-y at all.”
The after-school program offered opportunities she now knows were invaluable in her life – like the personal finances classes. That has helped Courtney figure out how to finance her college dream.
This fall, Courtney will start at Stephens College in Columbia to major in early childhood and elementary education. She has secured most of the funds she needs through scholarships and grants.
Courtney knows her experiences have shaped her. “It is very humbling and I think I am more open to being compassionate,” she says. “I try to always find the silver lining. I don’t like feeling sorry for myself.”