Calvin sounds like a typical, if overachieving, college-bound freshman. He graduated last spring with a prestigious four-year Rotary scholarship. He was the captain of his soccer team and counts meeting the owner of the Seattle Storm as one of the highlights of his year. But college, and even high school, were not always in Calvin’s future. He came to the United States from the West African nation of Liberia when he was 14, having never set foot inside a classroom. Living with his aunt, his only family in the U.S., he struggled to adapt.
It was not an easy transition. After a few years, he tells us, “I was falling off the track. I was not doing good in school. I was not doing good in life, period.” He ended up spending about two years on the streets, running with the wrong crowd — but knowing that he needed to change his life. One day, he came to the James W. Ray Orion Center, YouthCare’s drop-in facility for homeless youth, and that was the turning point. “I got hooked up with case management, and they worked so hard, they helped me get on my feet.”
Calvin landed a spot in Passages, YouthCare’s transitional living program for 18-21-year-olds, and enrolled in the Orion Interagency Academy. The Orion classroom was a welcome change from traditional high school: there, he found the one-on-one attention he needed to learn. Calvin also notes that having the support of Passages staff was crucial to getting his diploma.
“My whole life, I was told you can’t do it [finish high school]. But when I moved to Passages, I got all these great staff, these people who pushed me. All these little pushes actually helped me overcome my barriers.”
Passages staff are quick to credit Calvin’s own “positive attitude, dedication, motivation, and unbridled exuberance.” He has certainly demonstrated a knack for multitasking: in between school and Passages, Calvin found time to enroll in three employment training programs and become the captain of his local soccer team. This past May, he flew to DC to compete in, and help the YouthCare team win, the National Street Soccer Championships. He loves having all these influences: “YouthBuild taught me how to be a leader. Soccer taught me how to be patient and how to work as a team. Everywhere I go, I learn a little bit.”
Calvin was eager to share his new-found enthusiasm with his fellow residents. Heather, the Passages House Coordinator, remembers him encouraging his fellow residents to volunteer. Of course, volunteering wasn’t just a rewarding experience in itself. Calvin was able to fill out his resume, and, as a result, started getting more calls in his job search. It also helped shape him as a person. As Heather notes, Calvin is “a leader, one who’s solution based, who brings a positive spirit to his peers. That’s a running theme he’ll take with him to college.”
The young man who never believed he would finish high school will now be the first in his family to go to college, and he’s ready. “The first two weeks I might be nervous,” he tells us, “but I’ll get it.” He wants to study criminal justice because he believes that “in order to change something, you have to be in it.” After helping him land on his feet, we’re confident that Calvin’s exuberance, dedication, and motivation — along with the education, employment, and life and relationship skills he gained at YouthCare — will pave the way for his success.