Grace* was 10 years old when her father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2006, a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting movement, sensation and bodily functions. Her mother was an alcoholic who was seldom home. As a result, Grace, the oldest of four children, cooked, cleaned and cared for her younger siblings. Two years later, they were placed in foster care due to their mother's drinking problem but her parents regained custody late in 2009.
Soon after their arrival back home, Grace's mother began drinking again, despite receiving help from several counsellors and services. When she was a high school freshman in 2010, Grace found it hard to fit in with the popular crowd due to her family background so she sought refuge by joining a group of students who enjoyed partying.
Grace stopped going to school regularly, dropping by only once or twice a week and partied hard throughout her first year of high school. An incident of alcohol poisoning at the end of her freshman year brought Grace back to her senses. She has since stopped drinking after seeing how it ruined her family and nearly destroyed her life.
Despite staying away from alcohol, Grace was still doing badly in school. She missed out on most of her sophomore year and became pregnant with her son when she was a junior. While pregnant, an instructor tutored her at home. Gradually, her grades improved and she was finally doing well.
After the birth of her son in 2013, Grace wanted to remain at home and care for him instead of returning to school to resume her classes. Michelle, a Catholic Charities Preventive Services counselor who was working with the family, told Grace she could do better in life and stressed the importance of not letting herself down. It finally became clear to Grace that without a diploma, her only options were fast food joints and other minimum wage jobs.
Filled with determination, Grace researched on possible careers before coming across Neonatology, a medical profession that cares for newborn infants, especially those who are ill or premature. Also, she reached out to Catholic Charities' Education and Workforce Department for help to obtain her High School Equivalency (HSE).
"Getting my HSE was one of the most important things I have done in a while," said Grace. "It boosted my confidence."
Mark Herr, Grace's educator from the Education and Workforce Department, said, "Grace is hardworking, exuberant and very determined. When she first came to class, she had a goal and told me about it. She also told me her background story and did everything she had set out to accomplish." Mark offered to help with Grace's college applications after she received her diploma.
Grace said, "I definitely feel like my education is important to them as they did not just help me prepare for the test and move on from me."
Currently, the 18-year-old is working full-time at Sister's Hospital as a housekeeper in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and plans to enroll at Trocaire College to become a neonatal nurse.
"I hope to continue on the path I am on and am so thankful to have such great support from everyone," she said.
*Individual's name has been changed to protect her identity.