They beat the odds:
Inspiring stories of youth who are giving back
Here are half a dozen stories of young people who became a part of SEI’s program and overcame obstacles, developed their plan and put it into action.
Rosalyn, Student Success Story
Rosalyn, an SEI student since the 6th grade was very shy and a self-conscious student. While she was a good student who stayed out of trouble she also struggled in certain academic areas such as math and science. Rosalyn was always hard on herself and it caused her to avoid opportunities. Through the encouragement from her high school coordinator, Rosalyn applied for the University of Oregon Scholarship through SEI. Rosalyn was in disbelief when she found out she had been awarded the scholarship and was a little concerned if she would be able to actually complete college. Instead of Rosalyn being excited about this opportunity, she became fearful of letting people down. Often times she would come home from school complaining she was going to give up. SEI, along with the support of her grandmother, were committed to standing alongside her to help her overcome her fears and doubt. The village that surrounded Rosalyn believed in her and convinced her to persevere. The first two years of college was very difficult for Rosalyn. She struggled academically and was constantly on academic warning. SEI provided extra support in the areas of academics by connecting Rosalyn with peer tutors, one of which was a fellow SEI student who also attends the U of O. With most of her family in Haiti and with little financial support from family, SEI was able to provide some resources for her to be successful on campus by purchasing her a laptop and providing employment opportunities at the Center for her during the breaks from school. By Rosalyn’s junior year in college everything seemed to turn around for her. She was given a job in the mailroom on campus and her grades vastly improved. She was also awarded a Pathways grant in addition to her University of Oregon Scholarship. Her fortitude and strength paid off! Rosalyn was beginning to feel and see success and was able to maintain a level of confidence. This was exactly what she needed to reach her potential that SEI has seen in her all along. Rosalyn has not looked back since and strives to do well both academically and socially. Rosalyn is now in her senior year and will be graduating this fall from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology.
Community and Family Program (CFP) Success Story
A youth was in foster care for approximately 10 years which involved him living with his grandma for approximately four years, and then in a variety placements, including shelter placements, as well as being in and out of residential programs. While he received mental health services along with services provided by a variety of other agencies these interventions resulted with minimal success. SEI was approached by the DHS caseworker to see if there was anything SEI could do to help him stabilize and SEI recommended working with the entire family, with the goal of him returning home. He was entered into our PCL FC program, as he attended Grant High School. He and his mom received clinical services and In-Home Safety and Reunification (ISRS) services from SEI’s Community and Family programs. Our In-School program coordinator did an excellent job engaging him, along with the In School team at Grant. SEI helped him get summer employment and have been able to keep him from being kicked out of school. Once this youth was able to move home, SEI worked with DHS to allow him to be able to stay home and support his mom by developing a plan of how she can successfully parent him and keep him out of trouble. SEI was also able to help the family relocate to a larger apartment, so he would have his own room, and helped to advocate having child support payments reduce, to help with their overall financial stability.
Sierra, Student Success Story
Sierra struggled tremendously throughout high school at Grant. Not only did she struggle academically but she struggled behaviorally and socially. Sierra would often let social distractions get in the way of her responsibilities at school. Mid-year, Sierra was jumped by a group of kids causing her to have brain surgery and was kept in the hospital for weeks. As a result, she was so behind in credits that she had to enroll in LEAP Alternative School in order to graduate with her class. Her SEI coordinator worked with her daily to make sure she was in school every day, even if it meant picking her up in the mornings to get her to school. Her coordinator also remained consistent in making sure Sierra was completing her school assignments and staying focused socially. Sierra realized the mistakes she made and how it had affected her. She was determined and did whatever it took to graduate on time. Sierra’s hard work did pay off. Not only did she graduate on time with her class, but she has enrolled into Portland Community College, majoring in General Studies, with the hopes to transfer to the University of Oregon in two years. Sierra’s entire attitude and passion for life has changed because she reached her goal of graduating on time with her peers. Sierra is on track at PCC and is very excited about school.
The Lincoln Family
“Because of SEI, we all became something better than what people expected of us.”
The three Lincoln siblings (counter-clockwise from left: LaToya; Curtis; and Taylon) didn’t get many breaks in their young lives. Their father died before most of them were old enough to remember much about him. Their mother abandoned them for five years, calling only once – on LaToya’s 16th birthday. Their oldest brother was in jail. But LaToya declares for all them, “We don’t make any excuses. Excuses never change anything, you do.”
The siblings were able to stay together with their aunt and uncle, while SEI became their “home away from home” and helped keep them focused. LaToya recounts her SEI Coordinator’s encouragement that kept her from dropping out of Jefferson High School after her mother left, “She taught me to strive to do your best, no matter what you’re going through.” Curtis and Jovan (not pictured) remember their Coordinator’s commitment to keep them from going down the same path as their oldest brother, helping both brothers stay off the streets and earn basketball scholarships to college. Taylon, the youngest, recalls struggling on the track team, receiving constant support from her Coordinator as he explained that hard work would pay off. Taylon took his advice and earned a track scholarship to Concordia University.
LaToya sums it up, “With SEI on our side, we had the confidence and the support to make it.” Curtis agrees, “Because of SEI, we all became something better than what people expected of us.”
“SEI emphasizes that you need to give back…”
Harlem Globetrotter Michael Lee recently returned to Portland after a tour and took a drive through his old neighborhood. When he spotted the “Save Jefferson” signs he knew he had to do something.
Michael’s 12 years with SEI set the stage for his reaction. “SEI emphasizes that you need to give back. I knew I needed to perpetuate that cycle because I appreciated all those people who helped me so much—we’re all tied together.”
Back in 2000, Michael was part of the Jefferson Demos basketball team that won the state championship, “In some way, every player on our team had a connection to SEI. We were a team on and off the court. Everyone at SEI was expecting us to WIN that game.” The victory party was at SEI, and it became a celebration for the entire community. So this summer Michael called his former SEI classmates Aaron Miles and Wendell Raiford to brainstorm a fundraising event to support programs at Jefferson. In early August they put on the Celebration Ball for the Jefferson Community.
“As Jeff goes, so goes the community. We’re at a point where through our resources and knowledge, we can help. We just want to get the love back in Jeff.”
“In SEI, I realized that I could choose my own path…”
As always, when Shereen Sherman spoke in front of the school board this spring, she was prepared. As Student Body President of Jefferson High School, she felt it was her obligation to help the board understand the problems that other students were afraid to talk about.
Shereen drew upon her first days as a tutor at SEI, when she realized that some new students could recite the SEI Standards, but couldn’t read them. She told the board that many of her peers were preoccupied when they came to school, “If home is your foundation, and it’s not a stable place, then academics don’t apply because you’re only thinking about survival.”
Thanks to a strong family and the early support of SEI, Shereen never had the worries of her peers. She excelled in the academic enrichment of SEI’s after-school programs and skipped fifth grade to eventually become Valedictorian at Jefferson and earn a full scholarship to George Fox University. SEI constantly reinforced her, “I realized that I could choose my own path. I never wanted to settle for less.”
Shereen worked as an intern for Portland Tissue Processing Laboratories, and at George Fox she studies biology, and ultimately wants to go to medical school and explore the complex issues of stem cell research.
James Jerrod Batson
“SEI helped James’ dream take flight…”
When James Jerrod Batson was a third grader, SEI took him to Portland International Airport to see President George Bush. As he stood at the rope line and held out his hand to shake the president’s, James blurted out, “Could I have a sleepover at the White House?”
The President laughed and invited him to pose for a photo in his limo. While sitting inside the president’s limo was thrilling, what came after was prophetic.
When James returned to his SEI classmates, he looked up into the sky as two fighter jets soared off with Air Force One. In that instant he knew he wanted to be a pilot. James’ dream resurfaced again on career day at his middle school, when SEI volunteers Sue and Ed Cooley came to talk about their flight school. SEI continuously taught him that no matter what your background is, if you dream it, you can achieve it.
So James went home that day, sat down with his mother and strategized a plan to become a pilot. SEI backed James’ dream, and the Cooleys made his dream a reality, giving James a full scholarship to Hillsboro Aviation’s Flight School. He graduated from PSU with a degree in Japanese, got his pilot’s license and plans to apply to a fighter squadron of the USAir Force. And he hopes to someday pilot an F15 Eagle out in front of Air Force One.
Emerald Armstrong Mitchell
“SEI was always there to help me.”
When Emerald Armstrong Mitchell was cut from the Jefferson High cheerleading squad for excessive tardiness, she turned it around and founded a dance-style Pep Squad for half-time shows at basketball games. This success of creating something out of nothing changed her life.
In her junior year at Fisk University, Emerald created Moves and Grooves, an enrichment program for inner city children in Nashville, Tennessee. “I established the program as a non-profit and wrote 20 grants that first summer. I got $1,200.00 for a six-week program that served 25 kids! I see myself in each and every one of them. I see that need for a guiding light — someone to believe in you and love you. That’s what I thank SEI for — like my SEI coordinator, Troy Hollis — he spotted me walking my younger brother to preschool every morning, which often made me late for school. Troy arranged a ride for me. Sometimes it’s just the smallest things.”
For Emerald the smallest things added up to a big difference in her life. “SEI was always there to help me.” Her SEI Coordinator helped her with the speech that sealed her place as Jefferson’s Ambassador to the Rose Festival Court, SEI hired her as a dance teacher in their summer program; and SEI CEO Tony Hopson gave her sound advice in founding her Nashville program. Emerald is happy to pass along the gifts she has received. “SEI has done so much for me; it’s easy for me to encourage others.”
Michael Elliott Callier
“At SEI, ‘Life has Options’ is more than a slogan.”
As Tonkon Torp attorney Michael Elliott Callier looks out on Portland from his downtown office, he can literally see the distance he’s come since he was a teenager wrestling with his future. At age 15, Michael was in a “make or break” stage of his life when his Aunt Mary Etta introduced him to SEI. He had just moved to Portland and was trying to get his bearings.
He knew he wanted to be a lawyer but wasn’t sure if that dream was truly a possibility. SEI became the extended family he needed for success. The SEI coordinators at Jefferson High School showed him the path, gave him continuous encouragement, and helped him navigate the SAT and college application process.
“I learned that by behaving and achieving at a level that allows you to have options, you gain control over your life,” he says. “It’s not just about positioning yourself – it’s about gaining and maintaining confidence that you can achieve your goals.”
That confidence served him well as a player for the University of Oregon football team and an extern for the Honorable Lyle C. Velure and Federal Judge Anne Aiken, mentors he fondly considers “surrogate legal parents.” At the end of a busy day practicing law, Michael often sees children he taught during summers at SEI. He is proud to be a positive influence in their young lives, and to continue contributing to what he calls SEI’s “culture of success” by volunteering. “Life has options is more than a slogan,” he says. “SEI makes it a way of life.”