In the US, less than 2% of teen moms graduate from college. This means that out of 62,029 children who are in foster care, only 1,300 of them will earn a college degree. This is the story of Cheyenne Rogers, a teen mother and foster youth that defied all odds by earning two college degrees, even though her unique situation of not having a successful adoption could have held her back.
Here is her story ...
It’s cold and raining. At 15 years old, I’m without parents on the street because I had run away from my adopted parents two years ago. They took me in when I was 7, and I could sense that something was wrong with the way they were treating me. There were beatings and yelling pretty often, so after I got a little older, I decided that I had had enough. I didn’t know where to go, but knew I had to leave. So I did: back onto the street, back to not knowing when I would eat next or how, because it was the only thing I knew.
But it’s ok now. I’m actually sitting at my desk at a law firm called Alliance for Children’s Rights. I’m a Legal Assistant in the Transition-Age Youth Program. I help transitional youth (youth to adulthood) with things that they wouldn’t know about, like getting a driving record cleared up or reopening foster care cases and connecting youth with housing programs. I’m glad I have this job because I get to help kids that have the same problems I had.
At 16 years old and pregnant, I was rescued and brought to a home for other women like me. It’s still there - Saint Anne’s Maternity Home. Inside, you could tell that many of us had passed through there because it had this worn look to it - not broken and dreary, but just…lived in. And there wasn’t really a feeling of permanence there like a forever home or anything. Most of us only lived there for a few years and had to move on. There was the usual amount of disagreements and conflict, what you could expect for any group of people living together in less than awesome life circumstances.
Life was routine and stable. Sometimes I would visit my biological uncle, Uncle Mike, who was a lawyer in Beverly Hills.
It was weird. At 11am, I’d be at St. Anne’s, and at 12:30 I’d be in this neighborhood with streets that had no potholes in them, houses that were big, green grass all around them, and just clean. Like new clean. Uncle Mike would take me to lunch, and we would go to a normal-for-Beverly-Hills-restaurant, and it was so different than what I was used to. I didn't feel jealous so much as surprised that there was this whole other world beyond what I knew. Somehow, I knew that I needed to change my narrative.
I would go back to St. Anne’s and see Layla again, see the same drab walls, and one time I walked past a room where the admins and case workers were having a meeting. They were talking around a chart that showed graphs and numbers. It made me think of being a statistic, and how Layla would be a worse statistic - being the child of a foster mom - and something clicked in me.
I had this feeling of non-acceptance, like this was not going to happen to me or Layla. I decided I would do whatever was needed to change that. So Lauren, one of the people in my support network, was a CASA [court-appointed special advocate]. She helped me apply for college (I needed a campus experience where I could take care of Layla), the FAFSA, and ultimately, I found the DeBolt Scholarship offered through Lilliput Families. I didn’t even think I qualified because of my adoption status, but she encouraged me to apply anyway. It turned out that I received it that year!
It was a good thing, too. There was this little time window between when I had to leave St. Anne’s and start school, when I didn’t have any support or anywhere to go. The Scholarship came in right before that, so it literally closed that financial gap for me. Without it, I’m not sure things would have worked out as well.
Four years later, I can show that I went to college, earned two degrees and was able to get a job after I graduated. I’ve been working since August of 2018. One night, I was invited to a fund raising reception and brought Layla with me. She’s in 2nd grade now and it was a big deal for the both of us to get dressed up for the occasion. There were cheese platters, hors'devours, skirted tables, and gorgeous silverware and wine glasses. There was even live music. Layla loved the music. I remember talking with a colleague and watching her as she enjoyed herself.
And it was in that moment, when I looked at my little girl, who was lost in the music, eating cheese and dancing without a care, that I knew I was doing something right. I knew that against all odds, I was doing my job as the mother I had always wanted to be. That Layla would never know the feeling of homelessness or destitution. She had been freed from the cycle I worked so hard for us to break. That night, she showed me without knowing that I had changed the narrative.
I framed my degrees and put them up in the office. One’s a Bachelors' in Political Science. One’s a Bachelors' in Public Policy. I’m putting in my Legal Assistant hours here and going to law school when that’s complete. This job is tough, sure - but not as ‘rigorous’ as it was juggling a full course load, full time work, and a growing daughter. Sometimes people ask me how I got through all of it, you know, like how I dealt with my doubts or life’s challenges.
All I can say is that when you’re out there, changing your narrative,beating the odds, there really isn’t time for that negative stuff. There is only forward motion.