When you ask Tatiyanna about her future, she sounds like a typical high-achieving high school student: playful, optimistic and dreaming big. “I either want to be a lawyer or a chemical engineer,” she says. “I’m still deciding.” This soon-to-be senior made honor roll every quarter lastyear, and her schedule next year is packed with advanced placement classes.
But she wasn’t always the well-adjusted student that she is today. When Tatiyanna was in 8th grade, her grandmother – her legal guardian – went through a divorce, forcing the family out of their longtime home. They eventually ended up in a DC homeless shelter.
“Coming from a house where you sleep in your own bed, and then to have to sleep on someone’s sofa, or in a basement or a cold shelter,” she remembers, “it was really uncomfortable.”
Fortunately, her grandmother moved the family quickly out of shelter into a stable apartment through Community of Hope, but all that instability had already taken its toll: Tatiyanna’s 9th grade report card was full of D’s and F’s. That’s when the family’s COH case manager sat her down and said, “Something is not working; you have the intelligence to succeed, so prove it.”
And Tatiyanna did. “You can’t be a lawyer or a chemical engineer with bad grades,” she says with a smile. Two years later, she is getting almost straight A’s, and she’s building her resume with a job through DC’s youth summer employment program.
“It’s real work experience,” she explains. She works on a team at a local community center, maintaining a community garden and cleaning up litter. “I like it because I get to give back to the community,” she says. “And I’m learning how to deal with different kinds of people. I think that’s good experience.” The paycheck is nice, too. She plans to buy her uniforms, gym clothes and school supplies – and then do some fun shopping.
What comes next for Tatiyanna? She plans to spend her senior year focusing on her next big goal: getting into college. “You can just work a 9-5,” she comments,“but if you don’t go to college and go make something of yourself, what is the world going to remember you by?”
Homelessness almost got Tatiyanna off track, but with a stable place to call home and some role models along the way, she is stronger than ever. “I’m a million bucks, you know,” she beams, “and I’m going to make my mark on the world.”