One of our HEMI Mentees, Kenny, recently graduated from Taft High School. In his interview he talks about some of the struggles he faced, how he overcame them, and his advice to others in similar situations. Kenny first got involved with HEMI about four years ago and shares a little bit about his academic path, and personal journey as a young man coming of age, and as a HEMI Mentee. Nationally, only about half of youth raised in foster care finish high school, and less than 3% graduate from a 4-year college. Read below to learn Kenny’s story of beating the odds!
What were some of the challenges you faced in high school?
“I was out of school for a long time, so when I finally came back, I started in 10th grade and failed almost everything. I didn’t have a support system, and had to take a lot of classes that I shouldn’t have been in. I moved around from foster home to foster home and no one really gave me a chance or believed in me; everyone doubted me. So it’s wasn’t just school, but my life was really hard too.”
How did you overcome these challenges and other obstacles?
“Really, it was by talking to my [HEMI] Mentor, Don. For a long time, I didn’t have anyone else to come to, to talk about things, you know? When you guys from HEMI first met with me at school to talk about HEMI, I wasn’t sure… I thought it was just another program that wouldn’t really do much for me. But Don has become the most important person in my life! Don always gives me the best advice. I ran away from one of my placements and Don and HEMI connected me to Ms. Cardwell. [Ming Cardwell runs a group home for young men.] She became like a mother to me, I even just wrote her a note for Mother’s Day. With her help, and Don by my side, things got so much better. So those connections HEMI has were so important to me. At first I wasn’t sure things with Don would even work out, but now I can’t imagine not having him in my life.”
What advice would you give to other HEMI mentees struggling to finish high school?
“They are always going to doubt that people like me can actually make it, but use that doubt to be determined to succeed. It can be hard to accept help, but you need a support team to get through life.”
How did your HEMI Mentor help you?
“HEMI helped me throughout my life; not just in school, but life in general, you know, growing up. Don taught me how to drive, how to invest and save. He taught me how to do math, taught me the importance of self-love, and he is a father figure in my life. I honestly don’t know where I would be today without Don in my life.”
What do you like most about working with your HEMI Mentor?
“Don is like always right. I made some stupid choices in my past, but he helped me get back on track. Life really started getting easier once I started listening to him and taking his advice on things. Don gives the best advice!”
What advice would you give to others about getting involved with HEMI?
“You have nothing to lose, so give it a shot! You can’t really lose anything, but you can gain everything!”
What are some of your plans for the future?
“A lot of people are congratulating on finishing, but honestly I think this is just the start of everything for me. There are a lot of things I want to study in college, I’m really good at business so something in IT, Communications, or Marketing would be cool. I’m going to be a millionaire one day and want to be able to help kids who are in similar situations like when I was growing up.”
Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?
“Getting involved with HEMI was the best! Connections are key in life and HEMI will be there for you when things are really hard or if you fail at something, but they are also there to keep you motivated and make sure you succeed. They won’t just give up on you, and everyone deserves to have someone like that in their life. I’m really grateful for Don and all of you guys at HEMI.”
Interview conducted by HEMI Program Specialist, Keith Schomaker, in May 2020.