Paying it Forward after Beating the Odds
Marian Wright Edelman | 11/7/2012, 1:26 p.m.
Maggie Hobbins is just a senior in high school, but she already knows a lot about making it through a bad situation. She has struggled with a learning disability since first grade and spent years in special education classes. Other students bullied her because she couldn't read well or afford brand name clothes. Challenges in school were hard, but challenges at home were even worse. Her alcoholic mother was emotionally absent for much of her childhood, and her father, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, had many health problems that often made it difficult for him to work. When her family became homeless after he lost his job, they moved into a camper on a friend's property. What they hoped would be a temporary solution lasted two years.
When Maggie was 9 years old, her parents finally found an affordable house to rent and things seemed as if they might be looking up at last. But just a few months later, her father collapsed and died of a massive heart attack. For the next two years her mother sank into such a deep depression worsened by the drinking that she rarely got out of bed and Maggie was essentially left to raise herself.
She got herself to school on her own, took care of the house, and was the one to make sure her mother ate and bathed. She looks back at that period as the "dark days" of her life. But even then Maggie showed an extraordinary resilience far beyond her years: "You can't just sit there and be like, 'Oh, poor me. My dad's dead. My mom is depressed and she's a drunk and she's not there for me,' or, 'I'm dyslexic and I can't read as well as other people . . .' So why not push myself further and change myself--because other people can't change you; you have to change yourself."
Maggie kept pushing herself - and her positive spirit and belief in herself paid off. After an intervention from Child Protective Services, Maggie's mother finally got some of the help she needed and was able to keep custody of Maggie. When Maggie was in sixth grade, a caring landlord and mentor offered her $100 if she made the honor roll all four quarters of the school year. Maggie was already a determined and serious student despite her learning disabilities and troubles at home, and this generous promise gave her just the extra incentive she needed. She made the honor roll every quarter that year and every quarter since.
Maggie's inspiring story has made her one of this year's Washington, D.C.-area winners of the Children's Defense Fund's Beat the Oddsscholarship awards, given each year to high school seniors in eight cities who have overcome tremendous adversity. For more than 20 years, the Beat the Odds program has supported more than 700 students. This leadership development program provides each recipient a $10,000 scholarship, laptop computer, guidance through the college admission process, and an invitation to join CDF's servant leadership training programs. It also allows young people like Maggie to serve as role models for others, and for Maggie, this is one way of paying her own success forward.