“When we first moved to Cheyenne, we had to live in a homeless shelter. We’d been homeless before that too,” explains Karina.
“My mom has had a very hard life. Sometimes she would work until 5:00 in the morning at the beef plant. Her last husband was abusive and would cheat on her.”
“I started to do drugs. I was around 11 years old. By the time he left, I was 13 and addicted to methamphetamine. It was really bad.”
Karina remembers that, through all of it, her mom never gave up on her. “I would leave for days. My mom always looked for me. She would stay awake and see if I would come home. When I did, she helped me come down. Then, I’d leave again.”
“I even went to jail. It was horrible.”
Eventually, Karina’s mom was able to persuade her to go into rehab. “I don’t even remember the first two months because I was so strung out. But I’ve been sober for three years now.”
Determined not to give up
Karina’s mom never gave up on her, and she didn’t want to give up on herself either.
“I don’t even know how much class I missed. I didn’t know where to put a comma in a sentence or how to study. There was one point senior year where I had three Fs. I was still missing class because I didn’t have gas money to get to school, or I was too tired after work to do my homework.”
“But I knew I was smart and I knew I had to keep trying. I asked my teachers for help and was able to turn those three Fs into two Cs and a B.”
Karina’s counselor, Ms. Sackrider, hadn’t given up on her either. “She told me I had to go to college. She half-jokingly said, ‘I will hunt you down and you will go to college.’ And she did. She called me out of class to her office and told me about the FAFSA and the money I could get.”
Getting money for college
Karina remembers walking into Ms. Sackrider’s office. “I was super nervous. But she was so nice and answered all my questions. I felt like she was actually helping me.”
“I thought, ‘Karina, you know if you walk in that office it could change your life forever. And you will never know unless you try.”
“She took me step by step through the FAFSA and we filled it out together. Early on, one of the questions was whether I’d ever been homeless. I clicked ‘yes.’ Then she said I didn’t have to fill out anything about my parents because of that. There were fewer questions. It only took us a few minutes.”
“I’d thought it was going to be harder. You see kids where their parents have been preparing them their whole lives for college. I freak out with stuff like this, so I probably wouldn’t have done the FAFSA if we hadn’t done it together.”
Karina hadn’t been sure she wanted to go to college because of how behind she’d fallen in school. But after filling out the FAFSA, she felt differently.
“When I saw I was eligible for enough money to pay for school, I was like, this is my purpose. I want to be successful so I can help myself and my mom. I want to be successful enough to help other people.”
Karina’s advice: You don’t have to be perfect
Before she went into her counselor’s office, Karina remembers thinking: “‘Karina, you know if you walk in that office it could change your life forever. And you will never know unless you try.’ You get that gut feeling that tells you when something is wrong or something is right.”
Even if someone doesn’t have supportive teachers or counselors, they shouldn’t give up, she says.
“Honestly, for kids that are having a hard time, it makes you feel like you shouldn’t even try. There are always going to be people who don’t know your situation. You aren’t going to tell everyone your life story. You have to believe in yourself. I realized that I’m not going to be perfect at everything, but neither is everyone else.”
“You should try to be greater than you think you can be. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.”
Karina will be attending Laramie County Community College and pursuing a degree in nursing. She hopes to become a motivational speaker one day, too.