Rayanne was barely 16 when her mom’s alcoholism finally got so out of control that she couldn’t take care of her kids or herself. It was a shock to Rayanne, who had no idea her mom was drinking.
“When we talked about it later, she told me it started around when I was little, but my brother and me and my grandma, we never knew.”
Rayanne's mom had had both of her kids as a teenager and dropped out of high school. She had been struggling ever since to raise and support them as a single mom with no education or professional skills. Money was always a problem, and even though they had a close extended family, none of their relatives were in a financial position to help out. She couldn't handle the strain and her secret drinking started when Rayanne was about five years old.
“She must have hid it really well,” Rayanne said, “but then everything just started falling apart.”
Rayanne and her little brother had to move in with their grandparents. Rayanne didn’t want to be a burden, so she started looking for a job to help out with expenses. At first, she got nowhere.
“Nobody would even consider me, because I had no work experience,” she said. “I tried for months.”
Then she found an ad on Craigslist for Idaho Youth Ranch’s YOUTHWORKS! program. It sounded like just the kind of help she needed, but after months of being turned down, she hesitated, afraid to reach for something and get rejected again. “I was so shy then," she said. "It took a lot of courage for me to apply and to ask for help,” she said. “But once I did it was so worth it!”
In Rayanne’s YOUTHWORKS! application essay, she told us she’d be graduating from high school next January, even though she is only 16, thanks to hard work and careful planning. She also explained why it was so important to her to get into the program.
“I am graduating two years early and I have a lot to show for it. When I graduate next semester, I will be the first in my family to complete high school, and also the first to go to college. I will also be the first in six generations not to be pregnant at an early age (15-16). Recently my mother has fallen into alcohol addiction and my brother and I are living with my grandparents. I don’t want to feel like a leech, and I know I'm not, but I’m trying to get a job to help support us while we’re here. I also want to save up for life expenses like a car and college tuition. I’ve been trying for a few months now to get a job but I’ve had no luck. I believe that having some experience under my belt will make the difference.”
Rayanne’s application went on to map out her college career in detail--all 14 years of it(!). She has researched exactly which universities to attend in which order for the best education and the best scholarship opportunities. It starts at a local university for her general credits, then on to eastern Idaho for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and then on to medical school in Oregon to become a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.).
Rayanne’s ultimate goal once she becomes a D.O. is to join the Peace Corp to help people in developing countries improve their lives and health. “I want to make a good life for myself, and for my family,” she said, "but I also want to make the world better."
She decided to become a medical professional because she is naturally drawn to helping people and fascinated by how medicine works.
“This might sound weird, but I’m not really grossed out by blood or stitches like most people,” she said. “About a year ago, my little brother fell off a trampoline and cut his forehead open. I ran to take care of him and was cleaning him up and calming him down when I noticed that I was not squeamish at all. We were both all bloody and he was screaming and stuff, but I was calm. I was only thinking about what I needed to do to make it better. I wasn’t freaking out,” she said. “That’s when I realized- hey, this is for me.”
So Rayanne had a plan and a dream—but what she needed most urgently to get it all rolling was a job.
Through the YOUTHWORKS! comprehensive workshops, Rayanne learned how to create a resume, how to apply for a job, and how to ace an interview with confidence. She also learned about workplace communication and protocols and what to expect once she did get a job. All this was new information for Rayanne. Even though she was obviously a diligent student and a hard worker, she had had a tough life and knew nothing about workplace etiquette or how to be friendly but professional with customers. In fact, when she first came into the program, she was pretty rough around the edges.
But that didn’t last long. Rayanne learned fast and put her new skills into action. Before even completing the program, she found a full-time position at a retail store.
“This time, I walked in and they practically hired me in the spot,” she said, “because I knew how to present myself and I had experience.”
What’s more, her training in customer service skills meant that she could be productive even on her first day at work. She credits the hands-on training at IYR thrift stores (a big part of the YOUTHWORKS! curriculum) for that. The store staff pushed her to move out of her comfort zone and practice working at the cash registers.
“Without the YOUTHWORKS! training, it would have taken me a long time, maybe six weeks, to get trained and up to speed. Thanks to what I learned in the thrift stores, I was good from day one.”
Rayanne’s store is part of a national chain, so there are opportunities for moving up. Her employer is willing to work around her school schedule and put her on part-time hours when classes start in the fall. The store is also in her grandma's neighborhood, so transportation won’t be a problem.
Rayanne is excited about finishing her last semester and graduating. She loves the satisfaction of going to work every day and feeling like part of a team. She’s relieved to be able to help support her family and glad her mom is getting help and getting better. But most of all, she’s happy to be one big step closer to her dream.