Newt Gingrich, the spawn of Ebeneezer Scrooge and The Grinch, notoriously suggested poor children should work as janitors cleaning up after their classmates, in order that they learn work habits. Well, from North Carolina comes the story of one girl who had to do so in order to survive.
Dawn Loggins and her brother Shane grew up in a rundown house with no electricity or running water. They had to bring water back in jugs from a public park for cooking and cleaning and sometimes wouldn't bathe for weeks. One of Dawn's school supervisors took note and provided candles so Dawn could do her homework after dark. She also let the two of them use the school's washing machine and showers for their personal hygiene.
Last June, Dawn came home from a summer student program only to find an eviction notice on the front door and no sign of her parents.
Last summer, Dawn was invited to attend a prestigious six-week residential summer program, the Governor's School of North Carolina, at Meredith College in Raleigh, 200 miles east of Lawndale, to study natural science. It was a field Dawn had never studied before.Dawn was abandoned. She was homeless.
The program is reserved for the state's top students.
As she prepared to leave the summer program, she kept calling her parents' phone, only to learn it had been disconnected. Putnam picked her up and brought her back to Lawndale.
"When I returned, my grandmother had been dropped off at a local homeless shelter, my brother had just left, and my parents had just gone," she says. "I found out later they had moved to Tennessee."
The staff of her high school pulled together and gave her a place to live. They also contributed to a fund to pay her expenses and gave her a job as a custodian.
So the community and Burns staff became her family.She spent her senior year like any typical high-achieving student (plus a janitor's job of course, taking away time from studying) and applying to college. Other than being homeless and working as a janitor her applications probably resembled most other students', full of extra-curricular activities.
Sheryl Kolton, a custodian and bus driver for Burns Middle School, had met Dawn before and knew her but not well. "The counselor at the high school just called me one day and asked me if Dawn could come live here," Kolton says.A few days later, she and her husband, Norm, agreed.
With a roof over her head and the contributions of Burns staff to supplement the Koltons' income needed to house and feed a growing teenager, Dawn was seemingly in a stable environment.
"Honestly it was kind of a relief," she says. "I mean, I have a place to stay, and I have a job, and I'm going to school."
Dawn didn't let her situation stop her drive to be successful. As a senior, she participated in typical high-school extracurricular activities at Burns: band club, photography club, cross-country and National Honor Society. She also started a program collecting letters for active military troops and worked as a janitor at Burns to earn extra money — all while making straight A's.Dawn was accepted to all four North Carolina colleges she applied to, receiving the fat package that indicates an acceptance from each one. She also applied to a 'dream college', Harvard University. She had already received all the other acceptance letters without hearing from Harvard. One day she got a thin, business sized envelope from them and was ready for the inevitable disappointment. She opened the letter to find out it was an early acceptance notice, reserved for the best of the applicants. Her teachers again pulled together and funded a visit to Harvard's campus, so she could decide if she wanted to go there. Meaning, Harvard had accepted her without even the customary student/parent interview. And she already has plans on how to help others in similar situations.
On top of being accepted, Dawn received a full scholarship to attend.
CNN wrote that since Dawn's story it has circulated worldwide and people have sent encouragement and money to the teen. Dawn doesn't want the money for herself, though.
"When I get to college, I can work for what I need. And I know my future is going to be great," she told CNN.
Dawn hopes to start an organization to help other students with similar barriers in continuing their education.
This is indeed a feel-good success story, none of which would have happened without the individual efforts of Dawn's teachers, administrators and counselors. These individuals working on public salaries must have had to reach to be able to help. But how many children can individuals like them help, reaching into their own pockets? It is indeed notable because of its exceptionalism and the determination of one young girl. But it is also an indication of the failing of social services and the safety net which should have provided for these children but didn't. No child should have to go to a public park to get water to flush the toilet or go for weeks or months without bathing or washing their clothes. Not in an industrialized, richest in the world country! This should never have happened. Dawn should have been able to do her studies, illuminated by electricity, unencumbered by the uncertainty of not knowing whether she would have a roof over her head. And the 1% dares whine about uncertainty!
What about the thousands and thousands of children in similar situations? What about less bright students, or average ones - how are they supposed to succeed in their studies if they need to take time away from them to work and 'develop work habits' ? Is this what Newt Gingrich really thinks is a model we should be following?
There is a contact address for people who wish to help - I'm sure Newt will be one of the first.
If you would like to donate to this effort or send Dawn well-wishes, mail them to:
Burns High School/Dawn Loggins Fund
307 East Stagecoach Trail
Lawndale, NC 28090