Former homeless dropout turns life around

September 29, 2009 8:15:44 AM PDT
Every year, Houston Independent School District officials go door-to-door to keep kids in school. When you hear about high school dropouts, you might assume drugs, gangs or a lack of interest in school are to blame. However, HISD says the economy is taking its toll, causing even highly motivated students to drop out because they are homeless. Eyewitness News takes a closer look at how one homeless teen found hope and a way to back to school.

Wheatley High School senior Daederick Ford doesn't let anything get in his way on or off the field.

"I just don't want to be a nobody. I want an education," he said.

Daederick's coach says his dream of playing college ball at Texas Tech will likely come true.

"Daederick is one of those kids you tell him one time and he's gonna do it," said Cornelius McFarland, Wheatley High School's head football coach. "If I had 11 like him, they'd all be on the field with him."

Just six months ago, Daederick's life was very different. He was living in a park on Houston's south side, and sleeping under a basketball pavilion.

"Any place I could stay, I was trying to get in," Daederick said.

When his grandfather could no longer afford to support him, he ended up homeless and dropped out of school. A TV news story about HISD's dropout prevention program made him change his mind.

"I'm a smart student and I wouldn't want to just throw it all away," Daederick said.

HISD Dropout Prevention Specialist Craig Zeno starting working with Daederick. Zeno was also once a high school dropout.

"I was told that I had three choices in life: to be on drugs, dead or in jail, and I beat all three," said Zeno.

Growing up in public housing prepared him for what he sees on the job.

"I see them struggling, being evicted, lights are being turned off, not having enough to eat," Zeno said.

Since the economy took a dive, he's seen a spike in the number of kids dropping out because they are homeless.

"I've never seen it this bad before," said Zeno.

He's working with 10 homeless teens right now, and by mid-year he expects to have 50. But Zeno says the long hours at work pay off when he sees a kid like Daederick smile.

"They did a lot for me. I didn't have a backpack and they gave me a backpack. They made sure I had food," said Daederick.

Thanks to HISD's dropout prevention program, Daederick is living with a friend. He has a job at a McDonald's near school, money from the Fifth Ward Church of Christ and college counseling.

"He has been the most active participant in his own success, which is something that is not very common," said College Access Coordinator Mansoor Mahmood.

Daederick says he wants other teens who are struggling financially to know that with just a little help, they too can make it to the end zone.

"I feel like it's a blessing, you know, like to be in a bad situation and for somebody to help you out. Just the fact that they try, it makes me want to try even harder," said Daederick.

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