Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” It’s a question then-17-year-old Arieana, from Cunningham’s Transitional Living (TL) program, was proud to answer in her essay as part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Living the Dream” Scholarship application.
“As an individual, I contribute to Dr. Martin Luther King’s, ‘Living the Dream’ speech by demonstrating leadership, serving humanity, working for justice, and excelling academically,” Arieana wrote in her essay. “I demonstrate these characteristics through organizations, clubs, and activities in my school and community as a way to help others and make a profound change.”
The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Advocacy for Justice Committee awards scholarships annually to high school seniors who display need and excel academically. Each student receives a $1,000 scholarship for each of the four years they attend college. Arieana was also the recipient of the Herb Stevens Memorial Scholarship for Overcoming Adversity and attended the 34th Annual Unity Breakfast at Vineyard Church in Urbana where she read her essay.
Three years ago, Arieana’s life looked much different than it does today. After learning she wouldn’t be able to return to her biological mother, she was crushed and heartbroken. At the time, Arieana received services from Cunningham Children’s Home through our Foster Care Program. Her foster mother loved and cared for her deeply, but Arieana refused to live with a family that wasn’t her biological family.
Arieana started reverting back to unsafe behaviors and spiraling out of control. She admits she had hit rock bottom. So, in order for Arieana to be in a safe environment, her caseworker placed her into a residential
group home in Southern Illinois.
“I was consistently on run, fighting, smoking weed, doing anything and everything I could do to not succeed,” she said.
Arieana had been in the state’s care for seven years, many times feeling hopeless and like an outcast. She knew it would be hard to change her behaviors and was not sure she was ready to make those changes. But Arieana was certain about something else too. She wanted happiness and a sense of belonging for herself.
In the winter of 2015, Arieana made the decision to stop running and fighting and changed her outlook and behaviors. She sought assistance through her residential caseworker and therapist and gradual changes began to happen. In 2018, Arieana felt it was time to spread her wings but wasn’t able to find a stable home suited to her liking. Eventually, she found her way back to Cunningham as part of the TL program.
“At first I was wary,” Arieana said, “but I knew Cunningham had helped me a lot before so I took a chance and put faith into this program and its leaders. They give me care, support, love, peace of mind and someone I can continuously put my trust in. To this day, I would say they have met my hopes and dreams with nothing but support and determination to see me succeed.”
A high school senior, Arieana is taking college level courses and maintains a solid grade point average. She has a part-time job at a retirement home and participates in several school activities including serving as a class officer and as the treasurer of a student group whose members are interested in pursuing medical careers.
“Each day I work, I am allowed the opportunity to build a relationship with the residents, provide the best service possible for them, and work as a team with my co-workers to meet the needs of the residents,” Arieana said. “And I impact and lead others outside of my job by working for justice through the Governor’s Youth Summer Summit where children in care, like me, worked diligently together to find solutions. We used our personal experiences to create a program that provides change, justice, and equality for youth in care.”
Arieana’s future is bright. Through her experiences, excelling educationally has become a personal goal and one she has accomplished. But she’s not done yet. She has sent out multiple college applications and it will be exciting to see what’s in store for the next chapter of her life.
“While working for justice, serving for humanity, and providing leadership for others, I have also pursued a fundamental need of my own...my education,” she said.
The story above first appeared in our FY18 Annual Report.
On May 15, 2019, at the Urbana High School Awards Ceremony, Arieana received the Lawrence Family Endowment Scholarship in the amount of $5000!