Wednesday, July 23, 2014

OHS student, mentor help spread message in TV, web commercials

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 12/9/2013

The hurt ran so deep that sleep was the only way to escape the pain.

And, even when slumber came, there were not many restful nights for Cheyenne Drayer, an Ottawa High School senor.

“I could eat something really soft and it would hurt my teeth, and I would about break down and cry,” Cheyenne, 17, said.

But that wasn’t the teen’s only dilemma.

“After my sister moved out, I was kinda on my own — it was just me and my mom,” Cheyenne said. “My mom took advantage of her medication and whatnot. I never knew, ‘When’s the next time I’m going to eat? What am I going to eat? Is she going to wake up soon?’”

Cheyenne’s mom would tell her she was too sick to go to school and would want her to stay home with her.

“I wasn’t doing good in school,” Cheyenne said. “My mom dropped out in seventh grade, so no motivation [to stay in school]. It was the beginning of my junior year, and I was thinking about dropping out. I thought, ‘I don’t have a reason to be here.’”

Except that school was Cheyenne’s only getaway from her mom and that lifestyle, she said.

“School was my place to escape — school was a good place,” she said.

The pain in her teeth became so unbearable that Cheyenne couldn’t concentrate in class, she said.

“I hadn’t been to the dentist since I probably was eight. They told my mom I needed braces, and Mom said, ‘No,’ and I hadn’t been back to the dentist since then.”

Cheyenne frequented the school nurse’s office for aspirin, an ice pack or just to rest, she said.

“I probably was going to the nurse three times a day,” she said.

Cassie Myers, Communities in Schools site coordinator at OHS, called Cheyenne into her office for a visit. Both would later say that conversation changed their lives forever.

And now Cheyenne’s story is about to air in a one-minute Communities in Schools’ “Change the Picture” commercial spot on TV in all 50 states, beginning in the new year.

 “The nurse called me and said, ‘We have a frequenter here,’” Myers said. “The nurse said, ‘I don’t think she’s had dental care in quite some time, and she doesn’t have insurance.’ I met with Cheyenne and we talked, and I said I would try to go take care of her dental care.”

Myers met with Dr. Steven Thompson, an Ottawa dentist, who agreed to do the work for free, even though Myers warned him it could be extensive.

And it was.

“I found out I had 10 cavities in eight teeth, and a tooth that was rotting,” Cheyenne recalled of that initial meeting with Thompson at the start of her junior year in September 2012.

Thompson fixed Cheyenne’s teeth, and her brother and sister-in-law, Jason and Shauna Drayer, took custody of Cheyenne.

“Knowing that my teeth are fixed, I have more confidence talking with people,” Cheyenne said. “Knowing my teeth are clean, I don’t have to hide my teeth and think down of myself any more because of it.”

Living in a new home environment and finding she had three people in her corner — the Drayers and Myers — Cheyenne said she started to set goals and feel good about herself. And with new teeth, her school work wasn’t clouded by chronic pain.

“If you looked at my transcript, you would see D’s and F’s my freshman and sophomore year,” Cheyenne said. “Last year, I got all A’s and one B, and I only missed an A by one point.”

Myers has served as a mentor, mother and sister to Cheyenne, the teenager said.

“I’m not going to say my mom wasn’t always there, but Cassie has been like a mother figure to me,” Cheyenne said. “If it wasn’t for Cassie and Communities in Schools, I wouldn’t be here right now. I would have dropped out and been long gone.”

FROM OTTAWA

TO HOLLYWOOD

Cheyenne’s story embodies what Communities in Schools is all about, Myers said. And it also exemplifies the message Communities in Schools is trying to get out to the nation — that the national organization is more than a sponsor for after school programs and senior career days. Communities in Schools also is about mentoring students. To get the message out, the organization has launched a TV, newspaper and web campaign called Change the Picture. Cheyenne’s story, along with those of several other students, can be found on the organization’s website, www.changethepicture.org

Every year, CIS site coordinators help more than 1.2 million kids reach their goals, according to the organization’s website. Communities in Schools serves 26 states and Washington, D.C., Myers said.

For the campaign, site coordinators across those 26 states and Washington were asked to submit stories about their students. Cheyenne’s tale was chosen to be one of nine stories to be made into short videos for the website and TV commercials. Errol Morris, an Academy Award-winning documentary director, was chosen to tell those stories.

Myers and Cheyenne had interviewed separately with casting directors via Skype in late July, and were told when a decision was made it would move quickly, Myers said. That wasn’t an understatement.

“I got a late-night voicemail, ‘Hey, Cheyenne, you’re going to have a chance to go to L.A. and do a commercial,’” Cheyenne said.

At first, Cheyenne thought it was a hoax, she said, but realized it wasn’t when she saw the message was from Myers.

“We found out about a week before we were supposed to leave that we had been chosen,” Myers said. “Even going there, we still were a little in the dark about what we would be doing this for.”

The videos were shot at Long Beach High School, with filming starting at about 6 a.m. and lasting well into the evening, though all the students had to be off the set by 7 p.m., Myers said.

“We stayed in Long Beach and got there the day before we shot the video,” Myers said. “I was the second person to tape, and I wondered if it was going to be this small camera. No. Not at all.”

When they arrived on the set, Myers said, it looked like a Hollywood movie set, with cameras, lights, full crews and make-up artists who did the ladies’ hair, make-up and clothes.

Cheyenne and Myers said the director, Morris, was terrific. He used an interview technique, they said, in which they were looking at a video screen of Morris sitting in a chair talking with them, instead of them looking directly into the camera.

“You feel a lot more comfortable talking with him and telling him your story,” Cheyenne said. “I’m not sure how comfortable I would have been just talking to a camera.”

Myers’ interview took about 4 1/2 hours, while Cheyenne’s lasted about 1 1/2 hours. And there wasn’t a dry eye on the set all day, Myers and Cheyenne said.

“I came out for a break [in my shoot], and I’m crying and I look over and Cassie is bawling her eyes out, and it about made me cry harder,” Cheyenne said.

Myers said the stories touched everyone on the set.

“The production crew said they had never experienced anything like the stories the kids had to tell,” Myers said.

Myers thought Morris did such a good job of documenting those stories because he was a middle school dropout from a broken home and could relate to what the students had gone through.

And all the students formed a special bond, Myers and Cheyenne said. They hope the students will be able to get back together some day.

The women had fun talking with film crew members about the A-list movie stars with whom they had recently worked, including Angelina Jolie, and the teacher on the set for the students had worked with Selena Gomez, Cheyenne said.

“I was working on my econ homework,” Cheyenne said of her down time on the set.

Myers said they also got to take in some of Hollywood Boulevard and other famous sites on the three days they were in the Los Angeles area from Aug. 21-24.

FINISHED PRODUCT

Myers and Cheyenne received a package with the videos, a letter and some gifts about two days before the website was launched in October, Myers said. A full-page, pull-out ad — which contained pictures of Cheyenne and three other students who made videos — appeared in the Wall Street Journal this fall. Some of those full-page ads have been hung as posters at OHS, and the video was shown to the faculty before going on the school’s website.

“Some of my teachers started calling me ‘Hollywood,’” Cheyenne said with a grin.

In an ironic twist, some students asked her how she got to be so lucky to make a commercial.

“I didn’t look at it as, ‘Oh, I get to make a commercial.’ I looked at it as I get a chance to change someone’s life,” Cheyenne said. “If just one person views my video, and sees why I didn’t drop out, and it changes their life or their view point, then that makes me happy.”

Myers is confident Cheyenne’s story will change someone’s life, she said.

The relationships Myers builds with the students she sees at the high school often start like Cheyenne’s need for assistance.

“The great thing about my job is I literally get to encourage the staff, teachers and administrators to refer those students they think might be having a struggle to me,” Myers said. “I get to figure out what the struggle is and try to solve it for them. That’s my job and that’s what I get to do every day, and I deem it as a complete privilege.”

Despite her father being in prison and her mother’s problems, Cheyenne said, she has vowed to stay in school and achieve a better life. Cheyenne wants to be a child physiologist and a site coordinator like Myers, she said. The senior said she plans to attend Ottawa University in the fall.

“My life went from a low level to ‘I’m halfway there’ in one year,” Cheyenne said. “I’m going to graduate. I’m going to go to college. My life is on track. I’m not going to give up now and lose everything. So keep fighting.”

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