Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CARDER: Trading pain for help and a smile

By DOUG CARDER, Dumping the Notebook | 12/13/2013

Bullies often say hurtful things to mask insecurities of their own.

Cheyenne Drayer, an Ottawa High School senior, said she learned that life lesson as she has matured and gone through some life-changing experiences in the past year.

Bullies often say hurtful things to mask insecurities of their own.

Cheyenne Drayer, an Ottawa High School senior, said she learned that life lesson as she has matured and gone through some life-changing experiences in the past year.

“A lot of students call you names, can be rude and hurt you to protect themselves, and my freshman year that’s how I was,” Cheyenne, 17, said. “I hurt other people to protect myself.”

Cheyenne, who grew up in a troubled home and often didn’t know when her next meal would come, had a mouthful of cavities and other dental problems stemming from a decade-long absence from the dentist’s chair. Her mother had refused to get Cheyenne braces at age 8, the teen said, and she hadn’t been back to the dentist since that day.

The chronic pain in her teeth made it difficult for Cheyenne to concentrate in school, and often she made two or three trips to the school nurse every day for aspirin, an ice pack or just a place to lie down.

Cassie Myers, Communities in Schools site coordinator at OHS, 1120 S. Ash St., learned of the problems Cheyenne was experiencing and took her under her wing. She arranged for Cheyenne to have extensive dental work, which a local dentist performed for free, and the outcome resulted in a life-changing experience for Cheyenne at the beginning of her junior year. Around that same point, Cheyenne’s older brother and sister-in-law, Jason and Shauna Drayer, obtained custody of Cheyenne.

With encouragement and support from Myers and her brother and sister-in-law, Cheyenne began to gain confidence.

“They could feel the pain that I feel, and they were there for me and did not judge me,” Cheyenne said. “To have that support is a real inspiration.”  

And with her teeth fixed and the chronic pain gone, Cheyenne went from being a subpar performer in the classroom her freshman and sophomore years to a nearly straight-A student her junior year.

“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.”

The new-found confidence made Cheyenne take a step back and smile. She thought about the experiences she had been through as an underclassmen, and how she should interact with other students — even those who had said hurtful things to her in the past.

“Within the last year, I’ve found out a lot of people I used to think bad of have been through about the same thing I have,” Cheyenne said. “So we have that connection, even though we don’t talk to each other. I can’t talk about somebody that has a past. I can’t talk about somebody if I don’t know them. And no matter how bad somebody [has hurt me], I will be there to help them.”

After she graduates in May, Cheyenne said, she plans to attend Ottawa University and become a child psychologist and site coordinator like her mentor Myers.

Often we forget that Communities in Schools is more than a champion of after school programs, Reality U and other programs. The organization’s site coordinators serve as mentors to thousands of students in 26 states and Washington, D.C. And often those relationships are built, Myers said, by solving a problem for a student — whether it be extensive dental work or providing a pair of shoes.

Cheyenne and Myers hit it off from the beginning, the OHS senior said, adding that Myers has had a profound influence on her life.

“If it wasn’t for Cassie and Communities in Schools, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Cheyenne said earlier this week as she sipped on the straw of a snack-size box of juice. “I would have dropped out and been long gone.”

Cheyenne’s story was selected as one of nine to be made into videos by Academy Award-winning documentary director Errol Morris as part of Communities in Schools’ national Change the Picture campaign. Cheyenne and Myers flew to Los Angeles in August to be interviewed by Morris. Their videos have become part of a national branding campaign for Communities in Schools that includes TV commercials scheduled to roll out after the first of the year, as well as vidoes on the web and ads in print. Cheyenne has appeared on a full-page, pull-out ad that ran in the Wall Street Journal in October. Cheyenne’s video can be viewed at www.changethepicture.org

Communities in Schools site coordinators serve as mentors and often become a key part of a student’s support network.

“We can give them a chance to change the trajectory of their story,” Myers said. “When someone looks at a [young person] and says, ‘This is who your mom or dad is, so this is what you’re story is going to be,’ it becomes very generational. But it doesn’t have to be. You can change it at any given moment.”

Doug Carder is The Herald’s senior writer. Email him at dcarder@ottawaherald.com

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