State of Opportunity

Wednesday during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

State of Opportunity is a special project produced by Michigan Radio with major financial support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The project features documentary reports, first-person storytelling, youth journalists, an online portal, and Michigan Radio’s Public Insight Network.

The goal is to expose the barriers children of low income families in Michigan face in achieving success.

Sarah Alvarez

This is part of a special collaboration between Bridge Magazine and Infowire. Read their report here.

user Jonas John / flickr

This time next week, most college students will be wrapping up their final exams and getting ready for winter break. They’ll pack up their bags and head home for the holidays. 

It’s probably safe to assume that a lot of people don’t start planning for the holidays until November.  But Joi Rencher isn’t like most people. She works at Eastern Michigan University, and she starts talking about the holidays with her students as soon as they arrive on campus in the fall.

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

More than 95,000 children in Michigan are considered "English language learners." It’s up to schools to get those students to learn English as quickly as possible, and most Michigan districts accomplish that by immersing students in English-only classrooms. 

Eva Petoskey

Suicide is a major public health problem for American Indians. The suicide rate for American Indian teenagers in particular is 2.5 times higher than the national average. I took a trip over the summer to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Reservation in Suttons Bay to talk with folks in the community about the issue.

When I visited the reservation, it was rainy, no sun in sight, but that didn't stop a couple thousand people from making the trek to the reservation for the annual powwow. The Anishinaabe word is "Jiingtamok." 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

The goal for children in foster care is to find them permanent homes. If they can’t live with their birth parents, the next best thing might be adoption. But the road to adoption can be bumpy, and for some children their dreams of a permanent family are dashed before the papers are even signed. 

"I refuse to sink"

Nineteen year old Candice Sponaas is a blonde tomboy with a 1000-watt smile. 

Like a lot of teenagers, Sponaas is really into tattoos. She designed the one on her forearm. It’s a big, floral infinity symbol with an anchor on one end and a rose on the other. In between are the words “I refuse to sink.” As she starts to talk about her broken adoption, I notice her glance down at the tattoo on her arm. It seems to give her strength just looking at it. 

Sponaas moved in with her soon-to-be adoptive family just before she turned 18.  They planned to adopt her in a year or two. But ten months in, things were not going well – especially between Sponaas and the mom of the house. So Sponaas moved out.

"And then we just stopped talking," says Sponaas. "And then she said I think it’s better if we just don’t try to force everything here. I wish you nothing but happiness, but that’s all that there is. So, that adoption is never going to happen."

courtesy Erick Moya

This spring, a wave of children showed up at the southern border of the United States, with no adult to care for them. The children were labeled “unaccompanied minors.”

The number of unaccompanied minors at the border was much higher this year than in previous years. But children with nowhere else to turn have long sought refuge in the United States. Many of them end up staying to make a life here.

Today, we have the story of one young man who arrived here years ago, when he was 17 years old.

His story begins like this:

Bueno, mi nombre es Erick Moya

"My name is Erick Moya, I came from Honduras," continues his translator, Wilson Soliz, who works at Bethany Christian Services in Grand Rapids, the organization that helped Moya when he reached the United States. 

"The reason I left Honduras was because my father killed my mother," Soliz continues. "And then we were left alone."

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

    

What does it feel like to be removed from you parents’ home? From the ones who were supposed to protect you and keep you safe?

PART ONE

I want to introduce you to a set of siblings. Let’s start with the oldest one Andrew. He’s an intense little guy who’s 9 years old and very much into superheroes.

ANDREW: My favorite Marvel superhero is Spiderman.

AUDREY: Want to see my best friend?

That’s Audrey, his little sister, she is <<FIVE!>> and adorably shy.

And finally, there’s Braden, the ham of the family.

BRADY: Let it Go! Let it Go! Can’t hold it back anymore

Michelle Parolini / Park Journeys, Inc

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

We’ve all heard the saying. But for young people who come to the United States as immigrants, getting to know people can be a challenge.

Language barriers, cultural barriers, sometimes class barriers can prevent young people from meeting the people who can help them be successful in life.

Today’s story is about a young person trying to make those connections.

The story begins very early one recent Friday, as Daniel Lopez hears his alarm go off. 

He wakes up, zips ups his suitcase, feeds his fish, and heads for the airport for an important trip. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The gymnasium at the Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids started filling up a little before six Monday night. Dinner was provided. Parents and kids loaded up Styrofoam plates, then sat down with their meals at the rows of tables. It was a full house.

As the meal finished, napkins folded on plates, a man in a dark grey suit took hold of the microphone and began his presentation.

In front of him were families. Parents. Children. Young children.

The man talked for a while. Eventually, he got to this:

"They have more power than you do," he said. "They have guns. They have legal authority to kill you."

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

People who manage to overcome poverty in childhood don't succeed by accident. They work hard, of course, but usually, they also have some help.  And often, that help can be traced back to one person who decided to make a difference.

We're running an occasional series about the people who make that decision. We’re calling this series, "One Person Who Cared." To share your story of the One Person Who Cared, click here

Joy Mohammed and Paris Brown are loosely connected through family. They met once at a wedding. Then they became neighbors in the Russell Woods neighborhood of Detroit. Mohammed, who is nine years older than Brown, helped tutor her with schoolwork, and checked up on her at her house.

"I wouldn’t call myself a visitor. I was snooping," Mohammed says with a laugh. "I was watching to make sure that the kids were okay."

"Were you?" I ask Brown.

"Um, no …"

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