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Four neediest cases: KHS
December 12, 2017
Each year around the holidays, TKC offers a helping hand to our community in one way or another. For the second year in a row, we decided to take on the Four Neediest Cases project, inspired by St. Louis Post Dispatch’s 100 Neediest Cases features. Four staffers sat down with a KHS student from each grade-level to hear about their families’ stories and needs. Attached to each story is a list of items the family or individuals could use, but are not able to afford. Even donations such as a gift card to a department store or a pair of socks can go a long way. Donations will be collected in South – 162 Journalism (SJ), the main office and grade-level offices. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.
Four neediest cases: freshman
Gutter is a Yorkie Chihuahua. He has little doggie syndrome: he thinks he is bigger and better than all the other dogs out there. Gutter’s owner walks him, feeds him and cleans his cage. Gutter’s owner dog-sits for money to buy clothes for school and other things he needs or wants. Gutter’s owner is a 15-year-old boy who has grown up in a single-parent home.
When money gets tight, his mom turns to Kirkcare or aid from their church. His mom works a part-time job as a caretaker for an autistic child and is also a full-time student attending school to learn American Sign Language, but she still makes time for her son.
“Once a week, we have family movie night,” he said. “The dog sit[s] on my lap and watches TV.”
He is the youngest of four children. His mom gave up his three younger siblings for adoption. He was born prematurely, weighing barely over 2 pounds. As a result, he has had several surgeries throughout his life. He attended Robinson Elementary for a short period of time, then lived in Kansas for five years with the woman who had adopted his three other siblings. He was homeschooled there before coming back to KSD for fifth grade. He got to visit his mom while he was living in Kansas, but the adjustment was difficult.
“Living far away from her was hard on me,” he said. “I don’t like change.”
That has not been the hardest thing for him, however. The worst thing about his situation, he said, has been his dad.
“My dad left when I was born,” he said. “He has nothing to do with me.”
But being back at school has been a positive change for him. Although he has to walk or ride his bike to school every day, he said he wants to get good grades.
“School is making me smarter,” he said. “It’s making me more responsible.”
When school gets out for winter break, he and his mom will celebrate Christmas. Christmas is a hard time for his family. Two years ago shortly before Christmas, one of his close friends passed away from cancer. Her name was Annie.
“We got all of her Christmas decorations,” he said. “We got her tree and the very last thing she made for her tree was this star. But it wasn’t a star. We call it the Annie Angel. She made a stuffed animal angel that looked just like her. We put that on the top.”
Person A (Male)
Underwear size X/XL in Youth
Socks size Adult small
Tennis shoes size 6.5 Youth
Alarm clock at Walgreens, shows time digitally on the ceiling
Pant size 12
Four neediest cases: sophomore
In most ways she is just like any other teen.
She likes macaroni and cheese and Chris Brown. She fights with her siblings and wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.
But one thing is different: she can not relate to the other students at KHS.
After waking up at 5:30 a.m., she gets on a bus and begins the 40-minute commute to school. She arrives greeted by both familiar and unfamiliar faces. As she navigates the halls, she notices something: hundreds of students texting on iPhones lugging around North Face backpacks. She says one of the hardest things about attending KHS is watching students using products, which they are so lucky to have, and be so ungrateful for them.
“I am not really like Kirkwood people,” she said, “I can’t just get whatever I want whenever I want it. Even if money wasn’t a problem, my mom would make us work for it.”
After school, she gets back on the bus for another long ride back to the city. When she arrives home she waits for her mother to get back from her job. She says most nights it’s not until 10 or 11 p.m.
Nevertheless she waits to greet her mom who she said she has a close relationship with. Yet still, she wishes she was home more often. She is used to having others around the house, but when her grandma found out she had to go through radiation, she was left to watch her siblings at home alone.
She says her neighborhood is not the safest place, and after school it’s better if she and her siblings stay inside when there is not an adult around. And as she watches her sisters and waits around to make dinner with her mother, she looks forward to the future and what she hopes to accomplish.
“The biggest thing I am looking forward too is being able to get out of St. Louis and explore the world,” she said.
But for now, she is focusing on school and doing all she can to help at home. Because in her mind, her life is just like any other teen.
Household needs: Store and food gift cards, laundry detergent, dish soap, toothpaste, body wash, deodorant, five toothbrushes, hand soap, bathroom cleaner, microwave, trash bags, toilet paper, paper towels, fabric Softener, paper plates, laundry baskets, help with electric and gas bills
Person A (female, late-teens)
Queen-sized mattress cover, sheets, pillow and comforter set (preferably in blue)
Medium sized clothes
Boots in a 7½ or 8
Black ankle socks in sizes 4-10
Person B (female, mid-teens)
New Mattress (preferably queen sized to fit bed frame)
Comforter Set with pillows (preferably red)
Clothes in size 3X in pants and tops (leggings)
Women’s ankle socks size 8-12
Person C (female, early-teens)
Boxspring, frame, and headboard
Comforter set and pillows (preferably purple)
Clothes in size 1X in pants (leggings), 2X in shirts, size 8 in panties
Ankle socks in size 4-10
Boots and shoes in size 10½ and 11
Person D (female, pre-teens)
Sheets and comforter with pillows for twin sized bed (preferably white/aqua)
Clothes size 14-16 (leggings and skinny jeans)
Ankle socks size 4-10
Panties size 14-16
Short boots size 5½-6
Four neediest cases: junior
It’s the same routine each day: wake up, go to school, come home, get ready for work, go to work, repeat. On occasion he’ll get a few hours of sleep─five if he’s lucky. At 16, he carries the burden of paying the monthly rent and WiFi fees, staying on top of schoolwork and working 40 hours per week, as much as a full-time job.
His home is a two-bedroom apartment that houses five people─his mom, when she’s around, his brother, 17, his sister, 19, his best friend and him. They accommodated for his sister by making the living room her bedroom to make it work. That’s really all life is for him, just making it work.
It’s often unclear when he’ll see his parents next. Because of their opposite work schedules, he’ll go three days to a week without seeing his mom, despite them living together. It’s sometimes up to three months before he sees his dad, who has distanced himself from the rest of his family.
Unsure of when he will have to move next, he said he lives a life of instability. His everyday routine is the only unfleeting aspect of his life. But that cycle gets boring for a teenager, especially one who spends most of his free time doing laundry or helping with other tasks around the apartment.
In the past year, he has moved a total of six times and attended four different high schools. Being unfamiliar with his community has become the norm for him. He said his only real friend is his best friend, who lives with him and chips in on his family’s rent. But even with the extra help, he missed November’s rent by 21 days–another worry at the top of his list.
He knows he doesn’t have it easy. With close to $100 to spend on things other than rent each month, one of his only beloved possessions are his headphones.
“Music’s really the only reason I’m alive,” he said.
He started playing the electric guitar after receiving one for Christmas seven years ago, and he acquired a knack for it right away. He played violin for four years and sang in the choir at KHS before he was told he would no longer be able to participate while in the VISTA program. But he knows he wouldn’t be able to work as much if he sang in the KHS choir, so he sticks to his routine.
Despite his dreams of attending college to study music production, he noted that in terms of his education, he expects the worst. He said he’s working hard at VISTA every day, 7:30-10 a.m., in hopes of finishing junior year early and becoming a senior by January. But the reality is that he doesn’t know when he’ll have to move next. He doesn’t know when the power will be cut off. He doesn’t know when his brother will be kicked out again. He doesn’t know when his surroundings will completely change and he’ll have to start all over.
At the top of his list of worries is his brother, who suffers from chronic depression and anxiety. His mom is often at her boyfriend’s house, so he is left to take care of him, sometimes skipping work just to stay by his brother’s side when it gets bad. His brother is transgender, and he struggles to afford the necessary items to support his transition. This issue with self-identity only decreases his brother’s courage to leave the house, according to him.
He said his brother can no longer work due to his severe anxiety, and that he feels him fading. On top of that, another mouth to feed in the house is difficult, even with the food stamps his family receives.
In elementary school, though he didn’t yet have the burden of paying the bills, his family was evicted from their house. Shortly after, his parents got divorced. They were constantly fighting about money.
“That’s when things started falling apart,” he said.
During middle school, he would wake up at 5 a.m. every day, walk to St. Louis Lambert International Airport, take the Metro to downtown St. Louis and walk to the bus stop, which would take him to his school for music. His daily commute was close to an hour and a half.
“[Music school] was the only thing that was making me happy back then,” he said.
For an entire year, he lived in a hallway in his stepdad’s house. There wasn’t enough room for him and his three stepsisters, so he isolated himself in the hallway, with nothing but a twin bed, a carpet and a 19-inch TV to keep him company.
Though he moved to Kirkwood last spring, he mentioned that his mom isn’t planning on renewing the lease, and that he probably won’t be here by this May. But he’s too focused on how he will get through his routine today to be able to think about the year ahead of him. For now, he velcros on his hat, throws on his uniform and heads to work.
Person A (female):
Inexpensive laptop for work
Help with December rent
Supportive work shoes
Person B (male):
Clothes and shoes – desperate need
Reliable used car
Laptop screen repaired
New phone – very old, broken
Person C (male):
Male clothes – desperate need
Transgender specific items – binder, specialty clothes, undergarments
New phone – very old, broken
Membership to boxing gym
Person D (female):
Wheel repair on car
Help with car insurance
Money for own apartment
Four neediest cases: senior
The day his grandmother died his life fell apart. Everyone and everything he knew changed. He began to go down a path that he never thought he would go down. Told he was not going to graduate, sleeping in abandoned cars and resorting to drugs to take the pain away, the world seemed to be against him.
In a time where he thought his family would bind over the grief of his grandmother, his family collapsed. His grandmother was the glue that held his family together and when she passed so did his family as he knew it. When his mother began to threaten to physically harm him, he packed his bags. He left his house with the hope someone with a stable enough home would take him in.
“[When I was sleeping in the cars] I had no blankets, no coats or anything,” he said. “ I didn’t have anyone to turn to. My dad was there, but the [verbal violence] that was happening at my mom’s house [was happening there]. ”
After weeks of drifting from different houses and abandoned cars he landed at his brother’s doorstep. His brother, a KHS alum, was exactly in the same boat five years ago and was the only family member he felt completely comfortable staying with.
“The only person that was there for me was my brother [after I left my mom’s],” he said. “My brother lives in the city. It’s still not a stable home though, it’s on and off at my brother’s house. Sometimes I get so mad at my sister [who lives at the house] that I just don’t want to be there anymore.
Even though he has a roof over his head now, he still doesn’t feel like he has a home. With no structure or curfew he is free to cope with the pain of the world, in which he is in, for hours bleeding into the morning.
“When I do live there I really don’t live there,” he said. “Everyday I get up, get ready and leave. Leave to my girlfriend’s house, come back around 1 or 2 a.m., and go to bed.”
Once he moved out of his mom’s house, he was thrown into the adult world with so much haste it changed his worldview permanently. No longer he was child attempting to be an adult, but rather an adult wanting to be a child again. However, no world view could fix the people and events leading to his pain. His grandma was still dead, his mom was still lashing out at him and he still didn’t have enough credits to graduate.
“I was on the verge of not graduating a year ago,” he said. “[The counselors] sent me to VISTA, and I just graduated today. It was probably the best thing for me. I am caught up and I’m set to graduate on time. I like proving people wrong, the people who told me I wasn’t going to graduate.”
Coming back from VISTA to KHS has given him hope in his future. He’s leaving the past behind him and attempting to create a new future. A future that starts with an education.
“There’s not a day that I’m not going to come [to KHS] because I need to graduate. [The counselors and my family] thought I was going to be someone sleeping on the sidewalk, selling drugs. I just want to prove those people wrong. I want to graduate, go to college, and major in engineering.”
Person A (male):
Shoes – size 9 1/2
Shirt – medium
Pants – medium
Gift card – Foot Locker
Kids toys (ages 3, 5, 6 and 11)