Tucked away in the back of a recreational vehicle with no electricity or running water, Cayley Hooker read her books and did her homework by flashlight into the late hours of the night.
Hooker will be the first person in her immediate family to graduate from high school. She is one of 141 students who has been identified as homeless by the Clarkston School District.
Hooker has lived in her grandmother’s garage, stayed with friends and called the RV home alongside her mom, younger sister and pets.
But the 18-year-old has remained positive about her situation, reflecting on her struggles as obstacles she merely had to overcome.
“I try really hard not to let myself stress out,” Hooker said. “Most of the time, I’m taking it slow, because that’s all I really can do. What I do is take it one step at a time.”
About three months ago, Hooker moved in with a friend in Lewiston. The change of scenery has provided her a sense of security, she said. It’s helped her focus on her finals and rigorous study as her time at Clarkston High School comes to an end.
“When I moved to Jade’s (house) I was really anxiety ridden with everything going on, so being able to somewhat be stable definitely has helped,” Hooker said. “It helps me get my homework done.”
After graduation, Hooker plans to attend Lewis-Clark State College where she will work to become a substance abuse counselor. Addiction is something she’s personally been impacted by. She credited her family’s homelessness and her father’s incarceration largely to substance abuse.
“My entire family has struggled with addiction and I’ve seen it from the active addict as well as the recovering addict,” Hooker said. “I know recovery works, so I really want to be part of that healthy atmosphere of helping addicts with their recovery. I’m super passionate about that.”
This year, Hooker took part in an internship at Riverside Recovery in Lewiston. It helped her realize she’s onto a promising career where she can truly make a difference.
But her time in high school could have ended much differently. During her freshman year, Hooker said she was “a little troublemaker.” Once she got suspended, she realized she needed to switch her focus to her schooling.
She later enrolled in dual credit classes, earning nine college credits that will hopefully help her graduate earlier from the three-year program she plans to enroll in.
She’s also amassed scholarships that will help her cover a large portion of the cost and hopes to get even more.
Hooker credits her change in attitude and the support she’s received along the way at Clarkston High School as a reason she shifted gears to focus on her future.
“Oh my goodness, (the staff) have been a godsend,” Hooker said. “They’ve helped me through everything from multiple family deaths to my homelessness.”
When she didn’t have money for track shoes, the staff pitched in. They also helped buy her a yearbook and items like a Golden Throne shirt so she has memories to look back on.
“It’s just the little things that has definitely been a big help to me,” she said.
Hooker has been involved in track and field, she’s been the football manager and has participated in AVID, a program that aims to close the opportunity gap by preparing students for what’s to come after high school.
She’s earned 600 community service hours, which will be reflected through a special cord she’ll don along with her cap and gown.
Kathi Carlson, a counselor at Clarkston High School, said Hooker’s journey has been inspiring.
“What I find so impressive about Cayley is her unshakable positive attitude. She smiles, giggles and is always looking for a way to solve problems, instead of being defeated by them,” Carlson said. “She is the definition of resiliency.”
As for Hooker, she encourages others to work hard toward their goals.
“The only way you are going to actually succeed in achieving your dreams is by working hard,” she said.
Tomtas may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas