BY GLENN PUIT
TRAVERSE CITY — Samantha Day faced a mountain of hopelessness and despair.
Pregnant, broke and homeless at age 17, Samantha contemplated dropping out of high school to support her baby.
"Alone," the Traverse City resident said. "Scary. Eventually, I will run out of money and I will not be able care for my daughter."
That was just over a year ago. Today, life is much different, thanks in large part to Traverse City High School, a safety net that saved her.
Today, she smiles. Samantha earned her high school diploma, her daughter is healthy, and she attends Northwestern Michigan College.
She hopes to be a social worker some day.
"I'm very good at giving advice with everything I've gone through," Samantha said. "I know what people's feelings are and how they have to look for help."
Samantha said a troubled childhood left her with few trusted family members. She enrolled at Traverse City High School while pregnant and met Joan Abbott, of the alternative high school's Students in Transition Empowerment Program, or STEP.
Abbott feared Samantha was about to drop out. She and others convinced her to stick it out and rallied resources to help a scared girl. High school students with children frequently have only a tenuous hold on school, she said.
"(They) are always in danger of dropping out because they are trying to figure out how to survive," Abbott said. "Often students will say, 'There's no way I can go to school. I have to take care of my daughter.' And we say, 'No, there is a way, and we are going to help you out.'"
A critical step: finding Samantha transportation to and from school. Abbott and others helped her navigate the Bay Area Transportation Authority bus system so her baby could accompany her to classes.
The baby received care at the school's day care program. Samantha was allowed to leave class to feed her.
Samantha landed in a local host home for a few months with the help of Catholic Human Services until her life stabilized and she moved in with her grandparents, Paul and Sandy Schaub of Traverse City.
Abbott described Samantha as extremely bright, and she participated in the school's dual enrollment program, which allows students to earn high school credits while they attend college classes.
"We saw she was an excellent student and she was highly motivated," Abbott said.
Traverse City High School made all the difference. Today, the once-despondent teen works at Kmart and Birchwood Nursing Home to support herself and her daughter.
Today, her grandparents beam with pride when they speak of Samantha.
"We just took her in because she shows us that she's willing to make something out of herself," Paul Schaub said. "She's really working at it."
Sandy Schaub is thankful for the school, the STEP program and others who helped her granddaughter.
"Rather than being a high school dropout, there was a place where she could go," Sandy Schaub said.
The STEP program helped about 500 kids from across the region last year. Students who lack permanent housing qualify.
Abbott enjoys seeing students like Samantha succeed.
"It gives me hope for kids who've been dealt a raw hand," Abbott said. "If we put our heads together as a community and do what each of us can do well, we can serve these students, and their potential is unleashed."