These remarkable and inspiring teens beat the odds


Back when she was 16, odds were that life wouldn’t turn out right for the Minneapolis girl called Alicia.

More than just entangled in the throes of adolescence, she was overwhelmed. She knew she was smart, but she struggled with school and so she acted out, hanging with gangs, running away so often her mother finally threw up her hands in desperation and had her admitted briefly to a teen mental-health program.

“I was my own disaster,’’ Alicia Frosch, the confident and well-spoken 34-year-old woman she became tells me now, a college graduate and a societal game-changer.

Along her life’s path Frosch learned dyslexia was the reason for her school struggles and found success, thanks to counseling, an alternative high school and the help of her “wonderful” mother, she says.

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I’m sharing her story as proof the folks at Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota know what they’re talking about when they believe enough in a teen to honor him or her as a Beat the Odds honoree and award them a college scholarship for overcoming extreme adversity.

Sixteen years ago Frosch won that award and made connections to CDF-Minnesota that helped change her life.

Four other high school seniors were honored March 16 with Beat the Odds awards at the 20th annual event.

They are Anne Sinner and Raymond Perez, both students at Como High School in St. Paul; Lashay Thompson of Highland Park High School in St. Paul and Eduardo Sanchez Beltran of Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis. Each will receive a $4,000 scholarship. They were selected from more than 125 applicants from across the Twin Cities.

Their stories, like Frosch’s, are remarkable and inspiring.

Tragic home life

Perez rose above a tragic home life with his father being arrested for selling drugs and then deported and his mother struggling with cocaine addiction. But he signed on to school work and local training and college readiness programs and will be the first in his family to attend college.

Beltran and his family came to Minneapolis from Mexico in search of the American dream but found poverty, racism and violence. He overcame post-traumatic stress disorder set off by an incident involving eight gang members shoving a gun in his stomach and a knife to his neck. President of his school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, he also is involved with theater and works with his dad in construction. He has a 3.7 GPA.

Become a sustaining member today

Sinner encountered hardship, poverty and emotional trauma at home. Her 15-year-old cousin and close friend was murdered. But Sinner, with family help and dedicated school teachers, found resilience and self-confidence. She will graduate with a 3.95 GPA and head to college to study psychology. “I know no matter what life throws my way, I can rise above it,’’ she says.

Thompson grew up in New Burgh, N.Y., which she calls “a place where people die all the time.’’ She dealt with issues a child shouldn’t have to: a parent’s drug addiction and cancer, extreme poverty and tragic losses. Now planning for college, she has turned her life around thanks in part to a teen training program and volunteer work. “Sometimes,’’ she says, “you have to make it through all the bad to get to the good…”

That realization propelled the mother of Anthony Williams, now 30, a 2000 Beat the Odds honoree, to move her family from St. Louis, Mo., to Minnesota to get away from negative family influences.

“A majority of the males in our family were either incarcerated or dead” because of violence, he says. “I chose a different path,’’ and broke that cycle, he says.

A college graduate, he works as a transitions counselor in the Minneapolis Public Schools adult basic education program. He is also executive director of the Kwanzaa Community Church CDF Freedom Schools Program in north Minneapolis. The program provides a six-week summer school program focusing on literacy.

Advocating for justice

As for Frosch, that other long-ago award recipient, there’s more to tell.

Today she is an advocate. She argues the importance of quality child care and early childhood education for Child Care Works now but will soon start a job with the YWCA of Minneapolis working for racial justice.

She explains in an email: “I am a bi-racial (German and African American) woman with tri-racial (their father was Mexican) boys. I have witnessed and experienced many barriers and injustice because of race, culture and immigration. With this new position I am hoping to be a bridge to start the conversation around racial justice.”

The Children’s Defense Fund, both on local and national levels, she says, helped her change her career focus.

Attending a Stand for Kids rally with CDF and later a CDF leadership training program on community organizing and advocacy, she realized her dreams were too small. She realized, she says, that as a child care center teacher she would focus on individuals, but as an advocate she could help change society.

“Helping the individual is great,’’ she says, but “I believe I can do a lot at a systemic level.’’