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LLA students, staff share gripping stories at French American International School

Encircled by students who could have been her classmates, Life Learning Academy senior Ashanti Green, 18, recalled how her darkest moment at LLA transformed her life for the better.

By Justin Warren

Encircled by students who could have been her classmates, Life Learning Academy senior Ashanti Green, 18, recalled how her darkest moment at LLA transformed her life for the better.

“I overdosed,” Green said. “I was rushed to the hospital,” she explained, having mixed prescription pills and alcohol to cope with increasing stress away from school. “I was blacked out.”

When she regained consciousness, LLA Student Affairs Coordinator Josie Najera was there in the emergency room with her.

“She didn’t leave me,” Green added, remarking that the LLA community had rallied to help her at her lowest moment.

Green spoke Wednesday to about 100 students at the French American International School, along with Najera, LLA student Michael Matlock, and LLA Executive Director Teri Delane. The presenters were invited by FAIS student Anastasia Ahani as part of the school’s Diversity Day.

 

Top: Ashanti Green addresses the students at French American International School. Above: A FAIS student greeted Green after the talk to express appreciation for sharing such a personal story and congratulate her on her transformation.

 

Green’s story echoed those of the other panel members, each of whom shared a story of overcoming serious challenges by connecting with the LLA school community.

In the hushed theater, Najera, an LLA graduate herself, recalled being a teen who abused prescription medication and frequently fought at other schools before becoming an LLA student. In her remarks, she recognized Delane for extending care, but also for challenging her when she was going in the wrong direction.

“Teri saw right through me,” Najera explained, crediting her experience at LLA with helping her escape gang involvement, substance abuse, and violence.

 

Above: Dr. Teri Delane shares her story of surviving a childhood of abuse, and dedicating her life to helping kids find paths out of violence and addiction, and toward long-term stability and success. FAIS students applaud the panelists. 

 

Delane shared her own story of surviving an overdose, that, like Green’s, nearly cost her her life. She overcame a violent and tumultuous childhood, and lost her two closest friends to drug overdoses before she found a community of support at the Delancey Street Foundation.

“I am grateful every single day that I wake up and have the ability to try to pull somebody out of that life,” Delane said.

 

“I can show kids, that feel like they are nothing, that if they get the right people in their lives, they can change.”

 

At Delancey Street, Delane fought her way out of addiction, into academia (she holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology) and toward a life committed to helping teens who are struggling to overcome trauma and adversity in order to create a safe, healthy and fulfilling life.

Since she founded LLA in 1998, Delane has worked tirelessly to help teens who lack the circle of support they need to get back on track. As the school nears its 20th year, Delane has embarked on an ambitious plan to build a residential facility on the school’s campus to broaden the offering she can provide for those who lack safe, stable housing.

“We’re not doing enough. We have got to do more for the kids that don’t have safety,” she said, describing the school’s new initiative, LLABUILD, which is currently securing donors and partners who will help break ground on a 20-bed residential facility on the campus’s Treasure Island plot.

 

An architectural rendering shows what the LLABUILD facility may look like when it is complete. 

 

The long-term goal, according to Delane, is to create a 100-bed boarding academy that would represent a first-of-its-kind, no-fee opportunity for kids who lack stable housing.

The facility, Delane said, will be “a sort-of Andover or Exeter for kids that don’t have opportunities” to access high-quality boarding schools.

Even though Ashanti Green will not have the opportunity to live in the new residential facility as a student, she acknowledged the importance of having adults in her life who will go to any length to support her long-term success.

“Teri gave me a choice,” Green said. “That changed everything.”

 

Learn more about the LLABUILD initiative at LLABUILD.org, and follow our progress at @LLASF!

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