Eugene Johnson knows all about the road less traveled. He's lived it every day for the last several years.
Johnson, 19, was among 27 students who graduated from the Supporting Kids in Independent Living program last Thursday. His life has been an almost never-ending series of challenges, and in some cases, heartbreak.
The SKIL program helps kids living on their own through high school by providing them whatever they need to finish, whether it be a reliable ride to school or presentable clothes.
Johnson lived with his mom until he was 9. Then he went into state Department of Human Services custody for two years, before being reunited with his father after his father got out of jail.
When he was 15 his dad said he was dropping him off at a friend's house and he'd return in a few days. He hasn't seen him since. Today, Johnson lives with a friend.
“My spirit was broken for a long time,” Johnson said. “I didn't want to talk to adults because of what my dad did. Every day I would be so mad.”
The feeling of having nobody else in the world has been his biggest struggle. Johnson had to get his birth certificate and Social Security number. He lives with a friend, but it's been awhile since he's had a place that he can call home, that is truly his own.
“It makes you feel isolated and it makes you want to give up on everything, to be honest,” he said.
But those feelings have faded somewhat. He will graduate from Capitol Hill High School and will attend the University of Central Oklahoma to study music production in the fall. His life is coming together.
“SKIL changed all of that for me,” he said. “I almost failed my junior year because I was absent so much but I started going to school and I my grades came up. My future started to seem like something to look forward to.”
Chelsea Cobb and Roy Gutierrez, both 18, found themselves in similar situations. Gutierrez's parents were separated when his mom returned to Mexico to care for his ailing grandmother. He didn't want to go, so he found himself alone in Oklahoma City.
“The separation from family is the toughest thing to go through,” Gutierrez said. “You give up or try harder in life so you can continue on and move on. It's a disadvantage, but also a motivator.”
He will graduate from the Classen School of Advanced Studies as a valedictorian. He will attend the University of Oklahoma on a ballet scholarship in the fall. He, like the others, is the first in their family to graduate from high school and attend college.