Fulmore helped Kanu start a new, independent life. She landed the job at McDonald’s on Backlick Road, where she worked behind the register, cleaned bathrooms and took out the trash. Fulmore helped her assume responsibilities well beyond her years.
“They are like my children,” Fulmore said. “They don’t have an adult as guidance, so I lead them every step of the way.”
Winland’s troubles began in the seventh grade, shortly after his father died of a heart ailment and complications from alcoholism.
The teenager began binge drinking and experimenting with drugs as a way to cope. During his freshman year, Winland was arrested after he and a group of friends broke into school concession stands to steal snacks. At the end of his junior year, Winland said his mother, a Christian with strict convictions, kicked him out of the house for lying to her about being sexually active. Attempts to reach Winland’s mother for comment were unsuccessful.
Winland lived on the streets and “couch-surfed” for a while, crashing at friends’ houses for a few days at a time until their parents hinted that he should move on. He survived on the kindness of friends who saw him losing weight and offered home-cooked meals. He once lived for a month in his girlfriend’s car, which he stashed in the Amtrak Auto Train parking lot in Lorton.
He took odd jobs to get by. He, too, ultimately sought Fulmore’s help, and she was able to arrange for him to qualify for free meals at school and gas cards from the county. For the time being, he lives with his girlfriend’s family.
“When I came in, I had a half-tank of gas and 12 bucks in my bank account,” Winland said. “They counseled me in stress relief, which helped me stay positive. Now I have three-quarters of a tank of gas and 17 dollars in my account.”
Kanu and Winland’s academic success is not typical for homeless students in Fairfax, as not all make it to graduation. Last fall, about 26 homeless students started the school year at Lee, including 10 seniors. By graduation day, only 11 homeless students remained at Lee, including four seniors. Some of the students switched schools or enrolled in more flexible programs to accommodate work schedules, others dropped out, and some disappeared entirely, officials said.
New beginnings await Kanu and Winland after graduation. Winland has decided to enlist in the Marine Corps and is scheduled to report to Parris Island, S.C. for training in September. He said part of his motivation to join the Marines was that he will be guaranteed a place to live.
Winland’s recruiter, Marine Staff Sgt. David Young, said that Winland’s homelessness helped prepare him for the military.
“We talk to applicants and try to get to know them on a personal level,” Young said. “We talked about some of his challenges and that for a while he was living on his own and making ends meet the best way he knew how. Based on what he’s learned from those challenges, it’s only made him stronger.”
Kanu plans to attend Norfolk State University with the assistance of scholarships and grants. She will be the first to attend college in her family, and she credits Fulmore and Martin with her success.
“I was lost,” Kanu said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. But they helped me out a lot. Even though I don’t have the normal lives of other kids, I feel like I have because of all the support they gave me.”