I asked Rayven Lynch what made her want to go to college, the first in her family to do so.
“Because I wanted more for myself,” the composed, soft-spoken 17-year-old said. “And for my siblings.”
Rayven’s mother, Martina Lynch, gave birth to Rayven when she was 14.
“I was really a baby having a baby,” Martina, now 31, told me.
I met Martina and her family in their apartment in Southeast Washington, near the Congress Heights Metro station. They are clients of Community of Hope, a local charity that is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand fundraising drive.
When a District family is chronically homeless, as Martina’s once was, often the first thing city agencies do is try to find relatives or friends who are amenable to having the distressed family move in with them. That’s what Martina often did.
“But who wants to have this person with five kids to come and stay with them — and for so long — until she gets on her feet?” she said. “That was just too much.”
The situation can end up disrupting multiple lives. For kids, it makes it hard to concentrate on schoolwork. For adults, it feeds a resentment that often erupts in acrimony.
That’s the situation Martina found herself in. When she was a girl, her mother had been unable to care for her and she was raised in Washington by her grandmother and grandfather. She lived with them after giving birth to Rayven. When her grandfather retired from his job at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he moved the family to South Carolina. Eventually, Martina moved back to Washington, where she hoped there would be more opportunity. Rayven stayed with her great-grandparents.
“Rayven was doing so good, I didn’t want to take Rayven,” Martina said.
Rayven thrived in school. She’d casually mention to her mother whenever she’d made honor roll, which was most of the time.
“I was speechless,” Martina said. “I used to be so excited. I would say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you made honor roll? That’s the kind of thing that makes a parent proud.’ I guess she feels like that’s what she was supposed to do.”
But as well as Rayven was doing, things were tough for Martina. She and her other children bounced around friends’ houses. They lived temporarily in motel shelters. Rayven would visit, glad to see her mother and siblings, but distraught at the conditions they were living in.
Said Martina: “It gave Rayven a chance to see why she’d want to further her life, because without her education and stuff, this may be where she’d end up at.”
Last year, Martina qualified for the city’s permanent supportive housing program. That’s a type of housing that acknowledges a family needs long-term support. In August 2015, Martina and her children moved into their apartment. After years of uncertainty, the family had a place to call its own.
Community of Hope provides the safety net to keep that roof over their heads. Jamia Morrow, a Community of Hope housing stability case manager, meets with Martina regularly, helping her set goals and reviewing the family’s progress.
In April, Rayven’s great-grandmother died of complications after routine surgery. Rayven continued with high school, graduating a year early. The day after her graduation, she moved to Washington to be with her mother and five siblings. She spent the summer working two jobs — in the office of a construction company and as a camp counselor — and consulting with Douglass Harvey, a Community of Hope youth specialist.
Douglass was able to help Rayven navigate the thicket of paperwork to get financial aid for college. Rayven is a freshman at Morgan State University. Douglass is just a phone call away and sometimes drives up to Baltimore to check on Rayven. That’s part of the plethora of supportive services Community of Hope showers on its clients.
“They treat my daughter as if she was their child,” Martina said. “They are really going out for my baby.”
Martina finds inspiration in her oldest child’s accomplishments. And she’s not the only one.
“My 9-year-old is just like her,” said Martina of her second-oldest child, Marjae. “She wants to finish her homework packet all in one day. . . . She’s in the bed asleep at night with her papers and books.”
Maybe Marjae will be the second person in her family to go to college.
Rayven lives in a dorm at Morgan State and this semester is taking a whopping seven classes. She’s majoring in social work. On weekends, Rayven returns to Washington to see her family and work a Sunday job at FedEx Field.
By participating in The Post’s Helping Hand fundraising drive, you can help families such as Rayven’s. To donate online, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to “Community of Hope” and mail it to: Community of Hope, Attn: Helping Hand, 4 Atlantic St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20032.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.