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Faced with hardship and growing up too soon, Annette Ivey lost her sense of self-esteem. But her selfless attitude toward helping others healed her inner spirit and built a champion.

With her mother in prison and her father coping with alcohol addiction, Annette Ivey found home life unbearable. Stepmothers came and went. Ivey, her older brother and younger sister were shipped around to live with relatives in Iowa, Texas, California, Colorado and Nebraska.

She started running away when she was 12 and grew up quickly. “I was older [emotionally] than 12,” Ivey explains. “It was easy for me to get involved with a group of kids who were in high school. I got involved with older guys, and then I started my ‘boyfriend phase.’ I kept running, and then I got involved in alcohol and drugs.

“That was really when everything spiraled,” she says with straightforward honesty. “I went through a lot of shelters and through two residential treatments.”

When she ran away, she’d stay with the boyfriend at the time.

“I would be tossed from his house to a friend’s house to another friend’s house,” she adds. “Sometimes I went out of town. One time I went out of state. I was big on the Internet, and I had been talking to a guy for two years from Michigan. I wanted to run away from my dad’s house again. I had no place to go, so this guy came down from Michigan, and we went back to Michigan for two weeks. I came back because of some of the things that happened there.”

The teen-ager doesn’t go into details, but the Michigan jaunt landed her in a strict residential treatment facility in northern Iowa.

“I was there a year and a half, and then I left and went to a foster home in Aurora, Iowa, and everything was good. But, I was seeing the wrong people again, and I ran from the house. I went back and then I left again, and that’s how I ended up at the juvenile home.”

Things didn’t get off to a great start at the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Her sister started to get in trouble, and Ivey blamed herself. Her self-esteem dropped to a new low.

“For a lot of us who are at the juvenile home, we come in with, like, no pride, no self-esteem,” she explains.

“Being able to do this project made me realize that my world doesn't revolve around me.”

Something clicked when Ivey took a class in service learning. The local food shelter was short on supplies, so the class headed up a drive. Targeting area employers, who encouraged their workers to donate nonperishable items, they collected more than a ton of food for families.

“Before I got involved, I was very self-centered. It was always about me. I didn’t want to help anybody else. I didn’t want to be around other people. I wanted to be by myself, because then my world could revolve around me,” Ivey remembers.

“Being able to do this project made me realize that my world doesn’t revolve around me. Seeing some of the people who came into the food pantry was like seeing me. I saw single moms and their kids. They didn’t have the best clothing or the best hygiene. It was like, ‘Wow, I could end up like that if I don’t change my situation.’”

The teamwork aspect of the project did wonders for Ivey’s self-esteem. She took the lead in the project, and in 2005 it became their entry in SkillsUSA Iowa’s Community Service competition. Ivey and a classmate would be presenting the project at the state championships.

Unfortunately, Ivey got into trouble and wasn’t allowed to attend. She was disappointed but quickly remembered it wasn’t about her. Folks without food needed support, and participating in the contest would get the word out about their work.

Her homeroom instructor and state association director, Diane Klenk-Chargo, explains. “This is the student who was leading it all, and now she can’t go and perform. So we had to scramble around to get somebody to take her place.

“This is why I admire her the most. Even though she was taken off the list and couldn’t go to state conference, she worked on the PowerPoint. She organized it. She helped the girls. I can’t believe the good attitude that she had under the circumstances. To have done all the work, and just to turn it over to somebody else to present, I think that was amazing.”

Their project won. The students who presented it, and other classmates who participated, moved on and left the juvenile home. Ivey continued to work on it, although she knew she couldn’t go on to the SkillsUSA Championships. But Klenk-Chargo talked to the superintendant, and one week before the event, Ivey learned that she’d be allowed to make the trip. She had to scramble to prepare.

“The project was really important to me,” Ivey says, “and I knew it was important to my partner. I had spent so much time with Diane, and I knew how much this project meant to her, too. I knew that even if we didn’t get the gold medal, even if we didn’t place at all, that if Diane knew we had worked our hardest and put our best into it, that this would be enough.”

They did earn a medal, a bronze, but for Ivey, the lesson had already been learned. Being a champion meant having trust and support — and, she adds, “a whole lot of determination and dedication.”

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SkillsUSA Champions | Winter 2007 | Volume 41, No. 2
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