OAKLAND (CBS 5) -Char-Leen Craner remembers a time when her childhood seemed perfect, before drugs threatened to completely tear her home apart. Now this Student Rising Above is trying to rebuild a family for her siblings and herself through education.
A home video shows an earnest little girl on her seventh birthday, scrunching her face as she concentrates on making a wish. But the changes were already beginning in their home back then. Drugs were creeping into the house and would eventually destroy her parents.
“When my dad got on drugs, he didn’t want her anymore,” Char-Leen said of her parents’ relationship. She could see what her father’s addiction did to her mother. “When she realized she didn’t have that family anymore, that’s when she got hooked on heroin…that took away her whole life.”
The family moved from place to place then fell apart. Char-Leen’s father left. Mom was shot twice on the street. Sometimes she was home, but mostly not. Eventually the kids ended up with their grandfather.
Char-Leen decided to take charge of her own life.
“It started when I was 9,” said Char-Leen. “Getting them up for school, putting their clothes on, and cooking dinner.”
“She is in charge of running a household,” said teacher Michelle Vargas. “She has to be on top of her siblings to not only get their work done. In addition to mothering them, essentially takes care of her older grandfather.”
“Char-Leen’s situation is not unusual at Oakland High,” said Vargas. “There are kids who walk these halls can speak about domestic violence, rape, abuse, drugs, all of that, but they use it as an excuse.”
Char-Leen does not make excuses. She has a 3.7 GPA. In a school in a district with a 40% drop out rate, Vargas said Char-Leen makes smart “look cool.”
After school, Char-Leen and her sister catch the bus and head to a college prep tutoring program, called College Track. Making sure her sister and brother are on track is a focal point for her.
“I consider them my kids, in a sense,” said Char-Leen. “They really mean a lot, like getting them out of Oakland and into college is something that is important to me.”
“She has decided to be the mother that her brother and sister don’t have,” said Michelle Vargas. “She is stepping up to give them some semblance of hope and possible of the families that they can have one day.”
“It is possible for kids without parents to find support” said Char-Leen.
Someday she hopes that support and an education will help bring happiness back into her own home again.
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