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On Nov. 29, 1766, Benjamin Franklin wrote for the London Chronicle, “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. – I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”
I love seeing and hearing stories of someone rising above adversity. Here is a story of one of those special people.
Eighteen-year-old Dawn Loggins embodies what can help the poor and, at the same time, reduce entitlements, government control and dependency.
Dawn was raised in abject poverty by drug-addicted parents who were in and out of jail, squatted in houses and faced multiple evictions. By her teenage years, she had bounced around to eight different schools and often had to study at home by candlelight because they didn’t have electricity. She went days, weeks and even months without showering because they didn’t have running water. She and her younger brother, Shane, would have to fill up milk jugs with water from local parks just to flush their toilets, cook or take a bath.
Dawn explained to CNN that her family “never really explained to me and my brother the importance of bathing regularly. And our house was really disgusting. We had cockroaches everywhere. And we had trash piled literally two-feet high. We’d have to step over it to get anywhere in the house.”
In summer 2011, between her junior and senior year, Dawn was invited to attend a six-week residential summer school program in Raleigh, N.C. But when she called to return home at the end of it, she discovered that her mother and step-father’s phone was disconnected. They had moved again, but this time without Dawn, her brother or a forwarding address.
Dawn explained to CNN, “When I returned, my grandmother had been dropped off at a local homeless shelter, my brother had just left and my parents had just gone. I found out later they had moved to Tennessee. I never expected my parents to just, like, leave.”
Under different circumstances, Dawn might have been turned over to the state department of social services, but her school and local community of Lawndale – a small town of about 600 in the Appalachian foothills of western North Carolina – rallied around her and helped her through instead. At first, Dawn crashed on the couches or floors of friends’ houses. Eventually, a custodian and bus driver took her in and allowed her to finish her senior year while living in her house. And high school counselors, teachers and others in town made sure she had food, clothes and school supplies.
But Dawn never expected handouts. She got a job as a janitor at her own high school, where she cleaned the hallways, classrooms and bathrooms – before and after school.
Despite her family neglect, abuse and abandonment, Dawn learned the power to overcome the past. She told MSNBC, “There were times when I felt like it would be easiest if I gave up. But it was never in me to give up, because I realized that I was never going to be successful unless I got an education.”
She told CNN, “When I was younger, I was able to look at all the bad choices – at the neglect and the drug abuse and everything that was happening – and make a decision for myself that I was not going to end up like my parents, living from paycheck to paycheck.”
She learned from her parent’s negative examples and vowed to live differently. And though she was extremely grateful for the community help, she wanted to make her own way, “When I get to college, I can work for what I need. And I know my future is going to be great.”
Throughout it all, Dawn earned an “A” average in her classes, including three advanced placement courses and an honors class. She was also president of the photography club and was involved in band club and a national honor society. She also started a community service program, collecting thousands of letters for active military troops.
After she graduated, she applied at four colleges and was accepted at none other than Harvard University, where she just finished her first semester in December 2012.
Dawn’s life and victory over the plethora of obstacles in her life reminds me of two things that could transform our lives and country: 1) the power of the human spirit to survive and thrive against all odds 2) and the power of others rallying and cheerleading that self-advancement. From mopping floors to studying in the Ivy League, Dawn is a true model for so many today. But so are her school and community helpers, who became her village of heroes.
In my C-Force health & fitness column (a second weekly column I write), I just finished a series on “12 ways to live happier.” One of those ways was: “Don’t go it alone.” Dawn again personified my solutions there:
We were created for community, but all too often we try to overcome our hardships alone. Healthy and happy people have learned to harness the help of others. They surround themselves with people who mirror or motivate how they want to be. They also utilize the expertise of others. Those can include friends, neighbors, co-workers, church members, support groups, community leaders, etc.
I’m not overlooking the fact that there are legitimate disability and welfare needs. But my 91-year-old mom, Wilma Norris Knight, whose 11-member family weathered the Great Depression by working together in cotton fields, often reminded me through the years about the power of God, self and towns where communities cared for one another and didn’t rely on the government for everything.
Our communities were close and neighbors even closer. We weren’t worried about locking our doors because the neighbor might need something in our house. I still love the simple life, the way it used to be.
I think the lack of family, community and church life is at the core of what is ruining our nation, but it’s also the key to our renewal. Just as my story begins with my family, America’s renewal begins with overcoming the obstacles that divide and dissolve our homes. …
We didn’t just have one another to lean on, but we had God, too. In God we trust was not merely stamped on our money but embedded in our hearts. We all attended church and belonged to a faith community. Church was the hub of society, the community core and rallying point. We thought and worked in community. The way we saw it was: If one of us was chained, none of us was free.
Want to fix yourself and America at the same time? Then be more like Dawn and those residents in Lawndale, N.C., who helped her. If we did so, I’m convinced that we could turn America back to her glory days – one person and one family at a time.
We should do as Dawn explained to CBS: “A lot of people use bad situations as an excuse. Instead of doing that, I used them as motivation.”
In fact, Dawn aspires to start a nonprofit organization to help other teens. She concluded by saying to CNN, “There are so many kids whose futures aren’t so sure, and they need help more than I do. I want them to be able to use my story as motivation.”
To read Wilma Norris Knight’s new autobiography, “Acts of Kindness: My Story,” go to Chuck Norris.com.