Tara Wilhide (pictured above), a Catoctin High School senior, was homeless for three years. In April, she received a $2,000 scholarship and recognition from School House Connection, a national organization that assists students experiencing homelessness. She was one of the 11 students from around the country to receive this award at a ceremony in Florida.
Wilhide was chosen for this honor based on her essay on the impact of her experience as a homeless high school student and her determination to succeed despite her situation.
The journey from homeless student to national scholarship recipient began when Wilhide moved out of her home when she was 14 years old.
“Both my parents suffer from substance abuse, and they have since I was five,” said Wilhide.
She was determined to stay in school and get an education, so she found temporary places to stay with friends or other family members, sometimes slept in the park, and worked three jobs to support herself.
When she was 15, Wilhide joined SHIP (Student Homelessness Initiative Partnership) of Frederick County, a non-profit organization that, according to their website, “seeks to lift up Frederick County’s homeless youth so that they can realize their best potential, complete their education, and be poised to break the cycle of poverty they find themselves in.”
Wilhide’s success and confidence earned her a place on the Youth Advisory Council. Ashley Bennett, SHIP Counselor, said, “As a leader of our SHIP Youth Advisory Council, she has also joined our staff members in attending the 1st Maryland Symposium in Youth Homelessness in May 1-2, 2019. She was invited as a presenter in a youth leadership panel, highlighting the challenges and barriers youth have in accessing community support services.”
Wilhide has advice for students who are in this situation: “I know it is scary and a lot of them think ‘I don’t have it that bad.’ When I was told that I was homeless, I thought that I was not homeless. I have a place to live. I’m staying somewhere. But if you are not living with your parents, and you are working jobs to support yourself and are struggling in school because you don’t have someone to help you out with things, more than likely you need help. It’s okay to ask for help, and the people who are here to help you aren’t here to make your life harder. They are here to make your life easier, and they are going to try their best to do that for you.”