By Joel Hall
For Abby Dixon, life has never been easy. The 13-year-old seventh-grader at Babb Middle School, has had challenges many youngsters have never faced. She lived in foster care before her grandmother took her in, and her twin brother, Robert, is autistic.
Because of instability at her home, the Forest Park pupil, along with her three siblings, spent two years in foster care, before their grandmother, Carrie Dixon, took custody of them seven years ago.
"I think the most impressive thing I can say [about Abby] is with all that she has gone through, she has kept pulling herself up," said Edonna Norton-Rashad, a counselor at Babb Middle School. "A lot of kids in her situation might just give up and say, 'I'm going to turn to gangs.' She has not let these things overcome her. She is going to be a true leader."
The 13-year-old recently accomplished something only 72 seventh-graders, out of 40,000 in Georgia, have been able to achieve -- acceptance into the 2015 class of the Atlanta-area C5 Youth Foundation, said Norton-Rashad, who coordinates the C5 Youth program at Babbs.
Out of students who applied from Clayton County this year, Dixon was accepted along Nadia Crawford, Niya Kendrick, and Demarcus Morgan -- all fellow seventh-graders graders at Babb Middle School. Babb Middle School is the only school in Clayton County that currently recruits for the C5 Youth Foundation, according to school officials.
The C5 Youth Foundation, formerly known as Camp Coca-Cola, is a national, five-year program which puts academically-gifted seventh-graders on a fast track to college. Through summer camps, cultural and academic field trips, college preparation, and community service, the program helps "change the odds for high-potential youth[s] from risk-filled environments," according to the program's mission statement.
The program, which comes at no cost to the student's family, puts students through five years of leadership experiences, "preparing them for leadership roles in college, work, and their communities," according to the program's web site. The five 'Cs' stand for character driven, community focused, challenge ready, college bound, and committed to a better future -- personal attributes the program strives to develop in its participants.
For Abby's accomplishments, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners honored her this week with a proclamation celebrating her acceptance into the C5 Youth Foundation. On Tuesday, the board presented her with a plaque and recognized her achievement during its regular business meeting.
For the last five years, the Dixons have been participants in the Clayton County Kinship Care Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program. It is an initiative that provides food, financial, and educational assistance, to families with a grandparent serving as the primary bread-winner and caretaker.
Clayton County Senior Services Department Director Mary Byrd, who oversees the Kinship Care program, said Abby Dixon is the first Kinship Care participant, to her knowledge, who has successfully applied to the program. "She's been a straight-A student every year ... she excels in math and reading, and those are the two teachers who recommended her," Byrd said. "She's at the Kinship [Care] program all through the week for tutoring. She sets a great example for the kids in the program. She can set an example to them, and show that, no matter what your challenges, you can be successful."
In addition to attending honors courses in science and math, Abby Dixon is a member of the school's math, science, and chess clubs. Her grandmother said her academic motivation comes from a desire to be able to provide for her younger siblings. "I'm 75 years old ... I'm not [always] going to be able to take care of them," Carrie Dixon said. "She really wants to go to college and she [has] said a lot of times that she is going to go, so she can get a good job and take care of her siblings. I think that is her motivation ... she has always taken that mother role."
Carrie Dixon said her granddaughter would be the first person in her family to attend college. She said she is excited about the opportunities the C5 Youth Foundation will provide for Abby. "I think it is going to be really good for her," Carrie Dixon said. "It'll prepare her for college. She won't have to depend on anybody else ... she'll learn how to do for herself."
Abby, who describes herself as "shy," said she hopes the program will help her build confidence and, possibly, pursue a career in teaching, or helping people with disabilities. While she sometimes feels pressured to succeed, she will use that pressure to her advantage, she said.
"As long as I am helping people, I am happy with what I am doing," she said. "If I have pressure, I will try to do better than I am already doing, so pressure sometimes can be a good thing."
Seventh-grade Language Arts Teacher Donna Watkins, one of two teachers who nominated Dixon for the C5 Youth Foundation, believes the program will help Dixon.
"Even though she is very shy, she is a very good student, and she is very helpful," Watkins said. "I feel like she has very good leadership skills that haven't come out yet, and I felt like this program was a good way to exercise that. It will really prepare her for high school and college and help her to assume leadership."