Young adults honored for beating the odds

There’s the Harley-Davidson fanatic, the future lawyer, the apprentice electrician, an Origami creator and a basketball player. They have all come in contact with the juvenile court system, a polite euphemism for getting in serious trouble.

If they hadn’t put me on probation when they did, it would have been a massacre,” Cody Cornelison, an 18-year-old senior at Osborne Park High school said frankly.

Tonight (4/30)they will be honored as students and community members who have beaten the odds.

Prince William County Bar Association’s Beat the Odds Program will award eight young adults scholarships to continue their education. Beat the Odds awards go to youth who have “overcome significant obstacles to achieve substantial social and academic progress,” after coming “into contact with the juvenile justice system” in Prince William County, according to the program’s press release.

The program is coordinated by the PWCBA, Court Services Unit, At Risk Youth and Family Services Unit, Departments of Social Services, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Clerk’s Office, and the Probation Departments in Prince William County. Several of the recipients of awards this year were nominated by their juvenile probation officers.

After everything he’s been through, his recovery is pretty outstanding,” said Julie Brann, the probation officer who nominated Connor. “He seemed to go the extra mile. He’s [survived] a lot of things that would have toppled a lot of other kids.”

Sponsors of the other award recipients say much the same about their nominees.

Xavier [Taylor] was a lifeguard at a rec center who met these cool guys with pot and fast women. That was the beginning of the end … and it really snowballed,” parole officer Danielle McCauley said. “He’s a different kid today. He goes to day school and night school, trying to do his junior and senior year at the same time.”

Taylor missed his junior year of high school after expulsion from Hylton. He returned this year after a year of probation and substance abuse treatment.

Roughly $20,000 will be split amongst tonight’s winners, who will be honored at a banquet at Heritage Hunt Country Club in Gainesville. The PWCBA gives three levels of awards: the Beat the Odds Scholarship Award, the Beat the Odds Phoenix Award, and the Beat the Odds Honor Roll Award. The scholarships are funded by the PWCBA through grants from the Virginia Law Foundation and donations.

From an attorney’s standpoint, if I’m not involved in this program, I don’t see the good side [of these kids],” said Kathleen Latham Farrell, PWCBA immediate past president. “That’s what motivated me. I can keep a more balanced, or sane, perspective on things.”

One of the scholarships the PWCBA will award tonight will go to Celia Baltes, who wants to be a lawyer.

They used to laugh at me because I was on the wrong side of the law. They used to tell me I couldn’t be a lawyer behind bars,” said Baltes. After expulsion from Gar-Field High School for marijuana violations, Baltes wound up in the Juvenile Detention Center, on probation, and three months in a rehabilitation clinic. Baltes said after her release, knew she never wanted to go back. She earned her GED in a month, and a week later, was enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College.

Baltes, Connor, and Taylor are receiving the Scholarship Award. All three plan to put their awards towards tuition at Northern Virginia Community College.

Connor, who seemed disappointed he couldn’t put the scholarship money towards his coveted Harley motorcycle, plans to study auto mechanics and possibly business. Taylor plans to transfer to take a degree in computers or possibly teaching.

Michael and Derek Cornelison will be receiving the PWCBA’s Phoenix Award tonight. Phoenix awards can go towards tuition or vocational tools.

Cornelison, 19, is an electrician’s apprentice at M.C. Dean Inc. He is currently finishing the first of three years’ training for a Journeyman’s License. He’s not yet sure whether to put his award towards additional classes at NVCC or tools. Cornelison got his apprentice job shortly after graduating from Forest Park High School; he proudly lists projects he has worked on at George Washington University, Home Depot, Fannie Mae and the Pentagon.

Michael, who takes apart computers as easily as he folds Origami paper, plans on a degree in computer engineering. The 17-year-old Hylton junior’s award will probably go towards a computer.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.