Gates Scholar has big dreams to help children and families in crisis

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Some of the nation’s highest achieving minority students graduating from high school each year are honored as Gates Millennium Scholars.  And because they have significant financial need for college, they get scholarships that pay for their college tuition through graduate school.  The Fox 4 Young Achiever of the Week is one of them – a captivating speaker who has persevered and conquered major setbacks -- and soared.

As she stocks the shelves at the local Walgreen’s store where she works, LaTara Demery’s mind wanders every now and then to a time just a few weeks from now and a place 750 miles away.

“I’ve always had big dreams and I’ve always thought my dreams were bigger than what’s around me,” said LaTara, who is this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence Young Achiever.

LaTara’s biggest dreams are about to be realized.  Next month she will start classes at the University of Texas at Austin to study in UT’s acclaimed School of Social Work.

“I want to be a social worker,” said LaTara.  “And I just want to make people’s lives easier, especially little kids that don’t get to control the situation that their in.”

LaTara’s life has been anything but easy.  Years of severe money problems caused her family to be homeless for a time and pushed LaTara to get steady part time jobs to help out.

“I think it’s made me significantly stronger,” said LaTara.

A poisonous spider bite that put her in the hospital ICU for weeks caused a serious illness that plagued her most of her junior year of high school.

“I realized there is nothing I will not do to get myself to the place I want to be,” said LaTara.

With remarkable perseverance and an extraordinary work ethic, LaTara conquered those setbacks and soared.

“I think it just made me motivated to go to school, to get a good job and a great education so that I can take care of myself and my family in the future,” said LaTara.

Her plans for the future can be seen as a reflection of her own experiences and her strong focus on social justice.  That came through in the eloquent and powerful oratories she wrote and delivered in speech and debate starting in 8th grade at Sumner Academy.

“LaTara had a natural inkling for public speaking and the importance of using her voice to advocate for positive change,” said Sumner Academy Speech and Debate Teacher Jamelle Brown.

LaTara became a state champion and a top ten national speech and debate tournament competitor.

“She’s one of those speakers, you just love to listen to her because she’s very captivating,” said Brown.  “And she can put you kind of in a trance while you’re sitting and listening to her.”

A big financial weight has been lifted off LaTara’s shoulders now to enable her to get to her dream school to study for that rich, rewarding and important career she wants so much without having to be so concerned about how she’s going to pay for it.  LaTara’s a Gates Millennium Scholar for 2015.

“I’m really proud of myself,” said LaTara.  As a Gates Millennium Scholar, LaTara gets a scholarship that pays all of her college tuition through graduate school.

“She’s quite the jewel,” said Brown. “Incredibly talented, not just in speech and debate but across the board.  Otherwise she wouldn’t be a Gates Scholar.”

“It’s just an amazing thing to be able to honestly say that you love who you’ve become,” said LaTara.

A champion of social justice, eloquent and powerful, confident and comfortable in her skin, and ready to live her dream.

LaTara says her plan is to work with clients of foster care and adoption agencies at first and then probably open a private practice to work with children and families in crisis, and likely do that right back here in Kansas City.

FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments.  In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism.  Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.

Phil Witt, FOX 4 News