Former foster care, homeless youths graduate school

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A local non-profit is celebrating the achievements of students who have reached a milestone.

“They’re graduating from high school, they’re graduating from post-secondary trade school, which is exciting,” said Vita Nova CEO Jeff Demario, “and they’re graduating with their associates degrees from college.”

Vita Nova, which serves as a safe haven for homeless and foster care youth, recognized 34 graduates who are well on their way to making a difference in their community.

“It feels great. I’m excited, I’m ecstatic, I can’t believe I made it this far,” exclaimed graduate Beatrice Mattison-Santos.

Her road wasn’t easy, but her destination with a diploma in hand was well worth it.

At the tender age of 12, Mattison-Santos was forced into the state’s foster care system.

Growing up, she struggled with homelessness, physical and mental abuse.

Her parents also suffered from drug abuse.

“He wrapped up in drugs and became an addict and I haven’t heard from him since,” said Mattison-Santos. “Unfortunately, when I turned 16 my mother overdosed.”

Still, she managed to persevere and achieve her goals. She recently graduated with honors from Palm Beach State College with a 4.0 GPA.

Mattison-Santos is vowing to not let her childhood define her future as an adult.

“I just wanted to do better, I wanted to do so much more in life,” said Mattison-Santos. “I wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to be a change in the community.”

In the fall, she’ll be attending Florida Atlantic University and then moving on to medical school. She credits her achievements to her support team Vita Nova, where she serves as a light to help others like her find their way.

“Beatrice is a super star, she really is,” Demario said. “She’s a beacon for other youth that are younger than her still in foster care.”

“They fill in the gap very well and those are the people that make a difference,” Mattison-Santos said. “It takes a village to raise us up, it really does.”

It’s all proof that one young woman’s hard work is worth the community’s investment.

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