Cleveland High School junior named "Youth of the Year" - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Cleveland High School junior named "Youth of the Year"

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CLEVELAND, TN (WRCB) -- Cleveland High School Junior Maria Abeyta was forced to grow up years before she should have. A past riddled with drugs, abuse, and foster homes finally she's seeing her perseverance pay off.

Maria said, "I remember when I was eight-years-old I had to take care of my younger siblings because my mom was sick on drugs."

While the other kids were busy on playgrounds, eight-year-old Maria Abeyta was gathering what little food she had to feed her three younger siblings, "I would always wonder why all the other kids go to play, and I would have to take care of them."

Maria's biological mother died when she was nine, from there the Abeyta's bounced from foster home to foster home, until her father attempted to raise them. She says it was good for a couple years but he starting abusing drugs, which led to abusing the children.

"He started accusing me saying I was like my mom, I was nothing like her," Maria said.

The abuse started to take a toll. Maria began cutting herself, her grades plummeted, at the time she simply didn't care.

That's when the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club stepped in, and more importantly Senior Unit Director Jennifer Burke, who has since adopted them.

Burke said, "I feel like god was telling me this is your destiny, take these kids and do what you can. I love all the kids that come to the club, but they are special too me, and now they are mine, my children, and I love them very much."

What a change it's made Maria was recently named the Cleveland Area Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year.

Her grades are back above average, and she'll be the first member of her biological family to graduate high school and attend college.

Simply because she was didn't let her dark past consume her, "I'm glad that god got me out of that situation because I did pray and I was scared," said Maria.

Burke added, "they have a great future ahead. They're gonna make a difference, and I'm proud that I will be a part of that difference they're gonna make."

With the award Maria earned a $1,000 scholarship. She'll compete for top Youth in the State this March in Nashville. After she graduates high school, she plans to earn a psychology degree to be a youth counselor.

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