When Jennifer Lafon received the First State Bank Scholarship for Foster Students, not once, but twice, she considered it a win for a misunderstood segment of society.
“So often, foster children are seen as trouble, that’s it somehow their fault,” says Lafon. “But when a financial institution sees the value and invests in this underrepresented population, it’s truly remarkable. It sends out a message of hope.”
Lafon entered the Foster Care System when she was 13 after the successive deaths of her grandparents, with whom she lived. She was taken out of school and placed into emergency foster care. Her belongings from the only home she had ever known arrived a week later in four plastic bags.
“My whole life was placed on the floor in front of me,” relates Lafon, “reduced to exactly how I felt about myself. Garbage.”
Determined to be able to take care of herself, Lafon, who lives on her own, enrolled at Macomb and started on a path toward a business degree. She would “reward” herself with a humanities class now and then, trying to quell the sense that she was compromising a deep-seeded desire to make the system work for others.
“I realized that just because I could do something didn’t mean I should do it for the rest of my life,” says Lafon. “I reflected on all the people and groups that inspired me and my experiences and compassion for others, and tried to imagine a career that included the value they brought into my life. Social work revealed itself every time.”
Lafon received her first scholarship from First State Bank while attending Macomb and says it was “a huge relief.” She transferred to Wayne State University and was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in social work when the University of Detroit Mercy offered a full scholarship and a job in its alumni relations office. She received her second scholarship from First State Bank this summer to return to Macomb as a Guest Student, taking general education courses that she needed. It was a welcomed reunion.
“I owe so much to the education that I received at Macomb,” says Lafon. “It taught me what truly matters is what you are most passionate about.”
Lafon was selected to give the student address at the college’s December 2018 commencement, when she received her Associate of General Studies degree. In her speech, she called out the “beautiful people” at Macomb who had helped her “curate” her past experiences into a future helping others. And she bravely shared that there had been a moment of hesitation before deciding upon social work as her major.
“It was terrifying to realize I was considering a career that could cause me to relive the years I was in foster care,” Lafon told her audience. “But, if I could help just one foster kid not feel like they are garbage, any emotional cost to me would be worth it.”