Northeast Times

It’s her time to shine

Dur­ing troubled times, Eliza­beth Lane had put fam­ily first. Now two schol­ar­ships and a lot of sup­port are help­ing her reach a dream for her own fu­ture.

Eliza­beth “Betsy” Lane re­fuses to talk pub­licly about the im­pact of drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion in her life, even though she wasn’t the one drink­ing all of that booze or in­gest­ing the nar­cot­ics.

The Holy Fam­ily Uni­versity ju­ni­or-to-be po­litely and deftly hedges on the pi­ti­ful de­tails about the strained fam­ily re­la­tion­ships and fin­an­cial hard­ships that likely con­trib­uted to, and cer­tainly res­ul­ted from, the sub­stance ab­use of her par­ents and an older broth­er.

She mostly nods and smiles when asked about her own hard­ships: like how she bounced from home to home as a stu­dent at Abing­ton High School, some­times liv­ing with her par­ents, oth­er times liv­ing at her broth­er’s place, and yet oth­er times liv­ing with friends. At one point, she even moved to South­ern Cali­for­nia to live with her grand­moth­er, but that ar­range­ment proved only a short-term di­ver­sion, not a long-term solu­tion.

“I don’t want (my story) to have a neg­at­ive spin. My in­tent in telling the story in the first place was to be pos­it­ive. That’s one of my main goals. I want to mo­tiv­ate people,” she re­cently told the North­east Times.

Lane’s in­spir­a­tion­al story first sur­faced in Septem­ber, when she spoke elo­quently dur­ing a din­ner at the Tor­res­dale-Frank­ford Coun­try Club to hon­or Holy Fam­ily schol­ar­ship be­ne­fact­ors and re­cip­i­ents. The spring 2011 edi­tion of the uni­versity’s glossy semi-an­nu­al magazine spread her tear-pro­vok­ing testi­mony bey­ond the ban­quet hall.

Lane is the grate­ful re­cip­i­ent of two uni­versity-based grants, the Jaye Grochow­ski Schol­ar­ship — an award based on aca­dem­ic mer­it, need and com­mit­ment to Judeo-Chris­ti­an val­ues — and the W.W. Smith Char­it­able Trust Grant, an award based on need and po­ten­tial for suc­cess.

Three years ago, she seem­ingly had noth­ing work­ing in her fa­vor but her own per­son­al re­solve. Now she’s halfway to a bach­el­or’s de­gree in bio­logy and look­ing for­ward to a ca­reer in phys­ic­al ther­apy.

“I wanted to rise above everything that had been in my life,” Lane said.

“There are people who say, ‘I can’t go to col­lege,’ and ‘I don’t have the money.’ But there’s no ex­cuse.”

On the sur­face, Lane’s saga is not one that might read­ily win sym­pathy from hardened work­ing-class folks in North­east Philly. To a skep­tic, it might read something like this: pretty blonde girl from a largely up­scale sub­urb misses the gravy train and goes to work for a liv­ing like the rest of us.

Yet, even in the city, kids de­serve the chance to fin­ish high school, and a place to live while do­ing it. Lane al­most didn’t get that chance.

In­stead, she be­came a de facto foster mom to her broth­er’s four young chil­dren, in­clud­ing one who has cereb­ral palsy and aut­ism, while her broth­er and the chil­dren’s birth moth­er each struggled with ad­dic­tion. Her par­ents were deal­ing with their own fin­an­cial, al­co­hol and drug is­sues at the time and were ill-pre­pared to pick up ex­tra re­spons­ib­il­it­ies.

As a res­ult, the teen­age Lane found her­self at the cen­ter of a jug­gling act. The first ball to fall was school. She missed a lot of days. When she did show up, people star­ted call­ing her “Shady Lane,” a ref­er­ence to her grow­ing here-today/gone-to­mor­row repu­ta­tion.

“That was a really hard time, peri­od,” Lane said. “I didn’t think I was go­ing to col­lege. I didn’t take the SATs. I really didn’t have any­body telling me I should go to col­lege.”

Some days, it all was too much for her to handle. A guid­ance coun­selor, Tina Fere­bee, and vice prin­cip­al Rodd Mc­Cuen in­ter­vened on her be­half.

“Whenev­er I had prob­lems, I al­ways went to Ms. Fere­bee’s of­fice cry­ing,” Lane said.

The coun­selor offered Lane a bright­er per­spect­ive, and Mc­Cuen threw her a life­line aca­dem­ic­ally. Lane vowed to try harder in school, so Mc­Cuen prom­ised not to take a hard line on her spotty at­tend­ance, con­sid­er­ing the cir­cum­stances.

“It was like a fork in the road,” Lane said. “It was, ‘Either you stay home and take care of the kids and let this mad­ness go on or you let the kids go in­to foster care and try to gradu­ate high school.’”

She chose the lat­ter path. And al­though it has presen­ted her with a whole new set of chal­lenges, it also has provided her with the ne­ces­sit­ies to thrive.

Fere­bee per­suaded Lane to take the SATs and re­con­sider her col­lege op­tions. Lane got her dip­loma but had no money to live. So she de­cided to take time off from school. She worked as a nanny for two fam­il­ies and as a wait­ress.

“One week, I worked sev­enty-four hours, and I slept maybe twenty-four,” Lane said.

Around the same time, she re­newed a friend­ship with a young man named James Booth. They had met in ju­ni­or high school and dated be­fore a fall­ing out.

While Lane was at Abing­ton High, Booth at­ten­ded Cal­vary Chris­ti­an Academy. They re­con­nec­ted via Face­book and began dat­ing again in fall 2008, while Booth was a fresh­man ma­jor­ing in busi­ness man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing at Holy Fam­ily.

“Since then we’ve been the best of friends, and his fam­ily has be­come like my fam­ily,” Lane said.

“I didn’t de­cide I was go­ing to col­lege un­til I had that year off. Mostly and hon­estly, it was James and his fam­ily (who con­vinced me).”

Lane figured she’d bor­row money to pay for school. In ad­di­tion to fed­er­ally sub­sid­ized guar­an­teed stu­dent loans, which she won’t have to pay back un­til after gradu­ation, her grand­moth­er — the one in Cali­for­nia — co-signed a private loan for her.

Good karma gave Lane yet an­oth­er boost one even­ing in early 2009 when Jaye Grochow­ski walked in­to Three Mon­keys Caf&ea­cute; in Tor­res­dale, where Lane was wait­ing tables.

Grochow­ski, who works in Holy Fam­ily’s alumni and par­ents of­fice, struck up a con­ver­sa­tion with the as­pir­ing stu­dent. The top­ic turned to col­lege. “In five minutes speak­ing to her, she can con­vince any­body to go to Holy Fam­ily,” Lane said. “She’s the type of per­son whose pos­it­iv­ity really has an ef­fect.

“I told her I was go­ing to go to Holy Fam­ily, and she told me about this schol­ar­ship. She wanted me to ap­ply and gave me her phone num­ber. We talked for about a half-hour that night.”

Lane knew she wanted to study to be­come a phys­ic­al ther­ap­ist so she could help spe­cial-needs chil­dren like her broth­er’s son. “The phys­ic­al ther­ap­ist would come to the house and would do won­ders with him,” Lane re­called.

Now a full-time stu­dent, Lane still works at Three Mon­keys, and she also works as a res­id­ent as­sist­ant, help­ing to su­per­vise an on-cam­pus dorm­it­ory. When not study­ing or work­ing, she usu­ally can be found work­ing out at the gym.

“It feels like a totally dif­fer­ent world, a totally dif­fer­ent life,” she said.

Things are im­prov­ing on her home front, too. Her mom now lives in Beth­le­hem and has ad­op­ted the four grand­chil­dren, who are now ages 5 to 8. Lane’s fath­er and broth­er live in Abing­ton. She meets up with her dad from time to time to vis­it the young­sters.

Lane’s re­gi­men­ted sched­ule doesn’t both­er her a bit.

“I kind of con­sider my­self so lucky I have to work so hard for school, be­cause if you have no ap­pre­ci­ation for what you’re do­ing, it’s not go­ing to be worth a lot to you,” she said.

“I def­in­itely have days — I think every­body does — where I’m like, ‘How much do I want this?’ But if you really want something, you really com­mit your­self to it.” ••

Re­port­er Wil­li­am Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or bkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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