Camryn Ramirez named her baby Xaviour – pronounced “savior” – because she believed he was that for her.
When she was pregnant with him, she was living in a Tacoma trailer park with her drug-seller boyfriend, who as a prospective father had one standard he would not bend.
“He wouldn’t give me crack because I was pregnant,” she said, “but he was selling it 5 feet from me.”
Ramirez was 34 years old, and her past was wreckage. She’d left school in sixth grade, got pregnant at 13 and spent most of the next 20 years high on whatever was available – marijuana, meth, crack cocaine.
She’d walked out of a marriage, leaving two sons. She’d had a daughter taken away by Child Protective Services and, at one low point, sold crack on the streets of Tacoma with the son she’d had at 14.
Three things stopped her downward spiral, and the first was Xaviour. The second was a Puyallup man trying to help. The third was Bates College.
“There was a man, David Steger from the Foursquare Church in Puyallup, who brought bag lunches to the trailer park and offered to take you to the church on Sunday,” she said. “I started going. The church was a loving place.”
Steger founded Matthew 25 Outreach, bought a 15-passenger van and made those bag lunches, stopping by low-rent motels, trailer parks and places where he could find the homeless.
He remembered Ramirez.
“I saw her at her worst, when she was still hooked on drugs,” Steger said. “Getting her to church got her going in the right direction, and then she really went after it. The baby drove her.”
Ramirez decided to get her GED; she contacted Bates College when she was still pregnant and only a few months clean. She was not an ideal college candidate – except, perhaps, at Bates.
“We have students getting their starts sitting in class next to those getting their last chance,” school President Ron Langrell said. “Part of the risk-management strategy is to measure if you are doing the most you can with each student.
“Inspiration? We have the expectation that we inspire our students to succeed. That waxes a little more magical than you traditionally get in college.”
Ramirez met with career counselor Bob Traufler.
“Its all about providing opportunities,” he said. “We gave her one, and she took full advantage. She’s fearless.”
Over the final three months of pregnancy, Ramirez took and passed three of the five GED tests while attending pre-requisite classes that would help her move up her grade level in reading and math.
When Xaviour was born, despite Ramirez’s efforts, she lost the baby to CPS. This time – for the first time – she was determined to get her child back.
“When I got clean, it was for Xaviour. I was clean when I came to Bates, and everyone here encouraged me,” she said. “I found my happiness here. I was accepted by the Phoebe House for transitional housing and got free dental work through them. I took financial classes from Hope Sparks.”
Instead of seeking welfare, she took advantage of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. And she got her GED.
“When I got my accreditation, the staff here asked ‘What now?’ They urged me to get into a program and set up a career,” she said. “I chose the administrative medical assistant program.”
She’d also collected letters from each teacher who’d worked with her and from Traufler, who’d recommended her for a scholarship. She took them to a judge and appealed for Xaviour.
And got him back.
Today, Camryn Ramirez is 18 months clean, halfway through her Bates career program. She has reached out to three of her first four children; one daughter has been adopted, and Ramirez has no contact with her for now.
Traufler has watched her efforts.
“I’ve seen how much she’s overcome – Camryn had a lot stacked up against her,” he said. “She never let it distract her, stop her. She wants to be a success.”
At 35, Ramirez is poised to climb past the last 20 years of her life. That’s good enough to catch the attention of the Bates College president.
“In life, you don’t want to fall short because you didn’t reach high enough,” Langrell said. “Here at Bates, we don’t want to reach too low. We want our students to succeed as much as they want it.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 email@example.com