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Murray Journal

Students, teachers appreciate recognition, tell their stories at Murray Chamber’s education luncheon

May 24, 2018 01:13PM ● By Julie Slama

Twin Peaks Elementary teacher Trudy Soffe and student Glory Daines were honored at Murray Chamber of Commerce’s fourth annual education luncheon. (Photo courtesy Murray Chamber of Commerce)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com

For five years, Thomas Schwab skipped school to work odd jobs to help his family survive. When his dad stopped working, they lost their house and lived in a trailer park where Thomas would put in retaining walls or fix things. 

Life didn’t get easier for him when his parents split. Initially, he lived with his siblings and mom in a house in the Salt Lake area. He enrolled at Murray High, explaining to his counselor that he missed his later elementary years as well as all of junior high. 

However, Thomas said finances grew thin when they continuously had to rent a car, be pulled out of work and school, to face the courts in the St. George area where they initially lived with his father. When his mom lost her job and later moved to Spanish Fork to be a caretaker, Thomas lived on the streets and worked part-time at Burger King so he could continue school at Murray High.

Recently, the 4.0 grade-point average high school senior was one of 16 students and teachers from the Murray and Granite school districts as well as AISU who were honored by Murray Chamber of Commerce at their fourth annual education luncheon.

“This is an opportunity for students and teachers to be recognized among their peers as well as the public eye and to let them know they are appreciated,” said Stephanie Wright, president and CEO of Murray Area Chamber of Commerce. “Thomas is a great kid and his story is one everyone can learn from. Many of our students and teachers have accomplishments that may not show on their GPA, but it’s what they do to help others, help in the classroom or in some way, deserve recognition.”

The luncheon, sponsored by Brio Tuscan Grille, Larry H. Miller dealerships, Thorne & Associates, Jaybird Promotional and Mountain America Credit Union, provided the honorees their lunch as well as a gift bag of items and gift certificates from other local businesses. The honorees also received a certificate from the Chamber. 

Wright said that often principals select the teacher who will be recognized while teachers submit names for the student to the principal. 

In addition to Thomas, this year’s student honorees include Cottonwood High’s Jorge Lowenthal Figueroa; Twin Peaks Elementary’s Glory Daines; Woodstock Elementary’s Taylyn Rehovit; Riverview Junior High’s Maria Rios; Hillcrest Junior High’s Tanner Wing; Longview Elementary’s Ethan Hernandez; Grant Elementary’s Gracie Fredrickson; Horizon Elementary’s Baruc Brunet-Cornejo; Liberty Elementary’s Degan Biltz; McMillan Elementary’s Auriah Evans; AISU (elementary’s) Kaylee Hernandez; AISU (middle school’s) Hawke Arnsworth; and AISU (high school’s) Jasmine Hayward. 

Teachers honored include Lauren Merkley, Cottonwood High; Trudy Soffe, Twin Peaks; Melissa Polteno, Woodstock; Rod Jackson, Murray High; Sierra Shoen, Riverview; Dianne Wiscomb, Hillcrest; Anne Kjar, Longview; Lesa Lafferty, Grant; Susan Jorgensen, Horizon; Kristen Flower, Liberty; Christy Vuyk, McMillan; Karen Mangome, AISU (elementary); Roma Kalani, AISU (middle school); and Hoffman Verguez, AISU (high school). 

Honorees were thanked and given a moment to talk. Thomas said most people around him don’t know his story.

 “I didn’t really tell them,” he said. “But I wanted to be in school. I’d go up to my friends and ask if they had their notes from middle school or I’d borrow other textbooks so I could read them and learn what I missed. Sometimes a friend or co-worker would let me stay with them or give me a meal — and that helped a lot. At times, I’d find a place to sleep, usually in a bush. Then, I’d go to school and work and hope my stuff would still be there when I got back.”

Thomas said he didn’t seek help from his teachers or counselor since he had heard unfavorable stories about being in foster care.

“I just was trying to learn and survive. When I was 17, I signed up to join the Navy after graduation, and hopefully I will become an officer so I can have free college tuition. I had a plan, and my life was on track, but it’s difficult being homeless,” he said. 

However, the police did find Thomas asleep in a car with his mother and her boyfriend when they came to visit him. Thomas was placed in the Salt Lake County Division of Youth Services and given a place with crisis residential housing that offered him a safe place. 

However, he was about one month from turning 18 and the site only served children 8 to 17 years of age. That’s where the Salt Lake County Milestone Living Program helped provide Thomas transitional living in Sandy for most of his senior year. 

“We provide life skills, communication skills, a mentor, housing and anyway we can help or find those who can,” said Salt Lake County’s Milestone Program Manager, Mina Koplin, who added that also meant connecting with others to get Thomas a laptop for his birthday so he wouldn’t have to stay out late at night completing class assignments. 

“It was my first real birthday present in years. It was pretty incredible and helped so much. With their help, I also was given two really nice suits by Larry Miller’s grandson, Ty Miller, so I could go to my senior prom and have them for graduation and have senior pictures,” he said. “I know what’s ahead of me with serving in the Navy, earning a college degree and getting a job as a nuclear engineer. But up until their help, I was only surviving. People go through difficult circumstances and they crave stability.” 

Thomas has shared his story with Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams and at the first Utah homeless forum as well as with those at the Murray Area Chamber of Commerce lunch.

“I’ve had so many obstacles to overcome, but I still stay focused on my goals,” he said. “I want them to know you can overcome hardships if you try.”