The transition from high school to college is challenging for any student. For foster care youth, without family support, that challenge is magnified.

Melody Smith, a Davis & Elkins College senior, spent almost half her life living with a single foster family. At the age of 18, Melody’s desire to attend college created a rift with her foster family. She faced the ultimatum of delaying college or packing her belongings and moving out. Thus, she arrived at D&E as a freshman without a “home.” Scheduled breaks from classes found Melody accompanying D&E friends to their homes. She also had no phone calls to “parents” for support or advice.

As typical of children in foster care, Melody’s childhood was filled with adversity. Rather than succumbing to her circumstances, she determined to overcome the tough hand she was dealt. She also received critical support from her five siblings, even though separated by the foster care system. One of those siblings has been particularly influential in Melody’s life.

Mackinzie Smith, the three-time subject of this column, was raised in the foster system. She found her “home” at D&E and excelled. She is the first former foster youth in the nation accepted in an M.D./Ph.D program as she is now at WVU. As a D&E senior in 2019, Mackinzie founded a foster youth scholarship at the college. She named it in honor of her sister and brother, who she hoped would attend D&E. Her sister, none other than Melody Smith, will graduate from D&E this May with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and minors in athletic training and health. All five of her proud siblings will attend Melody’s graduation.

Reflecting over the past four years, Melody calls her D&E experience positive. She admits her freshmen year, particularly amidst the COVID pandemic, was quite challenging. Nonetheless, she persevered and expresses her gratitude for faculty, staff, and fellow students that have truly created a “little family” for her. In Melody’s case, family means everything. She is particularly grateful to Drs. Deluca and Riggleman “whose doors are always open,” as well as Booth Library Director Mary Jo Dejoice. Following graduation, Melody and her best friend from D&E will be moving to Martinsburg, WV which is the home of her boyfriend of two years whom she met at D&E. She has a job at a local gym and will be pursuing certificates in both nutrition and personal training.

The “Melody and Marc Alan Smith Scholarship” is now valued at $120,000 thanks to generous donors inspired by the Smith sisters. Melody is grateful that the scholarship, which carries her name, will be a Godsend to other foster care youth for years to come. She hopes to return to D&E to meet the next recipient. “I want to meet at the Caboose Café and just talk. This student needs to know people care and he or she can succeed just like me.”

Melody is a stellar example that courage and hard work, along with a bit of support, can overcome adversity. I join with Melody’s siblings in expressing my admiration and pride in this soon-to-be D&E alumnus who is “Leading the Way.”

Contributions are always welcome to the Melody and Marc Alan Smith Scholarship so others will find their “home” at Davis & Elkins College.

The journey continues….

Chris A. Wood
Davis & Elkins College