Standley Lake High School senior Melissa Lacer never imagined going to college, let alone heading there with a full-ride scholarship.
To say Lacer’s high school career started off rocky would be an understatement.
She said her home life was unstable, and she was responsible for the safety of her four younger siblings. With a father who put alcohol and drugs before his family, and a mom attempting to fill the void left by her distant husband by leaving her children to fend for themselves, Lacer said, she was faced with a big decision: stick it out and hope for the best, or do something to change the situation.
She chose the latter.
“By the end of my first semester as a freshman, my sister and I called the police and reported our parents for neglect and child abuse,” she said. “This was a huge shock to my parents because they had no idea we would call. I guess they never believed we would go that far.”
Lacer and her siblings spent a week in foster care, but were sent back home under a mandatory safety plan, that stipulated neither parent could use drugs or alcohol, and there could be no violence in the home.
Lacer said she was devastated and furious with the situation. She thought by calling the police, she would be safe and out of her parents’ home. At that point, she said, she did everything in her power to sabotage the safety plan, eventually pushing her father too far.
“One day my father asked me to do the dishes, and I said no. That was it,” she said. “He got up in my face and started hitting me, breaking the safety plan. My parents voluntarily put me back in foster care.”
Lacer was placed with a foster family who knew her family through Scouting activities. She said she was nervous at first, but soon became comfortable with the family, even growing an attachment. She learned about her foster parents by asking questions and having daily conversations. She said she realized she never wanted to leave, which left her feeling more vulnerable than ever.
“At that time I knew it was temporary, and I remember crying myself to sleep at night because I had no idea where I would be living the next night,” she said. “I didn’t want to give up this family or leave them.”
Lacer focused on school to keep her mind off her situation. She threw herself into her studies, even getting accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Standley Lake.
She said she realized the one thing she could control was her school work. She wanted to make a life for herself, go to college and eventually raise a family the right way, with love and understanding.
Finally, by the middle of her sophomore year, she said, she could breathe easy. Her beloved foster family decided to allow her to stay in their home until graduation.
“Now my foster family is just my family,” she said. “They mean so much to me and have given me so much. It’s really incredible to think about all of the ways they have impacted my life. Not just through school, but I finally have my one family, and one day I will be such a different parent from everything I have experienced.”
Lacer was awarded the Daniels Fund Scholarship and is headed to Colorado College in the fall to study neuroscience and psychology.
Standley Lake counselor Lisa Perry said she could not be more proud of Lacer. She’s been with her since ninth grade and has watched as the senior has grown into a strong young woman.
“I’m so, so happy. I think about the first time I met Melissa and what a different place she was in,” Perry said. “And now she’s been able to take control of her life and create a future for herself that is brighter than any of us could have painted for her.”