Leroy Returns to Treehouse’s Champions Luncheon: ‘I Am Proof That It Really Does Make a Difference’

By Leroy, Treehouse Graduation Success Alumnus


The video above is from 2014, the first time Leroy spoke at Treehouse’s Champions Luncheon. This post is excerpted from Leroy’s latest speech in 2019 as he returned to the Champions stage. Scroll to the bottom of this post for the 2019 video, which includes his two saxophone solos.

Hello everyone. I’m Leroy. That was me five years ago. A lot has changed since then.

I think as I’ve gotten older, I look back on my childhood with a different perspective. It was a scary and confusing time in my life when I was taken into foster care at the age of 8. But I was lucky because my brother and I got to stay together. We were placed with a loving family who looked like us. And I had Treehouse supporting me.

To be real, my story was not built to be a success story. The statistics are against me—the color of my skin, being in foster care and having been abused. I should not be standing here today a high school graduate who has completed an AA and was accepted to Central Washington University. But, I made it.

Growing up, my brother and I were not socialized with other kids. We spent all day and night at the kitchen table studying while our dad watched TV. If we didn’t finish our course work, he would beat us. If we got an answer incorrect, he would beat us. I have ADHD but was undiagnosed at the time, so sitting and focusing hour after hour was extremely difficult for me.

The night they took us into foster care, the neighbors had called the cops because my dad was beating my brother and he was screaming bloody murder. It was terrifying. And as I mentioned in the video, we were taken to the ER then to an emergency placement for the night. The next day we met our foster family, who would later adopt us.

As a kid, I struggled to acclimate to school. I got in a lot of fights and had trouble making friends. But there were people who wanted to help me fit in and do well. My social worker, my school counselor, my foster mom and Treehouse were there for me.

Even my 6th grade science teacher helped by suggesting I try wrestling as a constructive way to let off steam. Wrestling culture taught me a lot about perseverance, teamwork and goal achievement. It was the first time I had contact with other students and actually felt normal. My bad behavior from my first years in school didn’t reflect what I was capable of. I always did well academically and have been ahead of my classmates, but when you’re busy cussing out teachers and blowing spit wads in class and being threatened to be put in special ed, most people can’t see your potential.

The key to my success has been perseverance. I don’t believe that I would have gotten anywhere if I had quit. I don’t know if a lot of people can understand how hard it was to be thrown into a public environment when your first seven years of life were lived locked inside with no significant contact with other people or kids. There was a lot going on at once for me. If I explain it the best I can, I had to accept several very new things immediately:

  1. My dad wasn’t going to be coming back.
  2. I had a new family, but they all look like me, which is cool.
  3. I had to go to school. Admittedly, didn’t enjoy it.
  4. I needed to see this “social worker lady” but I had no idea why… no one ever told me. But she was nice and fed me, so it was cool.

The issue with those understandings is that they all mean relatively nothing compared to what I wanted to know, or what I believe I should have known. It is an understatement to say that finding success was “hard.”

I tried a lot of stuff to be normal. I sagged my pants at one point in time. I even failed standardized tests on purpose. There was a lot wrong with what I was doing when I was younger.

But in middle school, something just clicked. Everything did a full 180. I was finally finding an understanding that my family and Treehouse Education Specialist, and many of my teachers, are all just examples of people who care about me and are invested in my success. All I had to do was do the work, and they would help me in any way. So I stuck my head in the books and kept trying. I found so much more success, and as all my coaches have said: “You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So when you just try, you have literally nothing to lose.”

Treehouse was and still is somewhat a wonder to me. My first contact with Treehouse was the free store. This story is funny to me. I understood that taking things from a store costs money, and money seems to be stored on the plastic card that my mom had, which I thought was infinite money.

However, at Treehouse’s free store, my mom didn’t pull out the card at the checkout. The lady there just asked for my name and birthdate, and we were out of there. The conversation with my mom after that first encounter went a little something like this:

“Hey mom, why didn’t we have to pay for the clothes.”

“Well, people donate them. So they are free.”

“Who donates them?”

“People in the community who want to help.”

It was new and odd to me. When you are locked up in a small apartment with nothing to do, you don’t get to see a lot of the great things that the community does. I didn’t know what or who a donor was, but I did understand that someone gave me free stuff. So I was 100% on board with that.

In the 7th grade, I got an alto saxophone through Treehouse. They found me a saxophone instructor, a UW student, who would come to my school to give me lessons. He would show me old school jazz and some classical aspects of the saxophone. What’s interesting though is as specific memories came back to me about my dad, I remember him liking jazz. One chart I particularly remember him listening too was “Take 5” by Dave Brubeck. And now, “Take 5” is one of my favorite charts to play despite how difficult it is for me.

Treehouse also helped me financially, paying for things like part of the cost to go on an the All-State Marching Band’s trip and attend summer camp.

I felt like with Treehouse alongside me, it was a lot easier to go through life. With Treehouse’s support, I had the confidence that I would make it through just about anything.

Since graduating Renton High School in 2016 with the help of Miss Taji, my Treehouse Education Specialist, a lot has happened.

I was set to go into the Marines but after hurting myself in a wrestling match, that was no longer an option for me. Grays Harbor College reached out, offering financial support if I would join their wrestling team.

Maybe it was luck or fate that changed my course, but whatever the reason, I went to Grays to find out who I am and figure out what I wanted. Turns out I want to be a math teacher to junior high students. I love working with that age and know first-hand how pivotal it is to have supportive teachers.

I currently live in Ellensburg with my wife, Kaitlyn. I have been accepted to Central Washington University and hope to attend in the fall when my FAFSA gets approved.

I also want to get my music degree. It’s probably easier to list the instruments I don’t play than the ones I do. I’m practicing now to get into the School of Music at CWU. It’s very competitive, and I want to earn a place there.

I’ve been working really hard to become the man I am today—one that can stand here on this stage in front of all of you and talk to you about my exciting future. One that can say I am proud of my wrestling career and being awarded Renton High School’s Most Inspirational Wrestler, of graduating Grays Harbor College with an AA in music and a 3.5 GPA and winning the President’s Scholar Award.

I’m grateful for the experiences that shaped me and the support I’ve had along the way. I want to say thank you to my mom who stood by me, to Miss Taji for her guidance, to all the adults who mentored me and to Treehouse. And thank you for being here today to support youth who have experienced foster care. I am proof that it really does make a difference.

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About the Author

Leroy is an alumnus of Treehouse’s Graduation Success program. He recently graduated from Grays Harbor College with his associate degree in music and a 3.5 GPA. He will attend Central Washington University in the fall, and his goal is to become a junior high math teacher.

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