RACINE — Ask Horlick High School senior Danielle Baker what she wants out of life, and you’ll get a quick answer.
“I want to be something.”
Baker kept that in mind for the last two years, as she attended school despite her mom’s sudden death and her own subsequent homelessness. She stayed focused on becoming something even as she bounced from relatives’ houses to shelters. Her efforts paid off Sunday when she got her diploma during Horlick’s graduation ceremony.
“I always wanted to graduate,” said Baker, 18, explaining why she pushed herself to do well in school despite her difficult housing situation. “If I didn’t care, I would have dropped out a long time ago, like when my mom died. I would have said forget it.”
Baker’s mom passed away from an illness on Dec. 30, 2010. Her death meant there was no one to pay for the family home and no one to take care of Baker and her three younger siblings.
The kids were split up among family and friends. A younger sister, now 16, ended up in Milwaukee and a younger brother and sister, both now 12, went to Chicago. Baker too went to Chicago but she had a hard time in school there and left after three months for Minneapolis, where her dad lived. Her stay there turned out even shorter, only one day.
“My dad’s wife didn’t want me there,” Baker said. “She told my dad, ‘She’s taking you away from me.’ He put me on the bus at 4 o’clock in the morning the next day.”
Baker was dropped off back in Racine, where she spent the next year and a half bouncing from family members’ homes to a youth shelter.
“It was embarrassing being there,” Baker said of the shelter. “I’m not used to that kind of situation. I’m used to living in a home with my mom.”
In all her bouncing around, Baker met Jo Wynn, a formerly homeless woman who now runs the Walking in my Shoes homeless outreach program in Kenosha. Wynn showed Baker she wasn’t alone in dealing with homelessness. Wynn also researched housing programs for Baker and helped her get into Safe Passage, a Racine transitional living program for young adults at 1600 W. Sixth St. Baker has lived there since December.
Wynn is quick to point out that Baker made that happen for herself by seeking help.
“That’s what I admire about her. She didn’t sit on her hands waiting for someone to come out and rescue her,” Wynn said. “She could have dropped out of school. She could have been a statistic when it comes to homeless youth. She could have ended up congregating with a bad group of teens but she did not. Her goals were already set.”
Baker’s goal of graduating high school was realized Sunday at Horlick, 2119 Rapids Drive. She plans to attend Gateway Technical College this fall to study nursing.
“Seeing my mom sick, there really weren’t any good nurses,” Baker said. “I feel like I can be one of those that takes care of people that don’t have anybody.”
In the meantime she’s working full-time taking care of kids at Next Generation Now, 1220 Mound Ave., and she’s on a waiting list for her own apartment.
She’s also continuing her efforts to “be something,” a goal she said she plans to work toward her whole life.
About 1,430 students graduated from Racine Unified this weekend, according to the district.
The REAL School and Walden III High School held graduations Friday and Case, Horlick and Park high schools had graduation ceremonies Sunday, Unified’s calendar shows.