Annual Beat the Odds Awards Celebrates Outstanding Achievements of Five High School Seniors

Press Release
December 8, 2014
For More Information Contact:
Hanif Houston
hhouston@childrensdefense.org
(510) 684-0322

Event raises over $900,000 for programs and advocacy to ensure a level playing field for all children

Los Angeles, CA - The Children’s Defense Fund–California hosted their 24th Annual Beat the Odds Awards ceremony on December 4, 2014 at the Book Bindery in Culver City, California. The celebration honored five local high school seniors in recognition of their excellence in academic achievements, despite the overwhelming obstacles that have stood in their way. The honorees were: Chase Moore of Verbum Dei High School, Elizabeth Lopez of Culver City High School, Sequoia Canada of New Roads High School, Timothy Walker of Crenshaw High School, and Zachary Byrge of Verbum Dei High School.

The occasion was hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund Founder and President Marian Wright Edelman, along with event co-chairs Katie McGrath & J.J. Abrams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell & Josiah Bell, Carol & Frank Biondi, Laphonza Butler, Ruth-Ann Huvane, Kevin Huvane, Katie Sharer & Mark Mullen, Liza & Conan O’Brien, and Reese Witherspoon & Jim Toth. The event raised over $900,000 to support the Children’s Defense Fund’s work to ensure a level playing field for all children by championing policies and programs that lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, and ensure their access to health care and a quality education.

“Chase, Elizabeth, Sequoia, Timothy, and Zachary represent five extraordinarily talented and resilient young people who have overcome tremendous adversity to succeed academically and as leaders in their communities despite the numerous barriers that have been placed in their paths,” said Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California. “We are proud to honor and support them as they realize the fullness of their potential. We know that if you simply invest in children they will succeed and thrive.”

Each honoree will receive a $10,000 college scholarship and support services including: private tutoring, one-on-one college counseling, ongoing mentoring, internship placements, life skills development, SAT prep, and week-long college tours at no cost.

Since its inception in 1990, the Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds program has identified and rewarded remarkable high school students who have overcome tremendous obstacles, surpassed their full potential in overall academic excellence, and given back to their community.

About the 2014 Beat The Odds Honorees

Chase Moore
Verbum Dei High School

Chase Moore vividly remembers the night his father pointed a loaded gun at him and his siblings as a way of threatening their mother. Terrified and with very little money, Chase’s mom took the children and left. Chase’s grandmother took them in, and while their new home was safe from abuse and violence, it was in need of major repairs they could not afford. Over time, the house became dilapidated and hazardous, often without hot water or power, with the oven as their only source of heat.

At the age of 12, Chase remembers the helicopter hovering over his grandmother’s house as police cars and a SWAT team surrounded the home looking for his father, who had shot and killed his girlfriend. Chase’s father was convicted and is serving a life sentence in prison for that crime. Chase Moore is now a senior in high school and though his family still struggles with extreme financial hardship, he is beating the odds. Chase is on the dean’s list, a member of his school’s Ambassador Leadership Team, president of Student Council and a three sport varsity athlete playing on the football, track and baseball teams. Chase Moore is determined to attend college and reach his goal of becoming an engineer.

Watch Chase’s documentary: http://is.gd/F4XoKY

Elizabeth Lopez
Culver City High School

Living in a neighborhood riddled with violence and poverty, Elizabeth Lopez is a young woman who continues to believe in the strength and resiliency of her community and of herself.

Elizabeth’s parents are hard working, humble people; her father is a gardener and her mother a housekeeper. Together, Elizabeth’s parents struggle to provide for their family of six. Two years ago, Elizabeth’s father became very ill, and without medical insurance, he delayed treatment. Due to a costly hospital stay and her father’s inability to work for several weeks, the family’s livelihood was jeopardized.

The family relied on their community and the Mar Vista Family Center for support during this time. Despite the challenges, Elizabeth has maintained high honors in school and spends her evenings tutoring, mentoring preteen girls and serving as a Youth Ambassador for the Center. Elizabeth understands that her family and community’s success are closely associated with her own and this drives her to continue to beat the odds. She is determined to make her parents proud and dreams of one day becoming an elementary school teacher.

Watch Elizabeth’s documentary: http://is.gd/YZvXSC

Sequoia Canada
New Roads High School

At a young age, Sequoia Canada learned that she could not rely on her drug addicted parents to protect or provide for her and her brother. Sequoia remembers her mother being offered drugs in exchange for her daughter. While she did not fully understand what was happening, Sequoia’s strong instincts told her to run and she did. At that time, her father was serving a 7 year drug-related prison sentence.

Eventually, Sequoia and her brother were removed from their mother and placed in foster care. After six years in the system, Sequoia was taken in by her grandmother and her brother was taken in by an aunt. Today, at age 17, Sequoia still lives with and cares for her grandmother and two little sisters. Sequoia is smart, resilient and determined to beat the odds. She strives to set a good example for her younger sisters and she will be the first person in her family to attend college. Sequoia wants to become a psychologist and looks forward to one day being able to adopt her siblings and take proper care of her grandmother.

Watch Sequoia’s documentary: http://is.gd/d5b7Jd

Timothy Walker
Crenshaw High School

Timothy Walker is a survivor. Raised by his mother, who struggled to provide and protect her six children from the harsh realities of life in South Central Los Angeles, Timothy watched his family fracture over the years. Unable to resist the temptations of their environment, Timothy’s older brothers fell into gang life and ultimately went to prison. By age seven, his father abandoned the family and they were left homeless, moving from shelter to shelter before being placed in a motel.

The lack of stable housing and a supportive father figure weighed heavily on Timothy and his family. Timothy became determined to seek change in the social and economic conditions of his community and he joined the Community Coalition. Through COCO he helps organize other young people to get involved and he speaks regularly to decision makers about the resources needed in his community. Timothy is a true leader who is beating the odds and will be the first in his family to go to college. He is passionate about helping people, especially those in his community. He wants to become a teacher and plans to return to South Central and have a positive impact on other young students like himself.

Watch Timothy’s documentary: http://is.gd/exPM2O

Zachary Byrge
Verbum Dei High School

Zachary Byrge is an extraordinary young man who lives in a poverty stricken area in South Los Angeles. Riots, gang violence and drugs are a constant threat in his neighborhood, yet Zachary rises above these challenges and remains committed to beating the odds. Zachary’s mother always worked two jobs to provide for the family, but when he was nine years old she lost both her jobs and the family became homeless. For more than a year they moved from family to family and slept in their car when no one could take them in. With the help of public assistance, the family was just getting back on their feet when Zachary’s mother suffered a triple stroke and heart attack. Fearing they would be back out on the streets, Zachary and his sister committed to providing for the family.

Recently, Zachary’s mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. As she prepares to receive treatment, Zachary continues to remain focused, drawing on the help and support of his sister. He is at the top of his class academically, a leader on the Campus Ministry, a member of the Student Body Government and a three sport varsity athlete playing on the football, basketball and track teams. Zachary also makes time to tutor and mentor children at a local elementary school. Zachary dreams of becoming a doctor, a promise he made to his mother while she was in recovery from the triple stroke and heart attack.

Watch Zachary’s documentary: http://is.gd/smYAWp

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Children’s Defense Fund-California (CDF-CA) is the California office of the Children’s Defense Fund, a non-profit child advocacy organization that has worked relentlessly for 40 years to ensure a level playing field for all children. The Children’s Defense Fund champions policies and programs that lift children out of poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect, and ensure their access to health care and a quality education. www.cdfca.org