Against the odds, Hemet student heads for La Sierra graduation
June 14, 2011
Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) “Don’t stop believing,” admonished Stephanie Randolph with a smile, advising others struggling against tremendous difficulties. “Never give up. Always believe because even when you feel like you have nobody in life, God will open those doors.”
Randolph is full of excitement these days and rightfully so. She will graduate on June 19 with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, a milestone event that four years ago seemed impossible, and prior to that, a remote dream as she struggled through a chaotic life in the foster childcare system.
“I really feel like I’m going to walk on that stage and cry my eyes out,” said the social work major. “You just can’t give up. You have to look at all the possible options and just which door God wants you to go through.”
In September 2007 Randolph was preparing to move from Hemet to San Diego State University where she had been accepted into the social work program. But she ditched her plans when she discovered her mother, Donna Bell, was suffering from stage four breast cancer and needed help caring for Randolph’s younger siblings Amanda, Heather and Paul. Randolph moved in with her mother, her two sisters and brother, then ages 9, 16, and 12, respectively, but she was filled with sadness and hopelessness at the loss of her college dreams. She entered the role of caretaker for her family, driving her mom to doctor’s appointments and meeting the needs of her siblings.
“I wanted so badly to do something for myself and when I had to give up school it was hard,” said Randolph. “I really did not think I was going to continue and I might not have if it was not for the adult evening program that La Sierra offers.”
After Randolph returned to Hemet, she approached her former employer and asked for her old job back as an intake resource coordinator at a youth center in town. Then a door of opportunity opened. Her supervisor, Mary Jo Ramirez told her about the social work program at La Sierra University. Ramirez had graduated from La Sierra and suggested it as a close-to-home alternative. At La Sierra, Randolph contacted a Division of Continuing Education staffer named Marilyn and the pieces began falling into place—she discovered she could continue working and take night classes toward her degree. “[Marilyn] was an inspiration,” said Randolph. “She was so helpful and I was blown away. Everything was so simplified. It seems God put it in place for me,” Randolph said.
Randolph’s mother passed away in 2009 and Randolph assumed guardianship of her two youngest siblings, Amanda and Paul. The teenagers live in Hemet with Randolph and her newly wed husband, Darell. The couple got married at the California Palms restaurant in Hemet in a midnight New Year’s Eve wedding, officially tying the knot on Jan. 1. Randolph credits her husband with providing “huge support” to her during the past four years of working full time, going to school while raising her brother and sister and caring for her ill mother during the first two years of her education. “He’s my ground. He helps me out on all levels,” Randolph said.
After her mother passed away, La Sierra social work professors Sibyl Beaulieu and Laurelle Warner organized a support group of classmates for Randolph and prayed for her before classes. “They just took me in,” Randolph said. “It was nice to see that I wasn’t alone.” On many occasions, tired, stressed and ready to give up, Randolph paid a visit to continuing education counselor Carrie Engevik. “She was one of those people who could pray, and she did,” Randolph said. Randolph always left the counselor’s office feeling as though all her troubles had lifted.
Bealieu cited Randolph’s growth as she traveled the educational pathway. “She recognizes she must have a balanced perspective of situations and contexts--her own and that of clients she works with,” Beaulieu said. “Stephanie has grown tremendously since I first met her. [She] needed comfort, support, encouragement, sometimes admonishment and challenge. Social work faculty have to be mentors, evaluators, educators, admonishers, advocates, parental figures, counselors, comforters, and challengers, often all at the same time. I hope I have been all these things to Stephanie.”
Life’s road is evening out for Randolph, but there were many bumps, twists and turns along the way.
Randolph and her siblings grew up mainly in the foster care system, sometimes living with relatives or foster homes and at times with their mother who struggled with drug addiction. She does not know her father. It was a world of numerous school changes and constant visits by social workers.
That journey began when Randolph was six years old. She began caring for her younger sister because her mother was unable to do so. The family was homeless and lived under a bridge for awhile. Her mother then left Randolph and her sister at a friend’s house for three days, a stint which inspired the friend to call law enforcement. The sisters ended up living in an orphanage in Buena Park. From there, they were sent to different homes in the foster care system and endured a revolving door of living arrangements, back and forth between their mother, the system and relatives. Eventually Randolph opted to remain in the foster care environment to maintain some equilibrium. Her siblings stayed with their mother who stopped using drugs and “got clean,” Randolph said.
Numerous social workers interacted with Randolph throughout her growing up years, but most visits were brief and superficial. And even though her high school career placement tests repeatedly pointed Randolph to a social work career path, the disillusioned teen determined to never hold a job that required her to remove children from their homes. However one social worker made a life-changing impression. She spent additional time with Randolph and showed a genuine interest in her welfare. “She wanted to know who I was and wanted to really help me out,” Randolph said. The social worker asked about Randolph’s plans and “got me thinking about the future,” she said.
Randolph had always wanted to go to college, to do something for herself, to “experience something for my age,” she said. “I’ve never been able to be my age. From the age of six I have had to take care of my siblings. I think that my last social worker helped me see that it [college] would be possible.”
Randolph is graduating but not ending her pursuits. She aims to earn a master’s degree through an online program with the University of New England. After that, she wants to work in child protective services for a foster agency. “I want to help the kids that get placed with me,” she said.
Randolph’s growth process throughout her educational career included a deepening of her spiritual life.
La Sierra University is a Christian university owned and operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Spiritual development is an integral part of campus life. “The first day of class the teacher said, ‘ok, let’s pray,’ and I was like, ‘wow,’” Randolph said. “I believe more in God now than I did four years ago.” Once she graduates and her schedule is less hectic, Randolph plans to attend church regularly with her family. “It will be the best thing for my brother and sister,” she said.
PR Contact: Larry Becker
Executive Director of University Relations
La Sierra University