Homeless as youth, senior pays it forward
David Berry carries a message of hope every time he volunteers at Positive Tomorrows, a school for homeless children in Oklahoma City.
Berry, 18, a senior at Classen School of Advanced Studies, was once homeless just like the kids he mentors twice a week.
He was 10 when his parents got evicted and the family lived in a homeless shelter. During that time, his mother gave birth to a sister and his father committed a crime and was sent to prison.
"I remember longing for attention, and wanting to get away from what I felt was negative," he recalled Tuesday. "I remember sometimes passing on meals at Salvation Army and instead wanting to eat at Positive Tomorrows."
Berry was lucky to have landed at Positive Tomorrows, where he spent the second half of the fourth grade and all of the fifth grade. It was there that he met the woman who helped change the course of his life.
Janet Seefeldt tutored the boy in fifth grade, and the two developed a close bond. When his family problems persisted, Seefeldt and husband, Scott, became his legal guardians.
"David relates so well to young children, especially children in stressful environments," she said. "He is so natural ... he has a connection with them that's really a gift."
On Monday, Berry received a hero's welcome from students who painted congratulatory signs for the soon-to-be high school graduate.
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"He's funny. He gives us company. He makes us feel safe," they blurted out.
Berry has walked in their shoes. He knows how they feel. His childhood was filled with turmoil, violence, fear and hunger.
"I want them to understand that their situation and placement right now isn't forever," he said. "I want them to strive for more to be able to reach their goals."
Berry will graduate Monday from Classen SAS with a B average. He's got a job. He volunteers. He is an artist and an athlete.
Classen SAS Principal Ashley Davis called him a "true success story" and a "model student."
"He is pretty open about his story. I think he's kind of an inspiration to many of his classmates," Davis said. "He's willing to step outside of his comfort zone and take risks, he plays sports, he's one of our very special artists, he's a good student, he's kind person."
Berry is a source of strength for Positive Tomorrows students. He provides stability that most lack — stability he received from his surrogate family.
"He can do something for them that no one else can do because he has been where they are," Seefeldt said. "When they look at David ... they say to themselves, 'I can do this. I can get through this. I can survive. I can have a life. I can be OK.'"
Berry, who has lived with the Seefeldts for seven years, will live with the couple for at least the first two years of college, which he plans to spend at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City.
After that, it's off to either Oklahoma State University or Oklahoma City University, where he will study child psychology.
He recalled a tour of the OCU campus when he was a student at Positive Tomorrows that helped him begin to think about his future.
"The year when we did that, it was kind of what instilled in me the drive to want to go to college eventually," he said. "That's when the mission started."