St. Louis, MO–Aaron, a reader, sent me this touching story about a remarkable young woman whose single dad saved her from drugs and an alcoholic mother:
Her past leads push for school for homeless
By David Hunn
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 5/16/08
Set aside, for a moment, that Stephanie Kilstein is creating a charter school for homeless teens in the city. And that she spends every free minute canvassing civic leaders and businesses to support a plan that just might work.
Today is not about that.
Kilstein is graduating from Washington University this morning with a master’s in social work. And, in this season of graduations, her own path onto this old wood stage inside Graham Chapel is worthy of discussion, by all accounts.
Kilstein, just 22, is being awarded not her first, but her second higher degree. At 18, when most are graduating high school, she was teaching migrant fifth-graders. At 16, she entered college, finishing in just two years.
And at 12, she ran away from home, for just the first of many times.
Kilstein’s past is one of a broken and chaotic suburban family in Pennington, N.J. It passes through despair, rehabilitation, rebirth and, now, her singular drive to reclaim others like her.
It’s a story told by a family, partially healed, and reunited for this graduation. The Kilsteins, their friends and even local law enforcement describe it this way:
Mom drank so much she disengaged for days at a time. Dad, a state bureaucrat and then a policy analyst for a national drug company, left before dawn, and returned after dark. Eventually, he moved out, got a small place across town, and did his best to be there for his children.
Still, for much of junior high and early high school, Stephanie cared for her three younger brothers. She picked them up from school when they were sick. She cleaned the house, served up noodles and tuna fish sandwiches, and, generally, acted much older than she was.
“Hanging out at her house was really fun,” remembered childhood friend Elise Thompson. “There was no real parent supervision.”
The Kilstein home was the kind of place mothers don’t want their kids to visit, the kind of place local police still remember.
But the troublemakers, the druggies and drinkers found solace there. They hid in closets, fleeing parents and cops. They sat on the couch, ate pots of macaroni and cheese, and smoked.
“They felt safe because they knew what we were going through,” said Stephanie’s mother, Laurie Kilstein. “We were the haven for the runaways.”
The eighth grade was the last year Stephanie completed.
By the start of high school, Stephanie was skipping class, stealing toilet paper from gas stations, and coming home drunk night after night. She ran away when she tired of the pressures of home and returned to clean up.
After months, her father went to her school.
“There was an amazing substance abuse counselor at the high school who I went to speak to and just said, ‘Um, I am seriously afraid if we don’t intervene soon that something terrible is going to happen to Stephanie,'” said her father, Saul Kilstein.
Together, they sat her down and gave her two options: Go to a home for runaways in nearby Trenton. Or go to rehab.
At 15, Stephanie loaded her bags with clothes, a journal, a pink leather Bible she stole from a bookstore, the stuffed seal she slept with each night, and at least one photo. It was not a photo of her family or friends. It was a snapshot of her at her worst, she says, on a run from home, in a room she should have never been in, with people who didn’t care about her.
It was a reminder, she says, of where she did not want to return.
And then she and her father flew to a rehab program in South Florida.
On Jan. 5, 2001, she stopped drinking.
But rehab gave her more than her sobriety. Just before she left, a counselor there made her promise to go look at a college on her way to the airport.
At 18, she graduated, cum laude in psychology from Palm Beach Atlantic in South Florida.
Read the full article here.