"I promised my mother I would graduate from high school, and I will keep that promise."
Devann Koger-Lopez, now 23, was paired with Jan Ronningen from the Friends of the Children–Klamath Basin chapter over 19 years ago while in kindergarten. With Jan’s support, Devann graduated from high school on time and went on to pursue her dream of becoming a beautician. But not without some obstacles along the way.
Nineteen years ago, Devann was entering Klamath Basin public schools as a shy, reserved child. Although full of immense potential, she struggled with reading, writing and asking for help. Attached to her mother and quiet around strangers, she struggled through the first few weeks of kindergarten, keeping her head down and avoiding making new friends. During an observation of her kindergarten class, Jan recognized that she was a smart, kind and eager young lady who could thrive with additional support provided by Friends of the Children–Klamath Basin. Friends of the Children selected her for the 12+ year-long mentoring program that pairs talented children who need more at home and in the classroom to overcome challenges.
Jan, a former teacher and a patient (but direct) mother, didn’t know it then, but this selection would spark a lifelong friendship and change her life for the better. “They are relationships by design, but they are so much deeper and far-reaching than just a few hours a week spent with an adult,” said Amanda Squibb, executive director of the Klamath Basin chapter. Jan became Devann’s Friend and stayed with her through her successes, accomplishments, and most trying times. “I loved her right away,” Jan said.
“I was very shy as a child,” Devann said. “I didn’t try to open up to anybody, and she [Jan] was somebody that I knew instantly I was going to have a connection with.” This connection allowed them to become fast friends, and their relationship blossomed as they began to understand each other’s unique interests and talents. Jan exposed Devann to a number of new experiences across the state, “We visited places like museums, home show, rock show, the circus, the country fair, and we went to restaurants, movies and concerts.”
Although from a young age Devann struggled with her schoolwork, Jan’s unique gift of teaching, and Devann’s perseverance, allowed Devann to see progress in her work and build her self-confidence. She held on tightly to the idea that with support and a growth mindset, she could accomplish anything. “During our visits, we always did at least a half-hour of homework or reading; then we would have fun,” Jan shared. The fun activities were Devann’s incentive to complete schoolwork and do well on tests. “I wanted to pass the tests because I wanted to do the fun things,” she laughed.
One of the special activities that Jan and Devann shared was baking and cooking. Jan started by planning grocery lists, compare prices, and helped her understand how home-cooked meals can be less expensive than fast food. Devann always felt proud when she could bring home a meal for her mother and sister because it provided her mother some relief as a single parent. Jan was able to grow close to both Devann’s mother and sister during this time.
“When I first met Devann’s mom, Misty, she was eager to have her daughter join Friends program and signed all the forms quickly,” she explained. “The only hold up was that Misty said she would meet me in the school parking lot when I needed to pick-up or bring Devann back from a visit.” Although Jan found this a bit odd, she never questioned it and shrugged, “Misty never was late or missed a pick-up or drop-off time.” She could see that Misty was doing her best to be a great mom to her two daughters. Later, Jan learned that Devann’s family did not have a home when Devann first entered the program. However, Misty was determined to provide for her girls, worked hard to find a home, and Jan reported that Devann was very excited when she was able to provide Jan with a home address for future visits.
Devann was proud of Jan and loved that her Friend could support her whole family too. “Jan had my mom’s back, so did everyone else in the program,” she explained.
But tragedy struck when Jan received a call from Devann and said, “Mom’s gone.” Three days before Christmas during her freshman year in high school, Devann’s mom unexpectedly passed away, leaving Devann alone and scared. At that moment, Jan said her heart broke for Devann, as she realized how she must have felt all night waiting for the ambulance by herself. Devann was forced to grow up very quickly after that, but said, “Jan was there for me. She made me feel that I wasn’t alone.”
After her mother’s passing, Devann had to transfer to a new high school and moved in with her grandmother. The new high school initially recommended that she retake classes that would have prevented her from graduating high school on time or even at all. Devann remained strong and kept her sights on the goal of graduating high school, “I promised my mother I would graduate from high school, and I will keep that promise,” she said during her mother’s funeral. Jan assisted with school administrators and counselors to advocate for her. “The schools did not make it easy on Devann,” Jan said. But Devann was able to graduate on time!
After graduation Devann moved in with her boyfriend and moved on to her next goal, enrolling in the College of Cosmetology. She worked hard and received her beautician’s license and got a full-time job. She later married her boyfriend and became a step-mom to his son, and they later had a son together. Devann hopes to someday open up her own beauty salon with her sister.
Today, the friendship that Devann and Jan have forged is as strong as ever. They get together for birthdays and family events, all while knowing they can reach out to the other whenever they need to. Jan remarked with pride, “she had to grow up quickly and learn to stand up for herself. Yes, she had my help…however, she would not be the amazing young lady she is today if she had not persevered.”
Devann still visits the Friends–Klamath Basin clubhouse and enjoys talking about her experience in the program. “Being here at the clubhouse makes me feel like I had hope to not just be like everyone else. I had Jan to push me and make me feel like I was loved,” said Devann. “It’s hard to find someone who will stick around and be a part of your family. I just thank Jan every day for all that she has done for me and my family.”
In a letter to Devann, Jan said, “Life has not been a bed of roses for Devann. She had to grow up quickly and learn to stand up for herself. Yes, she had my help and the help of other caring adults; however, she would not be the amazing young lady she is today if she had not persevered and been determined to make good on her promise to her mother.”