Hero of the Week: Teacher Raises $130K to Help Abandoned LGBTQ Teen Head to College
The world can be a dark and dangerous place, but selflessness has the power to prevail in the most heartbreaking of circumstances. Whether it’s putting another life before your own, making someone else’s dreams come true, or paying forward random acts of kindness, everyday heroes are all around us. Every week, we take the opportunity to celebrate the most extraordinary ordinary people from all over the world who make our little blue dot a better place. Welcome to Hero of the Week.
Going to college was 18-year-old Seth Owen’s lifelong dream. He was always reading, learning, participating in extracurriculars and helping others whenever he could.
“I was the nerd in fifth grade who walked around recess talking about how I wanted to be an astronaut,” Owen told NBC News. His hard work started paying off, as college acceptance letters started coming in, including from prestigious Georgetown University. His teachers could not be prouder.
Back home though, things were far from peaceful or happy. In his sophomore year, his very religious family found out he was gay. “I was writing a paper and my decided to check my phone late in the evening,” the Florida teen told NBC News. That night, his parents questioned him until the early hours of the morning.
In no time whatsoever, his parents sent him to a “Christian counselor” to undergo was amounted to conversion therapy, the medically debunked process of “converting” an LGBTQ individual to heterosexuality. Of course, it didn’t work, but somehow Owen managed to convince his parents to let him discontinue his “treatment.”
A dedicated student despite his struggles at home
All the while, Owen’s grades remained high and his academic participation exemplary. But things were becoming worse at home. He still had to attend his family’s church, were homophobia was rampant, open and aggressive. He didn’t feel welcome. He didn’t feel loved. He didn’t feel safe. And when he asked his parents of could attend a different church, they gave him an ultimatum: he could continue going to their church and remain at home, or he could leave the family home.
Worried for his well-being, he had to leave, and ended up sleeping on friends’ couches. And still his grades were exemplary, and Owen even became co-valedictorian of his class. But Georgetown University would not change its financial aid – even though Owen showed ample proof that he no longer had parental support or aid and yet was about to graduate with a 4.61 GPA.
Teacher of the year
Jane Martin, a biology teacher who taught Owen during his freshman year and mentored him through college found out about his struggles. And she was not about to let a bright young mind suffer, because his family did not understand him or love him. “Seth was just a kid that really stood out to me. He was super ambitious and was always trying to go above and beyond to make sure he could be as successful as possible.”
Consulting with other teachers and students, she set up a $20,000 GoFundMe campaign, aimed at covering tuition cost for his first year. But Owen’s story touched people and donations started pouring in. Owen, who was about to be forced t take a gap year, couldn’t believe how many people responded with messages of support, encouragement whatever they could spare.
Soon, there were $2,000 pledged. Then the $20,000 goal was reached, and even more people heard about his story, his pain and his drive for learning. Now, Owen is getting ready to move to Washington D.C. within the month to start classes at Georgetown, where, thanks to kind strangers and the support of his former teacher he will be able to cover tuition – at press time, the fundraiser had totaled nearly $130,000 in pledges.