Octavis: From Transitional Housing to College Graduation
At 19, Octavis Henry aged out of foster care and knew he had, as he puts it, “a storm coming.”
“I understood that I had to support myself,” says Octavis, now 31. “I knew I was about to go from being in a group home to being homeless. Nobody wants to be homeless.”
Octavis became one of the first participants in B:E’s transitional housing program. “B:E not only provided me housing,” says Octavis, “but also helped me see the need and importance of education.” He had dropped out of high school in order to work to support himself, only to land what he calls “dead end jobs.” Octavis met with Betty Jo Reuben, B:E’s employment specialist at the time, and gained a new perspective.
“That conversation with Betty Jo got me excited because she instilled a lot of knowledge I did not have,” says Octavis. “That’s what B:E does. It’s family oriented, and they give you little nuggets or recipes for healthy living. For foster youth, if you haven’t been adopted or come into a forever home, you don’t get that knowledge instilled in you so it’s very important to have ILSP and BE to substitute the foundations of what youth need. I still use those tools, so it’s safe to say my time at B:E contributed to the man I am today.”
In May, Octavis will walk across the stage at Virginia State University, an historically black university, to receive his bachelor’s degree in social work. He plans to work in children and family services, and eventually continue his education.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why I chose social work for my career,” says Octavis. “When I came out of homelessness, I fell into a place where I asked myself. . . ‘What now?’ I had secured housing, and now it was time to secure a career so I could better support myself. I knew I wanted to impact other people with my journey. If it wasn’t for BE and the challenges I had endured I would not have chosen social work as my career.”
Well known to the B:E community for his stellar singing performances at graduations and other events, Octavis is an accomplished gospel, R & B, and jazz singer.
Octavis remembers the impact it had on him when Betty Jo told him she was proud of him — not once but many times. Now as he finishes up his coursework in preparation for graduation day, he feels a “deep sense of fulfillment and appreciation.”
B:E volunteer mentor Karl Goldstein began mentoring Octavis when Octavis was 23 and aging out of B:E’s transitional housing program. Karl explains. “Octavis never quits; he just keeps going. I am so proud that he’s graduating this spring. My partner Richard and I are honored to be a presence in his life.”
“I feel accomplished, and a sense of security,” he says. “This is a great monument I’m climbing over. Every time I think about it I get a little teary-eyed. I will never forget where I came from and will be forever grateful to the dedicated staff of B:E and the people I crossed paths with along my journey who still shape my decisions today.”
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