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Homeless, not hopeless

At the College of St. Scholastica Duluth campus last summer, Lydia Grommish and her mother, Adrienne, posed for a photo to capture a life achievement when Lydia was dropped off to begin college. “It was terrifying, exhilarating, everything,” Lydia said. (Contributed)

Lydia Grommish was homeless, not hopeless.

The young woman went from not having toilet paper to starting her second year of college this fall on a full-ride, academic scholarship.

Hers is a success story and she credits her survival and success to a persistent mother, hard work and access to the food shelf at school.


Lydia and her mother, Adrienne, moved often when she was growing up; they’d stay with relatives and her mother’s boyfriends.

Mostly, she said, her mother was escaping abusive relationships.

They were homeless for five years.

“Thankfully my mom and I were never under a bridge, but it got to the point sometimes where if we hadn’t got into a shelter or had somebody come through, we would have been. That’s not something I take lightly,” Lydia said.

Her 10th and 12th grade years in school were the only times during her education when she was in the same school for an entire school year.

“Growing up, I was really angry at my mom. During that five-year time span, we had to be together all the time. It was really hard for her to break down in front of me,” Lydia said.

Despite their plight for housing, Lydia remained a straight-A student… but how?

“My mom,” she said simply.

“I remember coming home – we were at the Y at the time – I was still doing homework after four hours and I was like, ‘I hate this and I just want to give up.’ My mom said, ‘Just stop what you’re doing and go to sleep. You can’t give up. You’ll do it tomorrow. You’re not going to give up on this. You have to go to school.’ I told her I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want to take the 20-minute taxi ride. I was tired of hearing how kids were going shopping that weekend or how they were doing stupid stuff. I didn’t get that option. My mom said, ‘You’re doing this. At the very least, you’re going to get a high school diploma.’ She was dead-set on that.

“I was going to have that math test on Friday whether or not I had a place to live and [school] is the kind of thing you want to push to the back burner, but my mom made sure I studied so I would do well. She knows how hard it is not to have a high school degree,” Lydia said.

While they were staying at Churches United for the Homeless in Moorhead during the winter of 2012, they crossed paths with a woman who was helping move women and children, who fled domestic violence situations, to transitional housing in Alexandria.

Lydia, a North Dakota native, moved to Alexandria with her mother in February of 2012.

She had just turned 17.


They settled into their apartment at Runestone Place.

Lydia said, “We’d get beef because we lived there. Some people were like, ‘Oh, when you’re homeless you have no drive.’ My mom didn’t drink, she didn’t go out and party. I’m an A student; it was really hard at that time. I was like, ‘I understand your tax dollars are going for this; trust me, I’m grateful, but that doesn’t give you reason to give me beef because you don’t know me.’ It was so hard.”

Lydia and her mother settled in for a new start.

“I was nervous and terrified about starting school,” Lydia said. “I knew I probably wouldn’t fit in with most of the students because they’re in sports and music and that’s not me.”

She said it wasn’t easy. There were cliques, there was drama, but there was also an abundance of support.

“I want the community to know they have a lot of crusaders in their teachers. They have a lot of teachers that go above and beyond every day. A lot of them make sure students get what they need,” she said.

It was also the food shelf at Jefferson High School (JHS) that helped Lydia and her mother through their toughest times.

“Food, toilet paper, laundry detergent, oven cleaner – when you’re broke, you realize all the little things you have to cut out.

“But I knew if I needed a coat and gloves, [the high school food shelf] would help me. Garbage service and Rainbow Rider cards to go get groceries – the food shelf helped pay for that. And I know it’s like that for a lot of kids,” she said.

She said by sharing her story, she wants people to know that donating to the high school food shelf helps more students than they’re likely aware of.

“It’s not really about me. Although it’s my story, it’s about awareness for the food shelf because it’s something really important and vital.

“[Homelessness] is something I try not to be ashamed of. It was what it was and it made me a better person and it made my mom a better person,” she said.

“’Homeless, not hopeless’ is something my mom said a lot.”


Lydia graduated from JHS in 2013 with honors and she earned a full-ride, academic scholarship to the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.

When she got news about the scholarship, she said, “I got home and sprinted to my mom’s bed and I was like, ‘Guess what? I got in! I got the full-ride! You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take out loans for the room and board. We’re good.’ We cried and danced and [teacher Chris] Kragenbring got us pizzas to celebrate.”

No one she grew up with had ever gone to college.

Lydia’s going to school for a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics with a double minor in Computer Information Systems and Literature.

“Then, I can get a Master’s [degree] of Library Science and become a librarian,” she said.

After college, she said she wants to come back to the Alexandria area to work.

During her first year, she was on the Dean’s list for both semesters of college.


“I know if it hadn’t been for my mom I would have been one of those kids strung out on drugs, or pregnant, like I would definitely be one of those people. She doesn’t realize how big of an impact she’s had; or the people along the way, they’ve also had an impact.

“It’s a lot of little kindnesses, a lot of little gestures and help along the way. It’s people donating school supplies and donating to the food shelf. It’s social service workers who went above and beyond to be sure we had assistance. There are so many people. It was a lot of people saying, ‘It’s not your fault you’re homeless and you’re not going to be here forever. You’ll get out of this.’

“I can’t think about the really hard times without crying but it’s more like I’m in awe of how far I’ve come,” she said.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

(320) 763-3133