Related topics

Overcoming struggles earns honors for Olmsted County youths

April 18, 2019

Stories of courage and overcoming the odds were shared Tuesday as the Rochester-Olmsted Youth Commission honored five young people during the 24th annual Outstanding Youth Awards.

Olmsted County Board Chairman Jim Bier said the awards ceremony is something he looks forward to each year.

“It’s pretty exciting to see these youth, who have had struggles in their lives, overcome them and do these great things,” he said.

One by one, youth commission members shared the stories of fellow youth who overcame challenges in their paths.

Isaiah Bucher

Age: 15

Bucher grew up without a father figure and struggled to make good decisions and maintain positive family relationships in his early teenage years. He delighted in besting those around him and loved pointing out the faults of others. Eventually, his poor decisions landed him in trouble, which helped spark change for Bucher.

After being offered programs to help turn his life around, Bucher is a full grade ahead in school from where he was at the start. He is a role model for other teenagers and goes out of his way to help his peers learn some of the lessons he has learned.

Today, he volunteers with a local bicycle program and repairs bikes for others in need. He took on a woodworking birdhouse project to raise money for Channel One and volunteered numerous hours at Restore to raise money for Habitat for Humanity.

Bucher’s relationships with his family and grandparents have been restored, and he talks openly about how much he appreciates having them in his life.

His goal is to enroll in postsecondary classes at Rochester Community and Technical College in the fall.

Sierra Haines

Age: 18

By age 15, Haines was isolating herself, self-harming and acting out at school to cope with the stress of growing up in an abusive household.

Diagnosed with depression, PTSD, stress and anxiety at that time, she began meeting with a therapist and learning how to talk with family members and friends about her experiences. She slowly gained the confidence needed to make strong connections with her peers.

Haines has used what she has learned from her traumatic childhood as a vehicle for growth and has set out to transform the lives of others. She is open about her past and shares her experiences and feelings through poetry and painting. She generously lends an ear to others who struggle.

Last summer, Sierra was an assistant teacher at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota and received a scholarship to attend a workshop at the Rochester Art Center. She also began taking classes at Rochester Community and Technical College last year and is now a full-time college student through post-secondary classes.

Her goals are to travel the world, learning about other cultures, as well as studying and teaching art.

Julia Kilolumens

Age: 21

Kilolumens struggled with drug use and addiction beginning at age 13, which eventually led her to the Recovery High School at the Alternative Learning Center in 2017.

While seen as a bright and empathetic student, Kilolumens relapsed within weeks of enrolling and ended up experiencing homelessness and landing in jail until she decided to retry inpatient treatment.

After treatment and transitional living, she returned to Rochester and enrolled again in the recovery school. Healthy, sober and pregnant, Kilolumens faced hard work to graduate.

In June, she completed her coursework for a diploma, graduated from high school and gave birth to her daughter the following day.

Since then, Kilolumens has continued to work, building a strong supportive life for herself and her daughter, Evelyn. She has joined the Jeremiah Program which supports single mothers with young children.

She has her own apartment with her daughter and is attending Rochester Community and Technical College to become a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. She also regularly volunteers her time sharing her story with community members and at community events.

Her goal is to promote better understanding of addiction among youths.

Axel Gonzalez Martinez

Age: 17

Martinez was born in Mexico City, the youngest of four sons. When he was 3, his mother left Mexico for the U.S. to find a safer and more financially stable life for her family.

Martinez remembers being put into a crowded inflatable raft to cross a river when he was 6, followed by a walk with his brothers and others, fearing he might not see his parents again. Days later, Martinez and his brothers ended up in a detention center. He remembers being terrified but doesn’t remember how he and his brothers got back to Mexico City.

Two years later, his father gathered the necessary documents to cross the border with his family. This time, the sons were able to reunite with their mother, whom Axel hadn’t seen in five years. The third-grader began adjusting to life in a new country, learning English and attending the Newcomers Center at school.

When he was 14, Martinez’s mother developed a life-threatening blood disorder, requiring transfusions and other medical care. He ended up becoming her interpreter and helping pay the household bills. Since age 16, he has been working full time while continuing to be a full-time high school student.

In addition to caring for his mother and helping support his family, Martinez contributes to the community through activities at Rochester Alternative Learning Center. He helped set up the tents during the summer for Thursdays on First and has been an active leader in the Green Thumb Initiative, Alternative Learning Center’s gardening class and community collaborative..

He recently started taking postsecondary classes at Rochester Community and Technical College and dreams of starting a local restaurant or other business.

Although his family believes its immigrant status is secure, the anti-immigrant climate creates ongoing worry. Still, Martinez seeks to make a difference in our community through positive actions, a strong work ethic and determination to create a successful future.

Damion Overturff

Age: 18

Overturff has proven to be a resilient young man, surviving a nearly lethal drug overdose, as well as a host of struggles throughout his 18 years.

Many of the obstacles Overturff and his family have faced resulted from circumstances beyond their control, which led him to coping through drug use and negative peer associations. His low self-esteem often manifested in an attitude that seemed to say that he didn’t deserve anything better in life.

During the last year, Overturff has proven to his family, his probation officer, the court system and most importantly to himself that he is worthy of having a happy life and has much to offer his community.

A natural fighter, Overturff has turned from fighting the streets, his family and the system to fighting to make his community a better place. He has worked to give back to others and spread happiness with a commitment to “walk the walk, rather than talk the talk.”