Tampa, Florida - The Manatee County Commission seat: some said it was a long shot for a homeless teenager to aspire to, but politics was in Carol Whitmore's sight.
"My mission is to help other people so they are not in the same boat I was," saysWhitmore.
As a Manatee High School student in 1970, Whitmore found herself without a family and without a home while living on Anna Maria Island.
"My parents were both alcoholics and very violent alcoholics. At the age of 15 one night, my mother took it upon herself to physically abuse me and kick me out," recalls Whitmore. She says, "I remember being dragged around the room by my hair."
Whitmore says she packed up a bag full of clothes and for a whil,e she lived with the local police chief's family. She thenspent some time with another family before she rented an apartment.
"I went to school and at night I worked at a nursing home as a nursing aide," says Whitmore. She adds, "I had a hard time, but I made it through. I was determined to make something of myself."
Whitmore put herself through nursing school, gotmarried, had a daughter, and in 1991 entered politics. She began her political career as a Holmes City Commissioner from 1991-1998. She then served as mayor from 1998 to 2006 and has been a Manatee County Commissioner since 2006.
The 57-year-old county commissioner still works as a registered nurse. She and her husband, a plastic surgeon, volunteer at the homeless shelter. Whitmore's husband donates his time doing reconstructive surgery on the homeless.
"There are over 1,500 homeless kids in Manatee County right now. How they define homeless is no address, living in a car, staying on somebody's couch... literally homeless," explains Whitmore.
Hillsborough school district officials report 2,825 homeless students, Pinellas estimates 2,166, Polk has about 2,100 homeless students and Sarasota's number stands at 625.
Whitmore says her experience as a homeless teenager made her stronger and molded her into the person she is today. She says it also motivated her to succeed in life.
Whitmore's message to other homeless students: don't give up.
She says, "Rely on the help of others, keep your nose clean, have a mission and a focus in life."
The Tampa Bay Lightning awarded Commissioner Whitmore its Community Hero award this week for her work and life story. She is using the $50,000 donation to help Manatee's Animal Network and the Community Coalition on Homelessness.