St. Petersburg, Florida - There are 6,500 homeless students in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties alone. On top of the stress of their studies once the school bell rings many of them must scramble to find a place to sleep each night not knowing exactly what they'll eat for dinner before they have to get up and do it all over again.
It's something 23-year-old Randall Drayton knows well. He was in middle school when he says his life and his attitude started to go downhill. Drayton says, "If I just felt you were trying me or disrespecting me then I'm just ready to fight."
He admits he was running with the wrong crowd and was out in the streets so much that his grades suffered. Drayton adds, "I got suspended 16 times. I've been kicked out of four schools."
Drayton's father wasn't around. His mother was constantly in trouble with the law leaving him and his brother to take care of themselves.
He remembers the turning point though when he was out in the streets and came face to face with death. Drayton says, "A bullet flew right past the side of my face and at that point I was like this is becoming too much. I had to stop and realize like - you don't have a home. You're living with friends - you're living in a home with 3 bedrooms with 9 people living there and I'm taking turns sleeping on the couch."
Years later at Armwood High School a social worker told Drayton about an organization called Starting Right, Now.
Vicki Sokolik is the executive director of the program but most of the students like Drayton call her Mom because the program tries to meet their needs on every level. They get stable housing, food, a way to wash and dry their clothes, mentoring and tutoring.
Sokolik says, "Everything - to try to get them to the next level so that they can get rid of their anger - get rid of their anxiety and grief shame and depression and go on to do whatever they want to do in life."
Drayton played football for Armwood High School in Seffner where he graduated. He now plays football and is slated to earn his degree from Coastal Carolina. Now that his classes are over the semester he's back in town to share his experience by speaking to a crowd at a fundraiser at Tropicana Field on Wednesday. The Starting Right Now program is now being expanded into Pinellas County.
Drayton wants the world to know the program saved his life. He says, "I know now I'm in a better place and I can go and do better things."
You can help turn even more lives around. The program helps kids from 14 to 18 years in age. Click here to donate to Starting Right, Now.