Person of the Week: Quiana Childress

From homeless at 16 to college graduate, her inspiring story is helping others.

ByABC News
May 14, 2010, 6:56 PM

May 14, 2010— -- When Quiana Childress was a little girl, she knew what she wanted to be -- a doctor.

That dream didn't seem likely for Childress, who grew up in a family of 10 children fighting poverty in Arkansas.

"Sometimes, I would go to bed hungry," Childress recalled. "My mother would try to portion out the food for each one of us. Sometimes, it wasn't enough."

To support herself and her family, 16-year-old Quiana trained as a nursing assistant and went to work, but her home was falling apart.

"I guess my mother felt like it was too much for her. The problems were too much," she recalled. "And I came home one day and the boxes were packed. And she came up to me and told me she was leaving and that I needed to find a place to stay."

At 16, Quiana was homeless, sleeping in her only possession -- an old, used Pontiac.

"It was a scary time. I couldn't really sleep," she said. "Eventually, I just learned to pray and close my eyes."

Childress tried to keep working. She took on a second job while she was still in school. Every day began by waking up at 3 a.m. to study.

"I didn't want to be a burden on anybody," she said. "I did not want to take advantage of any situation. I just wanted a roof over my head, be able to go to school, play basketball, and just live what I would consider a normal life."

Still, anxiety and depression took such a toll on her health that she was ready to give it all up. She planned to quit school and work at whatever she could find.

"I was worn out," Childress recalled.

She came close to taking that step, but during a shift at the hospital, Quiana realized she wasn't the only one struggling in life. The patients were struggling, too.

"If I gave up, I would be giving up on them and on myself too," she said. "I felt like they need me. ... In a sense, they saved me."

On the days she couldn't believe in herself, she'd think of the faces of her patients looking up when she walked in the room. Childress decided to ask for help, calling relatives in Little Rock who offered her a place to live.