Tate makes the grade through determination and hope
Wednesday, 09 October 2013 11:31

Jennifer Tate and her mother Helen are looking forward to Jennifer’s graduation from CCBC this December. photo by Nicole Rodman

Jennifer Tate set to graduate from CCBC

by Nicole Rodman

    For Dunshire Way residents Helen Tate and her daughter Jennifer, it is all about hope.
    Raising a severely autistic daughter while coping with an abusive, alcoholic  husband, Helen held onto hope to get her through.
    And, through it all, she never stopped fighting.
    Ever since Jennifer was born, Helen has spent every day fighting to give her daughter every opportunity she could get.
    For Helen this meant fighting in court to get Jennifer transferred from special schools like Battle Monument and White Oak to mainstream schools like Charlesmont Elementary and General John Stricker Middle School.
    It also meant fighting against those who tried to diminish Helen’s hope for Jennifer.
    When Kennedy Kreiger Institute told Helen that Jennifer would never read, she did not lose hope.
    Instead, she gathered index cards and wrote the names of household items on them.
    Placing the index cards on their respective items, Helen taught her daughter to read.
    And when Kennedy Kreiger told Helen that Jennifer would never go to college, she was again determined to prove the experts wrong.
    After years of hard work and sacrifice, Helen will proudly watch as Jennifer graduates from the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) this December.
    According to the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, autism is an umbrella term for “a group of complex disorders of brain development.”
    As the organization’s website notes, “These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.”
    As a young child, Jennifer did exhibit many of these behaviors, but through hard work and help from her mother, she has never stopped succeeding.
    Though Helen had to fight to get her daughter into mainstream schools, once there, Jennifer excelled.
    Attending General John Stricker Middle School, Jennifer got to know the kids in her neighborhood and made friendships that have lasted to this day.            Though she eventually made friends, it was not easy at first.
    “The neighborhood kids, before they got attached to Jen, I think were afraid of her,” Helen explained.
    This fear manifested as taunting, though, with her mother’s help, Jennifer learned to laugh it off.
    Jennifer flourished at Stricker, aided by her mother and teachers who encouraged her to live up to her potential.
    While at Stricker, Jennifer won numerous awards — for citizenship, Social Studies and music.
    At Patapsco High School Jennifer continued to succeed in ways many thought impossible.
    In addition to her classes, Jennifer participated in many activities, including chorus, softball and bowling.
    A talented bowler — her average score was 229 — she even qualified to compete in AMF’s Youth Bowler of the Year Tournament.
    Jennifer also excelled musically, earning an invitation to join the Tri-M Music Honor Society.
    With all of these activities, Jennifer still found time to do well in her classes, earning a spot in the National Honor Society.
    Though years earlier Kennedy Krieger had given Helen little hope for her daughter, Jennifer defied the experts and continued to succeed.
    Today, Jennifer is in her last semester at CCBC Dundalk.
    In December, she will graduate as a certified office administrator, data entry clerk and mailroom clerk.
    Jennifer, her family and her friends will celebrate her graduation and 30th birthday at a party this Saturday, Oct. 13.
    The party will be held at 1600 Four Georges Court from 2 to 7 p.m.
    Anyone who has been a part of Jennifer’s life is welcome.
    For Helen, helping Jennifer get through school meant going back to school herself.
    To help Jennifer with her English courses, Helen took English 1 and 2 at CCBC, earning A grades in both.
    “If you want your child to be all that they can be, you be all that you can be with them” Helen explained.
    Helen has always gone out of her way to expose her daughter to life, whether it is working with others on a sports team or taking the bus by herself.
    “She’s got to grow in this world,” Helen noted. “You have to give them freedom. Don’t hold them down.”
    While Helen has worked hard to help Jennifer succeed, she was quick to acknowledge those that have helped along the way.
    Helen pointed to Jennifer’s cousin Sabrina, who took Jennifer on trips and helped her to learn.
    She also acknowledged her cousin Tony Bailey  (“my guardian angel”) who lives with her and Jennifer and helps around the house.
    Looking back at her life with Jennifer, Helen is candid about the challenges she has faced.
    “It is a very hard life having an autistic child,” she admitted.
    Yet, despite the hard times, Helen is thankful for each day she gets with her daughter.
    “I’m not complaining though, because I really think God gave me a gift,” she said. “[Jennifer] is my gift. I am so proud of her.”
    Jennifer Tate has succeeded far more than any of the experts could have imagined, a fact that her mother attributes to hope.
    “That’s why I want the story out, to give hope to other people,” Helen explained. “Don’t give up on your kids.”