BOCA RATON – As a sophomore at Coconut Creek High School, Lucienne Alexandre was a good student who seldom talked in class. Yet few people knew the 15-year-old dreaded going home at the end of the school day.
Her Haitian-born parents, who frequently argued, eventually split up, abandoning the family and leaving Alexandre, one of eight siblings, in the care of their 18-year-old sister.
Alexandre eventually fell into a state of depression.
“I cried so hard and was depressed until my senior year of high school,’’ she said. When her sister could no longer care for the family, the younger children, including Alexandre, were placed into foster care.
“I hated foster care,’’ she said. “Nobody cared about my feelings, opinion or future. At one point, I was so angry that I wanted to break every single window in the facility that I lived in, because no one seemed to listen.’’
Instead of giving in to anger, she fueled her determination to succeed.
Now 19, Alexandre calmly recalled her turbulent past while sitting in her dorm at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Being in the foster care system never stopped her from pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor, said Alexandre, who is now a freshman at FAU, studying pre-med.
“Yeah, I'm doing something with my life,’’ she said recently, smiling.
Alexandre was recently recognized as a foster care success story by Florida Children's First (FCF), a Coral Springs-based nonprofit aimed at improving the child welfare system.
FCF works to advance children’s legal rights pertaining to their medical, emotional, rehabilitative, educational and social needs.
Alexandre received an award on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, during FCF’s annual Child Advocate Awards Reception at Nova Southeastern University.
The event was part of a three-day symposium addressing public policy concerning Florida's foster care system. Each year, FCF honors people around the state who have made a positive impact on the foster care system.
“She is a role model not just for kids in foster care, but all kids,’’ said Sandra Bernard-Bastien, director of public affairs and organizational development at the Children's Services Council of Broward County. Bernard-Bastien nominated Alexander for the award after mentoring her for the past year.
“I see her attack the challenges she faces on a daily basis. She thinks them through and overcomes those challenges,’’ Bernard Bastien said. “She's a very humble young lady, very focused on what she wants to do.’’
Alexandre said she was stunned to receive the honor.
“I was shocked. I didn’t really do anything to deserve it,’’ she said, shrugging. “But I learned to never give up on my goals. I want to be somebody, even if I have a little history lagging behind me.’’
After she left the shelter, Alexander spent the next three years living at a Coconut Creek-based foster home called S.O.S. Children's Village, where she was reunited with her brother.
She was determined to go to college and worked part-time at Subway to save up money for her tuition. She did not know that college tuition at state universities is waived for students in the foster care system.
“Lucy is not your average teenager,’’ Bernard-Bastien said. “I mean she saves practically every penny.’’
Now in college, Alexandre said she is enjoying the new experiences. She spends most of her time studying, and joined Kombi Kriol, the school’s Haitian student club.
She and Bernard-Bastien regularly stay in touch. She taught Bernard-Bastien how to send text messages; Bernard-Bastien sends her copies of Time magazine. Bernard-Bastien said she and her mentee always talk politics.
Alexandre also won a four-day trip to Washington, D.C. through Children's Services of Broward County's Trip of a Lifetime essay competition. Her essay was one of 10 selected in Broward.
During her trip in August 2007, she and nine other student winners met with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-Weston) to speak about foster care issues.
“She went to Washington to advocate on behalf of people like herself,’’ Bastien said. “I think it was a mind-blowing experience for her.’’
In her essay, Alexandre wrote, “You’re never limited unless you let yourself be limited. As a former foster care youth, I recognize that some people might automatically assume that I am incapable … Far from it. I am just as capable as the man or woman next to me, if not even more. I am motivated to succeed and refuse to let anything or anyone stand in the way of my success.’’
Photo: Channel 10 news anchor Kristi Krueger, left, poses with FAU student Lucienne Alexandre, right.