School: L.C. Bird
Site Coordinator: Talaya Oxendine
Future Plans: Virginia State University

When Tara moved from Texas to Chesterfield, Virginia during her junior year of high school, it was her first time in the state but not her first move to a new place. Growing up with a parent in the army, Tara had grown accustomed to relocating. However, there are always challenges that come with being a new student in a school, let alone in a new state.

Here in Chesterfield, she began her final year of high school at L.C. Bird, a big building with nearly 2,000 students to meet. She remembers a day not long after she started at Bird when she needed help: “I was wearing a pair of pants that were too big and I needed a belt.” When she asked her teacher if there was a belt she could borrow, the teacher referred her to Ms Oxendine, better known as Ms. O, the CIS of Chesterfield Site Coordinator at Bird. During a break, Tara headed to Ms. O’s office, and, when she arrived, she saw a familiar logo on the wall: when Tara saw the CIS house, she knew she was in the right place. Tara was no stranger to CIS; when she attended school in Texas and in Maryland, she had CIS Site Coordinators there too! She recalls that, when she moved to Texas from Maryland, her CIS Site Coordinators, “helped me get acclimated to my new school, got me a backpack, clothing, and gave me good advice.” Tara left Ms. O’s office that day with a belt, a jacket, and a person to go to when she needed support.

Ms. O and Tara quickly built a relationship that helped Tara receive everything from one-on-one case management to a prom dress through CIS of Chesterfield’s partnership with Cinderella Dreams. Ms. O was also able to connect Tara with a small group at the school that provided Tara with a community of students that supported one another through their shared faith helping Tara make friends at the school and strengthen her connection with Ms. O.

Tara’s unique experience of having CIS show up for her in different ways and in different states is not only a testament to the model but the power of the greater CIS network across the U.S. When Tara reflects on her time in school and her connection to CIS, she is thankful. “CIS has definitely been so helpful. If you need something, they will get it for you, and, if they don’t have it, they will find it. All the Site Coordinators I’ve known have been full of kindness, and, through them, I have learned lifelong lessons.”

Thanks, in part, to Ms. O and the CIS Site Coordinators that came before her, Tara is graduating in June of 2023, and her next chapter looks bright! Tara is graduating with all A’s and B’s and has already accepted an offer to attend Virginia State University where she plans to study Business. “I want to follow in my father’s footsteps and open my own business.” After college, she wants to open a bakery!

Whether she stays in Virginia or makes another move, we know that, no matter where she ends up, Tara is destined to accomplish big things in her life! CIS of Chesterfield is proud to have played a role as she reaches graduation, and we cannot wait to see what comes next in her journey.