From ridicule to reaching higher

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Student of foster system has lofty plans

  • Ginger Jennings
    Ginger Jennings
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It hasn’t been long since Ginger Jennings was ridiculed in school. The reason? What she was wearing.

“I couldn’t be like other kids, who have pictures of when they were younger,” she said. “My family was really poor and we didn’t ever have a lot of stuff. We moved around Ellijay a lot. We didn’t have clothes and not much food, so I was made fun of a lot in elementary school for wearing the same clothes every day. I’d get called to the counselor’s office and it’d be freezing cold outside, and they’d ask you why you didn’t have a jacket. And then they’d give you a jacket.

“We were always the kids that got the food packets that you take home for the weekend.”

Ginger, who is now 18, graduated high school early from North Georgia Christian Academy last year while living in a foster home. She also attended Gilmer public schools, and has the same early graduation plan for college. She entered foster care at a time in her life when it’s least easy — as a teenager, when most foster parents would prefer a younger child.

“I didn’t go into foster care until age 13 or 14, so it was kinda difficult,” Ginger affirmed. “I lived with my grandma about a year after going into care, but then ended up switching (foster) homes. So I ended up at multiple homes after that, which was a hard transition after being in one place for a whole year and thinking I was going to stay. And then I ended up moving again to multiple places. Because originally I was with all of my four siblings, then eventually we all got separated.”

Her experience as a foster child improved markedly when she came into the home of James and Tiffany Paschal. Eventually, Ginger came under guardianship of the Paschals, and was able to get a car and a job.

She’s never known her father, and not many of her extended family members, but that hasn’t kept her from thriving while living with the Paschals. 

“I was going to school and working 30 hours a week, and I was doing two years in one (of her classes),” Ginger said of high school. “I wanted to do it, because I wanted to get done with school early and make money. I’m kind of a workaholic, I like to work, it keeps me busy.”

She is now part of the Blue Ridge Scholars group at the University of North Georgia adjunct campus in Fannin County, where the students perform good works in the community with children and other groups. She also made president’s list last semester because of her grades, and has been offered honors program status at UNG-Gainesville.

Ginger is following her high school trend, where she graduated with a 3.8 GPA. Before attending the Christian academy, she had a 4.0 GPA at Gilmer High. 

“I’m taking as many classes as I can to get done early with college,” she said, explaining how she is using an education training voucher through the Department of Family and Children Services to help with college costs.

“The biggest issue with being a teenager in foster care is that families want the younger kids more, because teenagers are a handful, let alone if they’ve got a traumatic past,” she reflected. “I feel bad, because a lot of teenagers get a bad rap for being in the system and don’t get a lot of support like other people do that get to attend college. But that grant can help them to pursue higher education without all that debt, and get a higher-paying job and make more money.

“I’ve worked my butt off so I could get into college.”

Ginger will be taking courses again this summer at UNG-Gainesville to continue her studies, having taken all the courses she can at UNG-Blue Ridge. Except for one science course this summer, she’s finished her core classes in one year. Three of those were done through dual enrollment before she graduated high school. Currently, she works at one of the Starbucks stores in Blue Ridge.

“I’ve worked really hard to get where I am,” she said.

Ginger is also giving back.

“I’ve done some things with the foster kids, even though technically I’m not a foster kid anymore,” she shared. “I’ve spoken to teenagers in foster care, or that used to be in foster care, and also case managers on how they might better serve foster children.

“It’s a hard job for them, and for parents too, because you’re not guaranteed to keep the kids you got.”

She is profoundly thankful to the Paschals.

“One of the big things I always tell myself is that if I hadn’t gone to stay with Tiffany and James — because I had the choice to go back and live with my mom — I wouldn’t have been able to have the opportunities that I have now with school,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to have a car if it wasn’t for them. So they’ve supported me a lot throughout the years.”

One might say she hasn’t done bad for a young lady who lived in four different homes from ages 13-18.

“We moved all over Florida, every few months, before coming to Ellijay when I was in fifth grade,” Ginger recalled. She got to spend time with her younger siblings in another town during the recent holidays. But she added it was a tough time for them — they had neither a Christmas tree nor any presents. 

What is her most fervent dream?

“It would be really cool if I could own my own photography company, and be able to do weddings and elopements since some people do those in other countries now, like Australia or Iceland,” she replied. “I wouldn’t mind working doing ‘branding’ for companies or taking the pictures for their websites. You can travel doing that as well. I like photography and film.”

Toward that end, she’s changing the focus of her college studies in communications from organizational leadership to public relations.

Tiffany believes Ginger was supposed to be in their home.

“Right after we got her, Ginger left us for a short period of time to visit — and possibly try living with — a biological relative,” she recalled. “While she was gone, James and I were so unsettled. We did not want to pressure her to come back to us, but we felt that she was supposed to be our ‘forever’ daughter. She and (her sister) came back to ‘visit’ us and Ginger stayed forever.

“Ginger is the first teenager we have raised into adulthood, if you consider 18 an adult. Being Ginger’s mom has taught me so much about finding the balance between holding on and letting go, and figuring out when to step in and when to step back. I’m so proud of the young woman Ginger is becoming. And my simple prayer for her is that she will always look to God and follow his plan for her life.”