Inspiring NYC student goes from homeless shelter to college dorm

More than 42,000 city high school grads entered college this fall, but few of them overcame as many obstacles as Odean Gray. The Br...


More than 42,000 city high school grads entered college this fall, but few of them overcame as many obstacles as Odean Gray.
The Brooklyn student enrolled as a freshman at State University of New York Cortland in August on a full scholarship — but unlike many of his peers, his previous residence was an East New York shelter, where his family still lives.
He’s one of roughly 30 students who made it to college from family shelters operated by WIN, the largest provider of family shelters in the city with more than 4,500 residents citywide.
Gray, 19, graduated from the Progress High School in Williamsburg’s Grand St. Campus in June. The road to college was rough one.
He grew up in Rochester, in a neighborhood he calls “the murder capital” of upstate New York.
Gray moved in with his aunt in Brooklyn along with his mother Annamarie and his younger brother Dean after their house was burglarized in 2016.
He was 16 at the time, and the experience left a mark on his family.
“They robbed our house. It got really bad. So we moved down here,” he said.
Down in Bergen Beach, Gray’s aunt’s house was small and the space was cramped.
The situation became unbearable after a year and Gray ended up in an East New York shelter with his mom and brother.
When his mother first told him that they were moving into a shelter, he was upset. But then he came to understand that circumstances were beyond her control.
"I was kind of mad, but now I don't blame her," Gray said.
Sharing a one-room apartment in the shelter, Gray’s family had little space. There was no internet or place to study. Gray stayed away as much as possible.
“We were all in one room, but we were used to that," he said. “Most of the time I was at my friend's houses. I was never home."
He found solace with the wrestling program at Progress High, where he excelled and made the varsity team.
"Wrestling was my life," he said.
He woke up at 6 a.m. to work out before class and kept his focus on school and sports, studying hard despite the uncertainty at home.
When it came time to apply for college, he wrote his application essays on his phone, having no access to a computer with internet service.
All his efforts paid off when he was offered a full ride at Cortland and a spot on the wrestling team.
Gray made the transition from shelter to dorm easily, he said.
He still returns to the shelter to visit his mom and his little brother, who’s now in middle school.
“I knew something would work out,” he said. “I was always highly motivated.”
Gray’s mother said her son was always determined to make a better life.
“Even when we were in the shelter, he said ‘I can be what I want to be,’” she said.
WIN CEO Christine Quinn said many homeless teens face challenges similar to those Gray overcame in his journey to college, and they are just as bright and resourceful as other students.
“Homeless kids are as brilliant and talented as any of the children in the city but they don’t get as many resources,” Quinn said.
“If Odean and 29 other kids made it from WIN shelters to top-notch colleges this year, think of what they can contribute to society,” she added. “We should be incredibly proud of these children.”

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