She was adopted at 17. Then, a stranger who'd 'been where she is' offered to help pay for college.

As a child in the foster system, Ashley Lacasse had already attended 19 different schools by the time she was 17. But now she has a stable home and the opportunity to attend college, thanks to her two adoptive moms and the generosity of a perfect stranger.


"There's sort of this unspoken rule with older kids that are in the system," Ashley told her new moms, "and once you hit about 10 years old, nobody wants you anymore and you will never find a family."

That sense of hopelessness is why Ashley is adamant about sharing her good fortune of being adopted in January by Zoe and Amanda Jette Knox, who live in Ottawa, Canada. But she had no idea how much brighter her future would soon get.

This happy chain of events all started when Ashley befriended Amanda and Zoe's daughter, Alexis. Ashley was in a heartbreaking foster placement that left her crying every day, and Alexis advocated for her friend to join their family. When Alexis' older brother moved out to get his own place at the age of 21, Ashley moved in.

RELATED: They almost lost hope in foster care, but these teens found their happy ending instead.

Ashley's adoptive mom, Amanda, is the bestselling author of Love Lives Here, and even she is surprised by the sweet and happy ending to this story. Not only does she have a new daughter she loves every bit as much as her biological children, but an anonymous stranger who heard about the adoption has offered to contribute towards Ashley's college education.

Amanda shared her excitement in a tweet thread that went viral:

"Yesterday, the BBC published a piece about my wife & I adopting our teen daughter. Today I got an email from someone who offered to help pay her college tuition because they've been where she is, and today they can. So they did. They really did. Holy cow, people are amazing.

I'm keeping this vague because the person (understandably) wishes to remain anonymous. But they had no idea who we were until they read the article, found a way to contact me and we've since spoken on the phone and I'm still processing their incredible kindness and generosity.

Ashley is on cloud nine. She just can't believe it. We haven't had much time to save for her tuition, so this help is seriously life-changing. It makes everything easier. This person changed everything, and I know we're all hoping to meet in person someday."


Within days, Ashley applied to enter a baking program at a local college. Amanda describes her as a talented baker and reports that they are awaiting a response to her application. The good news of the anonymous donation touched the hearts of many people online, with countless tweets praising the generosity of the donor. Life has turned around in a big way for a young lady who had been through so much.

While Ashley was excited to be adopted after bouncing around the foster care system, Amanda is quick to point out that Ashley already has a mom and that nobody is being "replaced." Now she has three moms!

"I think it's really important to acknowledge that Ashley has a good relationship with her biological family and that her joining our family also means that her biological family is a part of our family. I really think sometimes we villainize or at the very least really misunderstand parents whose children are in care. They love her very, very much. Our job is not to replace them. Our job is to help them provide stability for her, so that she can keep having relationships with them, and keep growing as a person," Amanda explained.

RELATED: When this man told his foster care story, people listened — 39 million people.

Amanda offered her advice for parents considering fostering or adoption:

"The biggest thing to know is that just because a kid has been through trauma doesn't mean that they're not deserving of love. I think sometimes people shy away from this idea of fostering or adopting an older child because of the things that they could have gone through and what that could mean. And yes, certainly there can be attachment issues, and yes, certainly it can be more challenging in some areas. But when you create that trust and when that love really starts to grow, it is so worth it. It is the most amazing experience….So I would say go for it, and know that your own experiences, if you've had any struggles yourself, your own experiences can really help you parent better."

The gift of tuition was life-changing, like the shared gift of adoption and a new family member. Amanda summed it up beautifully in saying, "We have three biological children and I really do love Ashley just as much. She has taken a piece of our heart in a really good way and it's surprised me how much I can love this amazing kid."

Alison Tedford is an Indigenous freelance writer from Abbotsford, BC, Canada. She blogs on Sparkly Shoes and Sweat Drops and operates Feel Better Marketing.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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