Destiny Prezzato is a revelation. She walks into guidance counselor Sarah Barrineau’s office at the Renaissance School, bursting with nervous energy. As she answers questions, alternately cracking jokes and looking apprehensively at Ms. Barrineau to ask, “Is that right?” this senior is projected 10th in her class and will in a week win the Olympic Community of Schools Order of the Trojan. Destiny has also been named a Presidential Scholar by Wingate University, where she plans to study pre-med. She’s participated in drama productions as well as service activities with the Renaissance School. In other words, she’s everything you’d expect from a high-achieving, involved 19-year-old on the brink of college and all that experience has to offer.
One other thing: as of December 2011, Destiny Prezzato and her family are no longer homeless.
Destiny came to Charlotte from the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan when, after a year of itinerant living with her parents and younger sister, the two Prezzato girls suddenly found themselves on their own.
“Both of my parents had drug and alcohol addictions,” she explains, almost too matter-of-factly. “[My sister and I] were sent to live with my aunt in early 2009 because my father was in jail and my mother was in rehab.”
Destiny and her sister enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as McKinney-Vento students and lived in their aunt’s home throughout 2009, joined by their parents in December of that year. In March 2010, the Prezzatos moved into a motel room; when that got too expensive they began living out of the family van, parking their makeshift mobile home at a new campsite every week. Destiny, who got her first job a week before her 17th birthday to help support the family, says she followed a similar routine every day in order to keep up with her studies.
“I’d get out of school at 2:15, work at Sonic from 5:00 to 12:00 midnight, and then go to the campsite,” she details. “I’d sit up in the back of the van and do homework until 2:00 in the morning or at a picnic table with a flashlight, go to sleep, wake up and start all over.”
One day near the beginning of Destiny’s junior year at Renaissance, she and her family went to Good Shepherd Church to get food to take home for meals. While in line, they met a man who pointed them towards the Hope Program, a service aimed at steering participants towards stable housing. Thirteen months later, the Prezzatos moved into an apartment, where they’ve lived since.
Perhaps the most impressive fact about Destiny is that, while maintaining a top-ten GPA and a steady job, this young Trojan was a driving force behind Olympic’s “Homeless Project.” She volunteered at soup kitchens throughout her junior year and spent the first half of 2011-12 on the Christmas Project, raising funds to purchase and deliver toys to homeless children.
The girl sitting in this little office at Olympic is one of the most effervescent, intelligent and wise-cracking students you’ll meet in CMS. She says she’s survived through her sense of humor. “The day we became homeless, my dad and I were cracking jokes all day long,” Destiny says. Today, she has stable housing, two parents who can proudly claim both sobriety and employment, and she’s got a free ride to Wingate. From there, she plans to become a neurosurgeon.
“Then again,” she says with a smile, “that may change.”