Student escapes abuse and finds new home
October 18, 2021
Emily Yang Grade: 12 School: Eureka High School District: Eureka City Schools ACSA region: 1 Emily Yang grew up in a household where she says she never felt safe. One of eight children, Emily was the victim of sexual abuse by a family member. In 2018, Emily courageously reported the family member to police and testified in court. Emily and her siblings were placed in the foster care system, but she never lost hope.

Eventually, they found a new home thanks to Trevor Hammons, a counselor with Eureka City Schools. This fall, Emily became a first-generation college student by enrolling at Humboldt State University.
What was your reaction when you found out you won the ACSA Every Student Succeeding award? I was really surprised to be honest. With my story, as heavy as it is, I didn’t really think it was going to win because there are so many other people who have their own stories. And then when I heard that I won, I was like, “Oh? OK. Yay!”
Your story is one of great tragedy and great heartbreak but also of great resilience and great bravery. Can you share a little bit about what you had to deal with growing up? I had to deal with a lot of physical and verbal abuse. But it wasn’t just me. It was a lot of my siblings as well. Honestly, to us, it was kind of considered as discipline. But if you thought about it properly, it wasn’t discipline. It was very emotional. It really caused a lot of anger to well up in me. And it was just very tough to be vulnerable because we were always having our guards up. It was just very hard to just feel safe at a place where we should call home. But it wasn’t a home really. Nobody should ever be in a situation like that where they don’t feel safe in their own home.
Where did the courage come from to finally just say, ‘enough’? It wasn’t just you being brave for yourself. It was you being brave for your siblings as well. Where did that courage come from? I was always just a very reserved and quiet kind of person. So, whenever something would happen to me, I would just keep quiet about it because that’s kind of how I grew up. I had a lot of friends who I talked to at the time. I didn’t tell them everything, but I did say that I was struggling a lot. And they were very encouraging and very supportive. And they said, “You should go to the police. You should report this. You should not be experiencing this.”
You made your way into the foster system along with your siblings. And then what happened next is so incredible. Can you share how Trevor Hammons came into your life? I didn’t really expect him to come into my life all of a sudden because he was my middle school counselor and I was already in high school. He told me, “I plan on taking in you and all of your siblings. It’s going to take a while. But do you want to be in a home with me?” And at first, I was like, “Whoa. This person wants to take in eight people including me. That’s a lot.” But it was really amazing. I’m really glad that it happened because I’m really grateful to this day. And it’s so amazing because I get to tell people, my classmates and friends, he works at Zane Middle School. He’s their school counselor.
One of the other amazing parts of your story is that you have three siblings who are deaf. And you have taken the time to learn American Sign Language. And now Trevor Hammons is learning ASL. What has that experience been like? I was never able to take an official class because most of the schools I had gone to didn’t have an official class for it. So, I kind of just learned off my mom a while back when she went to college for it. And when I was in foster care, I knew I couldn’t learn it. And then I moved here with Trevor and the rest of my siblings. And we signed up for classes at my sister’s school. And she goes to California School for the Deaf in Fremont. And they offer classes for people who want to learn ASL. So, we’ve been doing it through Zoom almost every Thursday. I feel it was a really good bonding experience because now we can communicate in ASL a little bit more. And we have fun doing it. So, it’s a good experience.
For students who have dealt with abuse in some form, what would your advice be to them? I would say believe in yourself. As hard as it is, it’s going to get worse if you just continue on letting it happen and just drag it out. It’s definitely a very hard process to go through it. Having to focus on your mental stability and questioning if you’re ready to do this. But you have to do it.
Region 1 2021 ESS Emily Yang.
Region 1 2021 ESS Emily Yang.
Region 1 2021 ESS Emily Yang.
Contact Us
© 2021 Association of California School Administrators