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By Laura Nichols
Homewood-Flossmoor

Chicago winters are known for being cold, dreary and gray. However, for Collins senior Chris Henyard, Jan. 5 was one of the brightest, happiest days of his life—he turned 18 years old. “Reaching 18 in the neighborhood and being something is my biggest accomplishment,” Henyard says.

Henyard is determined to be a bright spot in North Lawndale, a  neighborhood he has known to be plagued with drugs, gangs, robberies and shootings.

Besides balancing straight B’s at school and playing point guard for the varsity basketball team, he has participated in After School Matters, a non-profit apprenticeship program, for three years.

He’s also a member of the Warriors with a Future club, a support group for at-risk teens that Collins history teacher Steve Dudley started in 2009.

Getting to the place where Henyard is now has been far from easy. He grew up poor with no father at home, and lost a cousin to murder.

“My auntie called me crying and I ain’t like that. It made me cry too,” Henyard recalls. “He was real close to the family, and even though he had been in jail, he was trying to change his life around, but I guess it caught up to him.”

Although Henyard didn’t have a father around, his family has supported him and plays a big factor in who he is today. “I grew up with my brothers, sisters, grandma and grandpa, so they are all like fathers to me,” he says. “They keep me focused and away from the gang style. They are real strict with that.”

Growing up in a tough neighborhood meant a lot of changes for Henyard, but they’ve been positive changes. “Chris has matured tremendously over the last three years,” Dudley says. “When I first met him, he was quiet, almost shy, but always polite. It was clear that there was a lot going on with him in his life beyond school, and I just tried to be as supportive as possible.

“Since then, he has become a lot more confident, more social,” Dudley says. “I attribute a lot of this growth to several activities Chris has been involved with over the last few years.”

Steve Dudley says Henyard has been a leader in the classroom as well. “Chris is a very interesting kid in that he asks good questions and has a very distinct enthusiasm for learning,” Dudley says. “He shows enthusiasm through regular class participation and by always being willing to help others. In that way, Chris is really respected by his peers.

“They appreciate his intelligence, his joviality and his sincere interest in their lives,” he says. “I have never, never heard a student say a bad thing about Chris. And you know how high school students can be, so I think that really says something.”

Henyard also takes great pride in his drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle. “A lot of kids around here do that but I never will,” he says. “I know I want to be successful in life (and) doing those type of things ain’t gonna get me there.”

Henyard says he has a couple of options after high school: the University of Minnesota or a military career. But for now, Henyard predicts that his mom will cry when she sees him graduate and walk across the stage. He says he’s going to try to “be a man” because it’s the “start of a whole new life.”

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free each Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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