GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — At 16 years old, Makayla Jenks is headed to Michigan State University in the fall on a full-ride Spartan Advantage scholarship.
When she was 7 years old, she faced the kind of challenges that many would assume would keep her from succeeding.
“People thought that when I was younger and I told myself I would never meet those expectations and I would always go higher than that. And so I did that and it’s worked out pretty well so far,” Jenks said with a grin that lets you know she understands just how much of an understatement that is.
She was born into a home on the southeast side of Grand Rapids to a mother who was addicted to drugs, in an abusive relationship and by all accounts incapable of caring for her children.
“I knew I wasn’t really safe there and I knew that she wasn’t in the right headspace and so I tried to grow up really fast when I was younger so I tried to take care of my younger brother and her,” Jenks said.
She and her brother were taken out of the home in 2010, placed with the Jenks family and ultimately adopted.
“Once I was adopted, it was more like, ‘You can relax, you have parents that can take care of you guys, you don’t have to take care of yourself,'” Jenks said.
She was happy at her new home. But while at Forest Hills schools, she began experiencing peer pressure that led her to try drugs.
“Subconsciously, I wanted to see why my whole biological family was using drugs and why they did the things they did so I think I wanted to try and see if I could understand that,” Jenks said.
Her parents decided to remove her from the peer influence and that the best solution was for her to go to an online school at home.
“It was too much for us to compete with, so that’s why we pulled her out of there,” her father John Jenks said. “She’s done very good, she’s made us very proud.”
Makayla Jenks admitted she was upset to be leaving her school but now believes it was the right move. She was able to work ahead and combine her junior and senior years. She worked multiple jobs and also participated in trampoline and tumbling gymnastics for 10 years, which gave her a lot of the social aspects she was missing.
She actually credits her early struggles with her success now.
“I don’t think I’d be able to accomplish the things that I have if I didn’t go through that,”& she said. “I also gained a lot of self-drive through it and I think that’s a big part of how I’m graduating a full year early.”
Jenks and her family will be traveling to the east side of the state in two weeks, where she will join other online students for a graduation ceremony
She plans to study psychology and social work at MSU.
“I want to help kids that went through the stuff that I went through. I’ve seen positive outcomes and I’ve seen that good things can come out of it,” Jenks said.