Her home life may be chaotic, but Kaylia has Ivy League-potential and big plans for her future

Jun 22 2023 • By Roger Mooney


MARGATE, Florida – Kaylia Powell’s home life is in a constant state of flux.

At times, she has lived apart from her mom and separated from her brothers and sisters. She has lived with friends and, for a few months this year, at the home of a teacher. She has lived with her grandmother. She has lived in a motel.

When asked recently about her hopes and dreams, she replied with one word: “Stability.”

The chaos used to leave her angry at her assigned school, sulking in class because she didn’t have the things her classmates had. Kaylia doesn’t know how close she came to quitting school and becoming a statistic. But she feels she was going down that path.

Kaylia graduated first in her class in May from Abundant Life Christian Academy.

What changed was the opportunity to attend a private school with the help of a Family Empowerment Scholarship for Educational Options. It is one of several education choice scholarships managed by Step Up For Students.

At Abundant Life Christian Academy, a private K-12 faith-based school in Margate, Kaylia found classmates who didn’t judge, teachers who cared, academics that were challenging and enough sports and clubs to keep her nonstop busy.

Kaylia enrolled as a sophomore and called the move “life changing.”

She graduated in May as valedictorian and was accepted to Harvard University. Yes, the teenager from South Florida without a permanent address was accepted to an Ivy League school. She opted, instead, for the University of North Carolina-Pembroke because of its nursing and theater programs. Kaylia wants to be an OB-GYN nurse.

“I'm extremely proud,” said Kaylia’s mom, Samantha Lloyd. “I can see in her what she’s gone through and is still going through. Oftentimes I would kiss her on her forehead, and I say, ‘You good. You got this. You're a soldier.’ ”

Kaylia said the reason she didn’t allow her home life to interfere with her education is because of the perseverance she inherited from Samantha.

“I get a lot from my mom,” Kaylia said. “My strength, for sure. My stubbornness, because I can be really stubborn sometimes.”

Samantha has five children. She does not receive child support from Kaylia’s father because he has been in jail since Kaylia was 5.

Kaylia occasionally talks to her father on the phone and says they have a good relationship, but added, “Sometimes, it kind of hurts that my dad’s there.”

Samantha and the kids moved to Florida from New York City when Kaylia was 6 to live with family and lessen the financial burden. Samantha has bounced from job to job. She currently works for a caterer.

“It’s been hard because we’ve been evicted numerous times,” Kaylia said. “But I feel like one thing I can say is that God always finds a way. He’s always provided for me. I don’t think I ever went without because there’s always been provisions. It might not come at the time I wanted, but it’s always happened.”

Said Laura Hennebery, Abundant Life’s high school administrator: “It plays on your emotions. It plays on your mental health, picking up and moving and you don’t know where the next place you’re going to lay your head. There are so many things that play into it that can wear a person down very easily.”

Kaylia plans to be an OB-GYN nurse and live her life "to the best of my ability."

The teachers at Abundant Life were determined to not let that derail Kaylia from what she really wants in life. She wants to work with newborns, and she wants to give whatever children she might someday have the life she always wanted.

“I’m not going to lie, I want a luxurious life,” Kaylia said.

But her idea of luxury is not what you might think. Since she didn’t have much growing up, she said she doesn’t need much to make her happy.

“I think luxury can be a one-bedroom apartment, to be honest,” she said. “I can drink my coffee on a balcony and look out and think I worked for this.

“My hopes and dreams, I want to be able live my life to the best of my ability and with everything I have.”

Kaylia said choosing UNC-Pembroke over Harvard was a hard decision. A Harvard education can open many doors, but she just didn’t see how the university fit into her future plans. She didn’t want to attend Harvard just because it’s Harvard. UNC-Pembroke is the better fit.

“Kaylia wants to do something with her life. She has the attitude that she was created to do something more important than just to be living a lifestyle where there’s no expectations,” Abundant Life Principal Stacy Angier said.

“She wouldn’t be here without the scholarship. Three years ago, before she got the scholarship, I don’t think she’d be college bound and I’m not even sure she would finish high school. Step Up helped us forge a pathway for this young lady to become a productive member of society that will make a difference in other people’s lives.”

Roger Mooney, manager, communications, can be reached at [email protected].

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Roger Mooney