Sergio Pratt believes that we are all destined to meet the right people at the right time. It’s a feeling that comes from experience.
When Pratt was growing up, without a bed to sleep in or enough food to eat, he met a social worker who removed him from his situation. When he was putting himself through the Community College of Rhode Island, working full time and barely making ends meet, he wanted to give up, but met educators who inspired him to keep trying.
Pratt, 22, is graduating from CCRI with a degree in law enforcement and as president of the student government at the college’s Lincoln campus, which he attended for five semesters. He will continue his education at Roger Williams University and plans to become a lawyer. The odds were against him getting here.
Until age 13, before he became a ward of the state of Rhode Island, Pratt lived in Providence with his extended family. They were in a desperate situation: eight people sharing a two-bedroom apartment without enough beds or even furniture for everyone. Pratt remembers sleeping on the floor.
There was not enough food. Pratt went to sleep hungry and cold, with his clothes on underneath as many blankets as he could get, never warm enough. He and his cousins did whatever they could for a meal.
"The average kid is at a family barbecue or out there learning to ride a bike," Pratt said. "I’m out there shoveling snow for food."
One night the apartment was hit with stray bullets.
No one in Pratt’s family had a job that could make ends meet and, with limited education, there was little hope they could find better ones. Things were not going to improve. Pratt felt trapped and often shared these feelings with Nancy Krahe, a social worker at his middle school.
"I told her if I stayed where I was staying I was going to die," he said. "I really felt like that in the sixth grade."
Krahe arranged for Pratt to have an interview with the state Department of Children Youth and Families and Pratt was asked if he wanted to be removed from his home. He did. Pratt remembers the morning it happened.
"I got on the school bus like normal. I got to Esek Hopkins [Middle School] and the police were waiting for me," Pratt said. "They took me back to my house and we got my stuff."
Pratt never returned or looked back, but at the same time he said he doesn’t blame his family.
"I could never understand when I was little why things with my family were the way they were," he said. "But now that I’m older I know my family was trying to do the best they could but they were a product of our environment."
After he left middle school, Pratt never saw Krahe again, but said he would like to find her and let her know what her intervention meant to him.
"That lady, Nancy, she really did save my life," Pratt said.
For Pratt, being removed from his home was the start of two lonely years without roots. With no foster home available at first, Pratt spent his nights after school in group homes throughout Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls, being moved every 30 or 60 days.
At age 15, he was put into foster care with Beth Chambers, a woman whom Pratt never met until the day he moved into her home.
He stayed there until he was 18 years old, when a shortage in state funding forced him and many other foster children out on their own.
Pratt was encouraged to get a job, which he did, working as a cook to pay for his own apartment. After a few years, Pratt realized that he needed to take his life in a different direction.
"I started to realize, going from dead-end job to dead-end job, this isn’t what I want for myself in the future, so I decided to come to CCRI," he said.
Pratt enrolled at CCRI in 2007 as a law enforcement major. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to contribute to the community.
"The more time I spent in the classroom the more I figured out my path and where I wanted to go," he said.
Staying in the classroom was a financial struggle that sometimes left Pratt without enough money to eat. There were times when he wanted to quit, he said, but his professors inspired him to keep trying.
Among them, he said he is grateful to Gerard Brousseau, Ron Schertz, Jonathan Steele, Monica Lee, Mark Zellers and Rebecca Yount.
"I think that without these people, I wouldn’t be graduating," he said. "Every single interaction [I’ve had] at CCRI will be cherished."