‘I suffered the consequences, and so did they’
By: Melanie Ruberti
LaGRANGE – It was easy to see why Shannon Smith, 18, was crowned as the inaugural Miss LaGrange 2017 the night of Jan. 21st.
The LaGrange High School senior was pretty, poised, well-spoken, intelligent and talented.
But what most people did not know that night, except for her family, a few friends and the judges, was the struggle Shannon endured as a young girl. It was an adversity she now uses as platform to help other children and teens dealing with the same issue.
Shannon’s biological parents were only 17 and 18 years old when she was born – and not ready for the responsibility of raising a baby, the teen said. Instead, her parents both turned to drugs.
“It (drugs) was a bigger part of their life than being a parent,” said Shannon. “They got into the wrong crowds and chose to do those things (drugs). I suffered those consequences and so did they …”
For 12 years, Shannon lived and was raised by various family members – both sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles. Her biological parents eventually divorced, but remarried other people.
During that time, Shannon moved back in with her mom, step-father and little brother. But the new marriage did last long – and neither did the teen’s new living situation.
Her mother began abusing drugs again, the teen said.
“I was taking care of all three of us,” Shannon explained. “I would go to school during the day. But when I was home, I would make dinner, clean house, take care of my little brother, make breakfast … I knew what she (mom) was doing was wrong.
“But I was blessed to have my best friend and her mom living right down the road from me,” she continued. “I spent countless nights at their house. She (friend’s mom) was always there for me whenever I needed to get away and was overwhelmed by everything. She would take care of me and my brother.”
When Shannon was 12 years old, her aunt and uncle, Dana and Blake Chambers, were granted legal custody of her.
“It (a new living situation) was drastic, like night and day,” she said, “There was a schedule, a routine … you knew someone was always going to be there … They (aunt and uncle) understood that I knew what was going on with my mom. But they made sure I knew … we would live together as a normal, healthy family.
“I love them so much,” Shannon continued. “I am so grateful and thankful to have great parents like them. My aunt is like my best friend. She is my mother. My uncle has taught me everything from music to school studies. We would spend countless hours playing the piano or doing homework. They are the most amazing parents a person could ask for.”
Shannon was also determined to use her childhood experiences to better herself – and the community. She openly shares her story about growing up around drug abuse with peers and children.
The 18-year-old works with the Law Enforcement Against Drugs program, or LEAD. She speaks to elementary school children about the dangers of drugs.
“… we share stories about drug abuse awareness,” Shannon explained. “It’s important to tell them (students) there are good opportunities out there, but if you shut those doors by making bad decisions, your life will be vastly different.
“I hope they (children) understand that no dream is too big,” she added. “It doesn’t matter what their parents did, whether they grew up poor or if their parents weren’t there at all for them – they can achieve anything. They (students) just need to keep those options open for themselves.”
Shannon felt empowered by her unconventional childhood and shared her story with the judges during the Miss Troup County / Miss LaGrange Scholarship Pageant. Her platform was drug abuse awareness.
The 18-year-old young lady won the crown and the title of Miss LaGrange 2017 later that night.
In June, the teen will convey her convictions to a whole new crowd when she represents the city at the Miss Georgia pageant in Columbus.
“If I can do it, everyone else can too,” Shannon stated. “No matter what you go through, if you set your mind to it, you can do it.
Shannon said her biological parents are both clean now, remarried and have other children.
The teen still speaks with both of them, but has not visited them.
Still, Shannon said she does not hold any grudges against her biological parents, but instead thanked them for giving her life.
“I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s life … because of the things I saw, I can now relate to other children who might be going through the same things,” she said.
Shannon will graduate from LaGrange High School in May. She plans on attending the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick where she will study criminal justice.
Her dream is to become a police officer, but more specifically work with a K9 drug task force and eventually the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. She can be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.