‘There’s more to life than the tragedies’: Teen featured in 30 Days of Hope in 2017 now thriving

LYNCHBURG, Va.There are more than 750 children who are ready for adoption in Virginia. They are ready to find a permanent and loving forever family. 10 News is sharing the stories of one child who needs a home every day in November in 30 Days of Hope. The children are of all ages and races and were put into foster care due to no fault of their own. 2023 marks the seventh year 10 News is doing this series.

An exciting update on one of the very first kids we showed you the year we started 30 Days of Hope in 2017.

She’s now in college and thriving. 10 news anchor Jenna Zibton caught up with her for an emotional reunion.

We met Emaleigh Smith when she was just 12 years old. As a college freshman now, she remembers the story well.

“I’ve shown it to so many people cringing because I was so shy,” Emaleigh told us while laughing.

Emaleigh Smith in 2017, when we featured her for our very first year of 30 Days of Hope. (Copyright 2023 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.)

But she’s definitely not shy anymore!

Emaleigh is now 18. Jenna Zibton caught up with the teen again the night she was honored with a full scholarship.

University of Lynchburg President Alison Morrison-Shetlar made the presentation and said, “To be able to provide Emily this kind of scholarship is what we’re all about at the University of Lynchburg. To have the support, to be able to do that through a $5 million gift that was given to the university to make sure that people who can’t afford but are meritorious of being able to come to the university can do so.”

Emaleigh wants to be a nurse.

“I really appreciate the opportunity of this scholarship because I didn’t think that I was going to be able to have enough money to come to college,” said Emaleigh. “I just really like science and the human body. Being able to incorporate helping others and science together is amazing. It’s [the degree]; it’s just so complex that you can do multiple things with it, and it doesn’t go out of demand. It’s a job that will always keep me going.”

Emaleigh Smith was honored with a full scholarship to the University of Lynchburg. (Courtesy: VPS Studios)

She’s outgoing and an inspiration to others in foster care, giving them something to look forward to.

“I just want to show them that there’s more to whatever happens. It’s not just that. That is not who you are. That is something that shaped you into something that you can be more than,” said Emaleigh, who adds she’s breaking a family cycle in the process.

Emaleigh is also breaking a family cycle that includes many foster care stories, no one going to college and having children of their own at very young ages.

“I really am trying to make sure that I do. Because no one should go through that,” said Emaleigh.

“I admire her; she’s like a hero to me. Her resilience is by far just above and beyond what you’d ever expect someone like her with what she’s been through. It’s amazing,” said Sarah Jane Lawrence, a Franklin County Family Services specialist, who has been working with Emaleigh since she was 15. “I’m so excited for her next chapter. It’s just been a joy to watch her grow into this young adult that’s just awesome.”

Emaleigh, inspiring so many along the way.

“I just feel like there’s more to life than the tragedies. You can always look on the brighter side,” said the teen.

More good news, Emaleigh reconnected with her dad too.

“He’s been the biggest support. He’s made sure that my college transition, just in general, has been easy. He’s made sure that I have everything I need. If I ever have a problem, he’s right here to come and help,” she said.

The scholarship was established in 2013, thanks to a $5 million gift from the estate of Walter W. Ridgway Jr., a 1948 graduate of Lynchburg College. The money is for students like Emaleigh in foster care, who were part of HopeTree Family Services to attend the University of Lynchburg. It’s a full ride for four years and includes tuition, room and board, valued at over $50,000 per year, for a total of more than $200,000 over four years.

She’s the first one to use this scholarship.

If you have questions about foster care/adoption, contact the VDSS Division of Family Services Adoption Recruitment Coordinator, at adoptioninquiries@dss.virginia.gov.

To see other 30 Days of Hope stories visit us here.

We also have a list of frequently asked questions about foster care and adoption including the qualifications, cost, and training required in this link.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.