Finding a home
Hartselle senior flourishes with support from extended family
By Catherine Godbey
For the Enquirer
The red gown billowed around Breanna Alexander as the wind whipped through the backyard of the Hartselle house she has called a home for the past four years.
“Before coming here and moving in with my aunt and uncle in 2016, I had gone to nine different schools. It’s nice to call someplace a home, and it’s nice to have people that really care about me. My aunt and uncle are the reason I’m here today,” said Alexander, a Hartselle High School senior.
May 26, Justin and Crystal Alexander will sit in the stands at Hartselle’s J.P. Cain Stadium and watch as their niece graduates.
“Breanna has been a blessing,” Crystal Alexander said. “I am so proud of her. She has a heart of gold. She is kind, patient, amazing, loving and the sweetest girl in the world. She has overcome so many hardships, and she is flourishing.”
Those hardships began 14 years ago when Breanna Alexander’s father died in a motorcycle accident.
“I was 4. I remember the day they told us. It was in the morning and, we were at my grandparents’ house,” Breanna Alexander said.
After her father’s death, Alexander’s life lost stability as her mother moved from place to place.
“She was in a lot of bad relationships, and we moved around a lot. It just got to the point where my brother and I couldn’t live with her anymore. We chose to move away to be in a safer place,” Breanna Alexander said.
In September 2016, she sent her uncle and aunt an Instagram message pleading for their help.
The couple, who had tried for years to gain custody of their nephew and niece, immediately left work and headed to Brewer High, where Breanna and her older brother attended school. Sept. 20, 2016, Alexander’s mother signed over custody to Justin and Crystal.
“They took us in and treated us like their own. They have been amazing,” Breanna Alexander said. “I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ now. That’s a big deal for me.”
‘I am happy now’
It was July 1, 2019 – Breanna Alexander remembers the exact day – when she called Justin and Crystal “Dad” and “Mom” for the first time.
“It was something I needed. I would hear these other kids walking around saying ‘Hey, mom’ and ‘Hey, dad.’ I didn’t have anybody to call that. Being able to say those words makes a difference,” Breanna Alexander said. “They are my parents. They have taken care of me. I am happy now because of them.”
Like they have for the past four years, Justin and Crystal Alexander have supported, encouraged and celebrated Breanna these past two months as the coronavirus brought an abrupt end to her senior year.
“These past few months have been hard. It was hard not having prom and our senior picnic. It was hard not knowing if we were going to have a graduation and get that last moment together,” said the 17-year-old Alexander, who will turn 18 Thursday. “It’s been hard not being able to celebrate with my friends and my teachers who have made such a difference in my life.”
Among those teachers Alexander described as “instrumental” and “life-changing” are volleyball coach Tanya Lybarger and medical academy instructor Lynne Shelton.
“Coach Lybarger is absolutely incredible,” Breanna Alexander said. “I had a hard time the first few years. I would cry and go to her office, and she would always take the time to talk with me.
“Mrs. Shelton has helped me prepare for my future. She has pushed me and helped me figure out what I want to be. I am more prepared for college because of her.”
Plans for nursing
In the fall, Breanna Alexander, driven by a desire to help others, said she plans to attend Calhoun Community College to pursue a career in pediatric nursing.
“Breanna has always been a great student. It has been my privilege to watch her grow intellectually,” said Shelton, who taught Alexander for three years. “She is already filled with compassion and empathy for patients. I know she is going to achieve her goals and become an awesome pediatric nurse. I am excited about her future, and I cannot wait to see what it holds for her. I know she will be exceptional.”
To celebrate the graduates, Hartselle High distributed “HHS loves this senior” yard signs, and teachers lined up outside the school when students picked up their caps and gowns. That display of support brought tears to Breanna Alexander’s eyes.
One final celebration of the 2020 senior class of Hartselle High School will take place May 26. Each student received eight tickets to graduation.
“While graduation is not what we thought it would be,” Breanna Alexander said, “at least the people who are very important to me will be there — my grandparents, my siblings and my mom and dad.”