Korie Ratelle’s life is turning into a fairy tale, and she’s Cinderella — getting ready for her ball.
She'll receive a special new dress, ride to the ball in style and vault from there headlong into a new life full of possibilities that seem almost unreal.
The 18-year-old Waukesha North High School senior’s childhood was anything but easy.
Growing up in foster care with her two younger sisters, there wasn’t much to smile about. She was first placed in foster care when she was just 6 years old. Instead of living a carefree childhood, she was learning responsibility and putting her younger sisters first — making sure they had what they needed.
“Through all that, we were with different families — sent home, taken back, sent home, taken back,” Korie said. “It was just really getting complicated. It takes a lot. Because of that, I ended up mothering my younger sisters. … I was always looking out for my sisters.
“Even though we were in a safe place, I looked out for them because you don’t know what is going to happen. The way we overcame that was just get through school, help with my sisters, make sure they are safe and have everything they need, and help myself. … I just had to make sure everything was OK before I focused on what I needed.”
Korie — who also has an older brother who spent a lot of time growing up with their aunt — and her sisters are no longer in foster care. They have lived with their mom for a few years now. Still, Korie admits, it’s still a struggle to let go of her motherly habits.
“I can’t help it,” Korie said. “It just turns itself on.”
She still calls home after getting paid from her job as a clerk at Goodwill, checking to see what milk or bread their family needs.
“I just like to help, it is just a little thing,” Korie said.
Now, the help she's given others is coming back to her in a big way. Korie recently was awarded a $20,000 Horatio Alger National Scholarship. The scholarship program awards financial assistance to young men and women who have overcome significant adversity in their life. It is one of just 106 awarded around the country, according to the Horatio Alger Association website.
Waukesha North’s had a handful of past graduates receive the award, including Alderman Chris Hernandez.
Korie’s more than a little excited for the scholarship to help set her up during her new life at St. Norbert’s College. But beyond that, she’s taking her first trip on an airplane in April to Washington, D.C., to receive the award. And she’s going to do so in style.
“Of all the paperwork I looked at that they sent with the packet, there is a form for your measurements,” said an excited, giggling Korie. “I have to send them my measurements so they know what size to make a dress for me. They are making a dress.”
Korie’s scholarship from Horatio Alger isn’t the only big one she’s getting for college. She also is being awarded a $56,000 scholarship from St. Norbert’s College. She’s planning on pursuing a major in the medical field, such as bio-chemistry.
At Waukesha North, she’s actively studying for her hardest class — physics — and is part of the state champion marching band. She is also having a blast working at Goodwill learning about customers and getting excited for them when they find a fantastic deal.
But as she prepares to start the next chapter in her life, Korie has mixed feelings.
“Yeah, I am excited – this is really a thing, it is happening,” Korie said. “But, I am actually leaving home, I am moving away, I won’t see my family, really, for awhile. … It is kind of weird.”