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He beat the odds

It’s not easy working two part-time jobs, totaling 30 to 40 hours a week, while also attending high school — especially if you’re taking two advanced placement classes, an honors math class and an advanced biochemistry course.

But hey, a man’s gotta eat. And pay the rent.

That’s the challenge facing Ashland High School senior Charis Roberts, and it’s a challenge he’s managed to overcome since striking out on his own about two years ago, leaving his mom’s house and choosing instead to go it alone as a high school junior. That decision forced Roberts to grow up quickly, which wasn’t easy. 

But in the face of obstacles that probably would have overwhelmed most teenagers, Roberts has found his way and recently became one of three Oregonians to be awarded the $10,000 Beat the Odds Scholarship, “to highlight the incredible potential of Oregon’s young people as well as the challenges which prevent too many of them from succeeding.”

Roberts, who carries a 3.4 grade point average, was interviewed twice — the second by a committee through Skype — before Stand for Children Oregon decided in late September that he was worthy. He was then flown to Portland for an awards banquet which he said was also attended by two state senators, a state treasurer and a circuit court judge who has since offered to help Roberts fulfill his dream of being accepted to Reed College.

SFCO also produced a four-and-a-half minute video about Roberts, which can be viewed at stand.org/oregon/beat-the-odds.

“It was really cool,” said Roberts, who made the trip to Portland with his mom. “The whole process of going up there, I just got totally stoked.”

Roberts moved from the Bay Area, where he lived with his grandparents, to Ashland to live with his mom the summer before his seventh-grade year. It was a tumultuous living situation and, after several falling-outs and do-overs, they eventually decided that something had to change.

“We didn’t get along and I needed to do things for myself,” Roberts said. “I just needed to do something different with my life and at first it wasn’t the most graceful scenario — I kind of just ran away multiple times. It kept progressing, and my mom and I started getting along better with me not living at home.”

After couch-surfing, camping in a tent and other disagreeable living situations, Roberts eventually found a place downtown that he shares with a recent North Medford High graduate.

Sharing the rent with somebody is essential for Roberts, who pays all his own bills. It’s not easy . He works about 20 hours a week at Salame, a restaurant on Main Street, and another 10 or so at Thrival Tech LLC, a fuel resources company that invents technologies to help reduce and eliminate pollution.

Roberts is not a charity case, says Tenasi Rama, who works at Thrival Tech.

“He has a lot of creativity and imagination,” Rama said, “and he has the ability to put it into action and get things done.”

Roberts has done that in the classroom as well, but it wasn’t always like that. He says he coasted through his first two years at Ashland High before recommitting himself. Slowly, his GPA went up (he’s earned a 4.0 two terms in a row), he completed the work necessary to qualify for AP classes and he began to develop a keen interest in how things work, an interest that was probably sparked five years ago at Thrival Tech.

“I’ve always been fascinated by chemistry,” he said, “just this whole idea that it’s a way to define reality around you. I just think it’s really, really cool. Also, more specifically, how substances affect the brain, just how all the stimuli that we’re taking in on a day-to-day basis is processed on a chemical level and that’s what makes us perceive what it is.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@dailytidings.com.

Ashland senior Charis Roberts recently became one of three Oregonians to be awarded a $10,000 Beat the Odds Scholarship. - Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune