Mooresville High School grad excels in life, school despite adversity

Fifth in a series

Briona Rivers almost gave up.

She was so close to graduation, so near to her dream of attending college.

Why was her life suddenly spiraling out of control?

Rivers never thought she’d have to rely on the generosity of friends during her final two years at Mooresville High School, but that’s what happened after her family was evicted from their home.

It all began when her mom’s car was totaled in a wreck in spring 2013. Her mom could no longer get to her warehouse job in Newton and was let go.

With no income to pay the rent, Briona’s mom, Monica, a single parent, was evicted.

Rivers’ mom moved in with a friend in Salisbury, while Briona stayed in the homes of friends from school. She was determined to graduate with the rest of her classmates on Saturday.

“I like to do things on my own,” Rivers said. “I hate to ask for things. That’s just me.”

But friends and their parents insisted on Rivers living with them so she wouldn’t have to move from the Mooresville Graded School District.

Near the end of last school year, friend and classmate Brooklyn Baker and her family took her in.

Rivers lived with an aunt in Winston-Salem most of the summer. The first month of her senior year, Rivers stayed with friend Monica Phutthavong and her family.

She then moved in with her mom and two sisters in Salisbury, about 20 miles away in Rowan County.

Fellow seniors Kirsten Sharpe and Elizabeth Drawdy asked Mooresville High School counselor Allyson Huntley whether the school could help with Rivers’ transportation.

From October through February, funds were secured for Rivers’ round-trip cab ride each school day. To pay for Briona’s cab rides to and from Salisbury, the school received money through the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which assists with the education of homeless children.

“It was amazing,” Rivers said. “It was fantastic. I was on the brink of giving up” on graduating from Mooresville High School.

Her mom’s car wreck “grew into more adversity than one should ever have to face in a lifetime, let alone as a high school student,” Huntley said. “But these struggles did not deter her.”

Rivers remained a model student, Huntley said. She completed six Advanced Placement classes and kept her eye on her ultimate goal of attending college.

She was accepted into her top two choices – Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C., and UNC-Greensboro – and plans to pursue a degree in elementary education at UNC-Greensboro in the fall.

Rivers said her family has been able to live in their own house since March. Her mom works at the Super Walmart in Mooresville, and Rivers is a cashier at the nearby Wendy’s. She also earns money babysitting.

Her ordeal, she said, taught her such lifelong skills as how to manage money and prepare meals – her favorite dish is seafood pasta.

She said she wants to be a teacher “not just teaching them the standard curriculum, how to count or read, but how to be a well-rounded citizen.”

Rivers also has a message for young students, especially young black students, she said: “Don’t let anyone hold you back. Don’t let them stop you from taking AP classes. Don’t let them stop you from applying to college. Just do it. And if you need help, ask for it.”

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