If you’re looking for Elettlia Addison-Phelps, her friends say you’ll find her in the front row, always ready to jump into the classroom discussion.
“She’s very persistent, she’s smart, you could say she’s a teacher’s pet but not in, like, a bad way,” said classmate Margaret Phillips with a laugh about her friend, who goes by “Ellie” because it’s easier to say.
“A teacher once told me, how you gonna make it if you never go out and try?” Ellie said.
Ellie is the kid who everyone seems to know, because she goes out of her way to help anyone who needs it.
“She’s one of those students who are very sensitive to the needs of others, and that makes her really unique,” said Alexandria Martin, who teaches Ellie’s AP English Literature class.
When you walk into a classroom at Carol City Senior High School, you might notice a box that has “Beauty Beyond the Streets” written on it. There’s a story behind this.
Ellie started a school-wide, community-wide effort to collect hygiene supplies for homeless women. She makes care packages from the donated items and delivers the goods personally every Sunday, motivated by her own past.
Ellie was homeless during her formative elementary school years.
“I don’t ever want to be in that situation again, so I always have to remind myself, oh, you have to always go back and you have to remind yourself, this is a place you was in before,” Ellie explained.
“Ellie learned a lot about what it is to be a woman on the fringes of society, how you’re outcast, how you’re treated,” Martin said. “She finds this work cathartic, it’s her healing, it’s self-healing, I see Ellie as a person who represents what we all should be.”
So do Ellie’s friends, who say the girl with the ever-present smile is a role model for other students.
“Yes, very inspiring because like I said, nobody does this type of stuff, you don’t really see kids our age really go out and help the homeless,” said classmate Ky’la Dyer about Beauty Beyond the Streets.
Another classmate, Ja’caiya Stephens, said, “She’s super special because she’s always trying to help people, she’s super outgoing.”
She wasn’t always outgoing. Ellie said kids picked on her relentlessly when she was homeless because she often wore the same clothes several days in a row. The experience made her more determined to succeed, she wears it like a badge of honor.
“The haters gonna hate, of course you might get teased and bullied a couple times here and there, but you gotta keep pushing, gotta have the thick skin,” Ellie said. “Don’t ever give up, don’t ever give up, the fight is never over.”
Ellie is just getting started with her fight for academic success. She’s taking three AP classes this year as a junior, her grades are strong, college is in her future, but she’ll never stop giving back.
We watched her speaking to a classroom, urging them to donate supplies for Beauty Beyond the Streets.
“A lot of them have mental illness but they’re very grateful for you giving them something,” Ellie said. “You hear their story, they make you want to cry, be thankful for what you got."