When Bastrop High School senior, Rachael Lara was in the eighth grade, she faced a challenge that turned her world upside down.
Lara's mother, Sherry Campbell, was arrested on a felony charge and taken to the Morehouse Parish jail, where she stayed for over a year before pleading guilty in the case.
At the time of Campbell's plea, Rachael was readying to become a freshman at BHS, and during that year, Campbell was transferred to St. Gabriel's, a women's prison in Baton Rouge.
Rachael could have decided it was too much to handle. Racheal could have just let the situation with her mother become what she was known for. But, she didn't.
Rachael's first and foremost concern was her younger siblings.
"I was more worried about them than I was myself because they were younger," Rachael said. "I just decided to make sure they did not miss out on anything because Momma wasn't here. I was determined we would not become statistics, no matter what."
Campbell had had domicilary custody of the children, but their father, Ron Lara, was a very active and present part of their lives. An officer with the Bastrop Police Department, Ron worked odd hours and knew it would be difficult for Rachael and her siblings Cortney and Luke to live with him, so the kids moved in with Campbell's sister, Lori. As time passed, Ron and Lori fell in love and decided to get married.
"Daddy came by everyday and took us to do whatever needed to be done," Rachael said. "Aunt Lori was already like a mother to me, so when they got married, it wasn't really a big deal."
Rachael joined the JROTC her freshman year and flourished in the very regimented class.
"JROTC is just one big family," Rachael said. "Because the older students actually are the ones to train you, you always have a role model; someone you can go to."
In her sophomore year, Rachael joined Sgt. Tina May's drill team and quickly earned a place in her heart.
"I'm gonna miss this one," May said. "She's my child."
All Rachael knew to do was the best she could. She rose in the ranks of the JROTC to Battalion Commander, Unarmed Regulation Team Commander and Leadership Team Commander all the while helping out at home with her newly blended family, maintaining stellar grades and participating in church events.
The hard work and determination paid off for Rachael as she graduated last night ranked fifth in her class and earning a $75,000 scholarship from JROTC. The scholarship will enable her to live on the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe in the fall and fully concentrate on making it to the next level of her academic career.
Rachael said because she had amazing friends who knew her entire story, she never felt like the world was stacked against her. She also said due to teachers such as Sgt. May and Mitzi Quinn who took her under their wing, she is doubly blessed because they are all like mothers to her.
English teacher Quinn inspired Rachael to further her education in the field of English and after serving four years of active duty in the Army, Rachael wants to continue on and get a Master's degree and possibly become an English professor.
Some may say the things Rachael has accomplished is not really a big deal. Those people probably did not get their mother taken at such a pivotal time in their life.
"I decided that life went on, regardless of me or my feelings," Rachael continued. "All I could do was make the best of it for me, my brother and sister.
"You can do whatever you set your mind to do. Home life problems are not an excuse not to excel. I may not have had Sherry Campbell in my life, but I have had Lori Lara, Mrs. Quinn, Sgt. May and many others who stepped up and treated me as if I was their child and I am honored to be able to call them 'Momma'."
Rachael is an inspiration to many, including her father.
"Rachael has overcame many obstacles and adversities to get where she is today. Instead of turning to drugs and alcohol like she could have, she has always turned to God," Ron Lara said. "The type of woman she has become would bring tears to any father's eyes and I am extremely proud of her."
Rachael introduced the speaker for the graduation ceremonies last night and also was one of several who sang the class song on Class Night. If she is not at home, she can usually be found in the JROTC building.
"It's my home away from home," she said.
The JROTC building is where she was during the interview. She was there waiting for sister Cortney to get out of school, so she could practice her driving.
"Cortney just got her permit and I just turned 18, so it's legal for her to drive with me and I make her drive everywhere to get ready to get her license."
Sounds like Cortney has her role model right next to her.