Voices of Diversity: Celia's Moment

Celia Van Meter poses with her mother, True Van Meter, by the Herky statue at the University of Iowa. (Photo: Scott Small)

Vinton-Shellsburg High School graduate Celia Van Meter vowed to never let her future be dictated by her upbringing.

Statistics from Promises2Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping foster kids, shows only 50 percent of foster youth will receive a high school diploma.

A group of women in Vinton are dedicated to helping those groups of students. Van Meter was one of them.

The group has named itself Starfish and they've spent the last two years seeking out foster, independent and homeless students who need some extra help. For recent high school graduates, that includes collecting college necessities and hosting graduation celebrations. The members of the group work with schools and local donors to make this happen.

Van Meter says a group like this gives her hope. That's something that was tough to deal with when growing up.

"No, I didn't have hope," she said. "I didn't ave any of that."

She's had to overcome a lot from her childhood. Her family moved to Iowa when she was little, for a better life near their biological father. But sometimes, things don't go the way you want them to.

"But my dad, he beat us a lot when we were kids," she said.

"I was just so depressed," True Van Meter, her biological mom, said. "Raising three girls, three teenage girls, by myself...that was a job and a half. I literally drank to just shut the world out and not have to deal with all the daily problems."

Mom knew things were getting out of control.

"I wanted to be sober," she said.

But sobriety was a struggle for years, even after treatment facilities. There was one day things escalated unexpectedly.

"I decided to have a drink, after being sober for a whole year," True said. "And the girls caught me. My oldest daughter started punching me and punching me in the face. It got me down."

That was the start of many battles. True even says she can't begin to describe the horror of her entire story.

"I had a bottle of pills and I swallowed them," True said. "I swallowed the whole bottle."

Eventually, several other events caused the family to split. True's daughters eventually went from foster home to foster home.

"I lived in Farmersburg and Dubuque, Waukon, Vinton, Cedar Rapids, Oxford, Marion," Van Meter says, trying to recall all of the towns she lived in.

Traveling from foster home to foster home wasn't easy on her or her sisters, Van Meter said. But they tried their hardest to make things work. One way Van Meter coped was finding friends and working hard in school.

Her life also revolved around cheerleading at school. She even made honor roll.

"That counts," True says, after Van Meter jokes about how it was only one time she made honor roll.

Fast forward to today - Van Meter is now taking classes at Kirkwood Community College, working towards her dreams of becoming a University of Iowa Hawkeye. Her ultimate goal is to become a sports agent in Colorado, where she was born.

True also has a lot to be proud of, for herself.

"I have a lot to be sober for," she says, thinking of Van Meter's accomplishments.

Both say having help from Starfish made the events much more special. Van Meter was even able to get graduation photos at no cost, thanks to Starfish's connections. They even hosted a graduation party for her, gifts included, at Coe College's Alumni House, inviting friends and family.

The group is always seeking donations for the students they are helping.

For Benton and Iowa Counties, Starfish can be reached through Erin Monaghan and Heidi Schminke at

The group also serves Buchanan, Delaware and Fayette Counties. Monaghan works for Building Direction for Families. Monaghan primarily helps in those areas and you can reach her at

You can also reach them at 319-241-1817 or 319-334-5105.

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