Relentless: Six Loudoun students 'Beat the Odds'

Keynote speaker Jared Green, associate pastor at Grace Covenant Church and a former NFL player, speaks to the panel of "Beat the Odds" award recipients on Thursday at the old county courthouse. Seated fourth from the left is Kenneth Kratz, the top awardee of $10,000 and a laptop. Times-Mirror/Bill Clare

Four years ago, Kenneth Kratz walked into a Woodgrove High School counselor's office and asked for help.

Not an unusual request for a school counselor to receive.

But this was urgent, dangerous and soul-crushing.

Kratz told counselor Donna Kelly that he was suicidal and he knew, without a doubt, he would take his own life if he were forced to go home where he felt "misunderstood and unloved."

"I have never seen such depression, desperation on the face of a suicidal student before as I did that afternoon," Kelly said.

On Thursday, that desperation was gone and the teen was outgoing and determined as he received $10,000 and a laptop from the "Beat the Odds" program.

In its 12th year, the "Beat the Odds" program rewards youth who've overcome major life obstacles and thrived. Forty-nine students have been awarded more than $130,000 through the program, which is sponsored by the Loudoun Bar Association, since 2005.

Kratz was one of six high school seniors to receive an award Thursday at the annual program. Altogether, $22,500 was given to the students.

But getting to this day wasn't easy for any of the six. All still struggle daily to beat back life's hurdles.

Kratz knows this all too well. That fateful day in 2012, when he was rushed to the hospital for treatment of depression, will continue to serve as a reminder that, in order to overcome, one must "wholeheartedly believe that life can be better."

It took years for the teen to rise to this level.

Following his treatment for depression, the teen remained, for the most part, private about his life. His grade point average remained steady, but Kratz refused to try new classes for fear of failing and further causing tension at his home.

"... He was suffering in silence. He was undoubtedly ashamed and scared to let people know about the domestic abuse and violence his family was experiencing along with his father's illegal drug abuse," Kelly said.

Things would continue to get worse - or better.

The teen's mother mustered up the courage to leave Katz's father but later was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Unable to work, the mother and son struggled financially. Still, for the first time, Kratz had hope. He was free from his abusive situation. His confidence began to soar - he finally believed he could overcome all of life's obstacles.

" ". it would be quite simple for me to paint you a portrait of my struggles, a melancholy display of my past "" Kratz, who plans to pursue a doctorate in political science, said. "A dismal march through the trials of parental abuse, self-loathing, depression, poverty, and how my now single mother and I fought a long battle to support ourselves. " I'm here for you today to send a message of sanguine hope and relentless optimism."

Today, Kratz said he's the happiest he's ever been in his life. He's got a supportive, loving family, kind and caring friends, good grades and a job.

"Never would I have thought myself to have such a fulfilling life and, yet, here I am," he said.

This is a Times-Mirror news alert. Check back to LoudounTimes.com and our June 2 edition for more of the other five award recipients.

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