Reva Menson refused to let homelessness define her. How one student’s determination—and the Houston Chapter’s compassion—started a scholarship.
It all began with a football ticket. The Texas Exes Houston Chapter often ends up with extra tickets. Usually, they go to fellow alumni. But last fall, the chapter board members decided to connect with a high school student instead. “We called HISD and said, ‘Find us a student who’s really crazy about UT,’” remembers former chapter president Julie Long. “They said, ‘You should meet Reva.’”
Reva Menson had a reputation for walking the halls of Wheatley High School clad from head to toe in orange and white. A counselor there suggested Long drop by to meet her. The two hit it off, and enjoyed the UCLA game in Austin that Saturday.
Menson loved seeing the UT campus. “When I was very young, I caught a disease that caused my blood to turn burnt orange,” she says, deadpan. “It’s the best school in the state. I’ve always wanted to go to UT.”
Long enjoyed Menson’s company, and was impressed by her maturity and focus on her studies—despite some big distractions.
Many high school students complain about having to wake up early for class. Menson didn’t, even though her alarm went off at 5:30 every morning. To get to school, she took a two-hour bus trip from the extended-stay hotel where she lived with her mother and six siblings. In the afternoon, another two-hour trip home awaited her.
It was rough, but it was nothing compared to what she’d faced two years earlier. Menson and her family had been homeless for several months. They bounced back and forth from a shelter to the homes of friends and family members. Reva attended a high school that was eventually shut down due to poor teaching quality.
When she transferred to Wheatley, she was years behind in every subject. “At first, I didn’t understand anything. But I worked hard. I worked darn hard,” she says. By her senior year, she was ranked 11th in her class.
These days, if you ask Menson about her experience with homelessness, she rolls her eyes a little. “Being homeless was never the central point for me, you know?” she says. “When Julie took me to that game, all these local news outlets did stories with headlines like, ‘Texas Exes Take Homeless Girl to Game.’ First, I wasn’t homeless at the time, but even if I were, my name isn’t Homeless Girl. It was hurtful to be reduced to those two words.”
Long saw a lot more in Menson than those words. She saw a future UT student, a community leader, and a friend. “Meeting Reva was the best thing that ever happened to me as chapter president,” she says, her voice trembling. “I am so inspired by her every day. She has changed my life.”
Through the Houston Chapter, Long endowed the Julie Long Presidential Scholarship specifically for Menson. In the future, the scholarship will help other Houston-area students who have excelled academically despite challenging circumstances.
Menson would still be at UT even if she had never met Long and gotten the scholarship—additional financial aid has made that possible. But she says her daily experience wouldn’t be the same.
“I’m a firm believer in the butterfly effect,” Menson says. “One thing in your life changes, and then everything else changes in ways you can’t predict. Knowing that Julie believes in me, that she’s investing in me—I carry that proudly. As of today, the possibilities are limitless.”
What did Menson most look forward to about college life? “Getting some sleep in my dorm room,” she laughs. “With seven kids at home, it was always chaotic. Sometimes I miss the chaos, but mostly, I love the quiet.”
Menson is majoring in English and planning a career at the intersection of law and social work. “There were points in my childhood when I thought, why isn’t anyone fighting for me?” she says. “So that’s why I want to go into human services, to stand up for disadvantaged kids. Either that or be a senator.”
Photo by Matt Valentine