From homeless teen to OSU success story: Lexie Merrill is an advocate for students
Lexie Merrill was homeless at age 15, pregnant by age 16 and a mom by age 17.
What would you think would be her chances of being an Oregon State University junior and an on-campus leader by age 20?
Well, that’s the way things turned out.
A Ford Family Foundation opportunity grant program that assists single parents paid her way through two years at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, and it is keeping the bills paid at OSU as well.
“I had never been over here,” said Merrill, who had been encouraged to try OSU by a Treasure Valley teacher. “I couldn’t afford to visit. So I just went for it.”
That was September 2011. Merrill packed her daughter, Ryann, and “everything that would fit” into a 2002 Hyundai Elantra and headed west.
“It was a big deal,” Merrill said. “I fell in love with the campus. It gave me a brighter outlook for my life and for my daughter’s life.”
Once on campus, Merrill became involved in student affairs and now is serving as ASOSU’s executive director for community resources. She works on issues such as the environment, veterans affairs, student safety and wellness.
Merrill also has been a strong advocate on student housing concerns, both in her service as a member of the Collaboration Corvallis Steering Committee and as a frequent speaker at project workgroup meetings.
On Jan. 29 Merrill gave an emotional speech at a neighborhood livability workgroup session on rental housing issues. Most of the speakers in the packed meeting room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library were property owners or landlords, and Merrill felt the student voice was missing.
“That was hard and frustrating,” she said. “Why didn’t more people who are affected show up? And it’s not just students. Lots of other people in town aren’t any better off than students.
“They are struggling to survive, struggling to pay the bills. They don’t have enough time to go to meetings. Some people are worried about the bag ban. Others are worried about eating.
“Government meetings can be hard. Hard questions. Hard problems. No one wants to deal with them. Sometimes you have to step back and view it as if it was your children who had to go through these things.”
Merrill is majoring in political science with a minor in Spanish and hopes to pursue a master’s degree in social work or perhaps attend law school.
“I’m still looking at what I want to do,” she said. “I’m a problem-solver. I want to write policies and help people.”
The Merrill File
WHO: Oregon State University junior Lexie Merrill
HOMETOWN: She grew up in Bend, Pendleton and Ontario
MAJOR: Political science, with a minor in Spanish
FAMILY: Daughter Ryann, 3
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: ASOSU executive director of community resources and member of the Collaboration Corvallis Steering Committee
MOTTO: “I am a good resource. I make connections like no other.”