Robannie rides the bus to school like most teens. Unlike most teens, her commute can be up to three hours each way. She attends school in downtown Portland but her  adopted mother, Lorrie, and three siblings live in a cramped basement apartment in east Portland.  Despite setbacks and roadblocks that would cause most of us to stumble, Robannie is excelling and planning on graduating a year early. On top of that she’s also an athlete and a member of the Rose City Rollers roller derby league.

In the roller derby community you will hear the phrase “Derby Saved My Life” thrown around a lot; it is even printed on t-shirts. But how could adding a time-intensive and physically-demanding sport to an already packed schedule filled with long commutes and a difficult living situation help? Aside from being a highly competitive sport, roller derby is also a tight-knit, welcoming community. It offered Robannie a place where she not only felt welcomed, but also powerful.

“Everyone is so nice and supportive,” shared Robannie. “It’s like a family.”

The support is not limited to the track. While athleticism and commitment are prime traits in the derby community, skaters also support each other in their personal lives, with many adult skaters acting as mentors for the junior league. Robannie described a time when she was sick and missed practice. A fellow skater showed up at her door with homemade soup and instructions to get better but not to push herself until she was completely well.

Robannie has lived with Lorrie on and off for her entire life. Lorrie’s home was a supportive haven for Robannie when things were difficult with her birth mother. Lorrie’s warmth and nurturing definitely propelled her forward. Robannie’s goal to graduate early is influenced by her drive to begin her college career. She plans on majoring in Law Enforcement and minoring in Family and Child Services to help kids like her, who have come from difficult situations, get the help they need and hopefully find a better place.

Soon Robannie and her family will move into a new Habitat home in Northeast Portland. A much closer bus ride to Portland Community College and “The Hangar” where her derby team practices, Robannie will be able to spend less time commuting and more time with Lorrie and her siblings. The entire family will have a safer home, with functional appliances, heat, and electricity. And most importantly, Robannie and her siblings will have their own stable place to play, study, and sleep in comfort, warmth and safety.