Courageous Young Woman Serves as Head of Household, Raises Two Special Needs Brothers and Graduates College With Honors
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 08, 2016

Bianca Jeannot is only 22, but has accomplished an incredible amount of success. Homeless until she was 10, Bianca's family consisted of a single mother and two special needs brothers. Her mother died when she was 18 and she became head of the household.

She took care of her brothers while in high school. Upon graduation, she was notified by her landlord that she owed $9,000 in unpaid rent for the Section 8 apartment which was their home. Legal Aid Staff Attorney Kat Meyers successfully represented the family.

Working four jobs, Bianca attended the College of New Rochelle where she has just graduated with honors.

On the back of her apartment door is a colorful sign that reads "HOPE."




The Journal News
Once homeless, she graduates college with honors
By Christopher J. Eberhart
June 7, 2016

Bianca Jeannot just graduated from CNR, but already had a degree from the school of hard knocks.

Bianca Jeannot and her family were homeless until she was 10 years old. Eight years later, while she prepared for high school graduation, her mother went into cardiac arrest and died suddenly.

At age 18, Jeannot inherited the family’s Section 8 apartment and became the head of her household. She was now the primary caretaker of her two disabled brothers and the family breadwinner with no time to grieve.

The thought of college seemed like a fantasy.

But, four years later, she walked across the stage at the Beacon Theater as an honors graduate of the College of New Rochelle, editor of the school newspaper and literary magazine, and founder of a new campus club for Japanese anime aficionados.

“I thought, ‘Is this really happening? Did I actually manage to get here?’” Jeannot said. “It honestly didn't feel real.”

“Often enough, when something good came along, it was either taken away or displayed to be something it wasn't,” she said. “So to walk across that stage with the concrete feeling of, 'Yes, this is me walking across the stage with my degree,’ was something I don't have the words to explain.”

Days after graduation

Two days after the pomp and circumstance of her May 24 graduation, which included a shout out from commencement speaker Robin Roberts, Jeannot was in a familiar setting, surrounded by her four cats and older brothers, Paul Santos and Michael Jeannot, in their Bronx apartment.

Michael Jeannot, 26, has Down syndrome and requires supervision. Santos, 34, was diagnosed as a teenager with final stage renal failure. He received a kidney transplant that went into chronic rejection in 2014.

For Jeannot, that was at the end of her semester; time for finalizing classes for the following year, organizing club paperwork, writing papers and studying for finals.

“Situations like that would come up,” she said. “I had to make sure Paul was OK, take care of Mikey and still study for my finals while commuting back and forth (from home to school).”

That same year, Jeannot's landlord accused her of owing $9,000 in unpaid rent.

"I went to court three times for that case with stamped bank statements of each rent check the building had cashed, proving that I owed nothing," she said. "I had to attend all three court dates with all my paperwork, my brothers and my lawyer from the Legal Aid Society.

"I also showed up to court in proper attire, which surprised the lawyer for the building," she said. "And the landlord never showed."

Leader on campus

Both incidents forced her to miss classes. Her professor and academic adviser, Nick Smart, said it was "with great pain and deep apology" when she had to miss classes to go to housing court or the hospital.

"She was apologizing for that," Smart said. "Bianca never wanted her circumstances to be any part of any excuse."

Smart praised Jeannot for her leadership on campus. She worked three jobs on campus and one off campus, edited the school newspaper, wrote for and edited the college’s literary magazine — the Phoenix — and started a new club.

A typical Sunday during the school year was a blur of events that started before 9 a.m.

She starts her day by getting ready for school and making sure the door is open for Santos' attendant. Then, she said, Mikey gets up around 10 a.m. and has to take a bath.

She checks the mail to see what bills need to be paid. Scouring through four different circulars for the best deals, she makes a grocery list.

Then it's the bus to Fordham and the train to New Rochelle, then a cab to campus. Now, she said, she does what needs to be done for work, school and clubs. She calls her brothers to see how they're doing, eats something and writes. The next day is class, work, class, work, club meetings and homework.

"She could've come from a house with three swimming pools in Scarsdale, and I would've been impressed," said Smart, who only knew snippets of her story at the time. "She was initially impressive to me for her poise. Then she became impressive to me for her leadership and tenacity. And then, finally, her persistence in the face of so many challenges."

Writing is a passion

Despite the hectic schedule, Jeannot said she still finds time to write. It's something that's been a passion of hers since she lived in the shelters. She and her friend, Amanda Hernandez, wrote and illustrated a graphic novel called "One of Us" that was published by Minuteman Press in May.

Most of her writing, she said, is done late at night in the bathtub while listening to the sounds of the Bronx's Grand Concourse.

“Living in the Bronx, all I hear at night is either yelling, cursing, gunshots, the 4 Train going and coming, and music blasting from all floors,” she said. “In the bathroom — at least in the bathtub — I'm in a small space where everything outside is at a minimal volume.

“When we lived in the shelter, it was the same,” she said. “The bathtub was the quietest space in the house, I could either play my own music or just write in the quiet and be alone with my imagination

Hope

On the back of her apartment door is a colorful sign that reads "HOPE."

Jeannot said she and her mother bought it in 2010 when they were downtown at Jacks 99 Cents Store buying Christmas tree decorations. At the end of the season, she said her mother was going to pack it away, but she suggested they keep it up.

"My mom told me to put it somewhere we'd always see it," Jeannot said. "I figured the best place would be on the back of the door since that's what we see when we leave the apartment every day, and what we see when we come home."

It's a reminder "that hope is always there to send you off and see you return," she said.

Jeannot's goals now are to continue her writing and pursue a career with the ASPCA or the the New York City police Animal Cruelty Unit.