WEST SENECA, N.Y. — Josephina and Constantina Butler say the halls of West Seneca East High School are finally starting to feel like home. This is the first school they've ever attended for longer than a year.
“We moved around a lot,” said Constantina, who goes by Connie. “We've probably been in 10 or 11 different houses.”
And in each house, mostly near Syracuse, they say the abuse at the hands of their step-father got worse.
“At age 10 we were doing all the household chores and if we didn't do them and do them the way he wanted them to be done, we'd be hurt really badly with any object,” said Connie.
At age 15, Josephina, who goes by Jozy, was hurt so badly by her step-father that the twins decided it was time to give their mother an ultimatum.
“I was like, ‘it's him or us.’ And she said, ‘well, you should pack your bags then.”
Jozy and Connie courageously did just that. They went to a shelter for runaway teens and stayed there for 3 months.
“At first when we got there it was fine and we were really happy,” said Jozy. “And then it was just like, ‘I don't want to be here.'”
They then bounced between foster homes, and finally, in the middle of their junior year of high school, came to Western New York to live with their biological father and grandmother.
“We were pretty much super independent our entire lives because we were taking care of ourselves and our little sister,” said Jozy. “And now to have structure, it’s still challenging for us but it's better.”
That structure started with schoolwork.
“Our dad said we had to be on the honor roll when we got here and we hadn't even known anyone who was on the honor roll so we thought that was absolutely impossible,” said Connie.
It turned out to be more than possible. They both now carry a 97 GPA, while taking advanced classes like AP Government and AP Biology and participating in many extracurriculars.
Both were even named among the prestigious “Students of Excellence” in West Seneca.
“They're curious. They're smart. They're inquisitive. They're interested. They are true lifelong learners,” said AP Government and Politics teacher Kara Welgoss. “I have no doubt in my mind that they'll be successful in anything that they do.”
The honor roll was the first goal they met and surpassed, and now their dad, Cassius Butler, has another request.
“Well I'm hoping that they're so much more successful than I ever was or that I'll ever be,” said Cassius. “I have not had an easy life and because of my decisions they went through what they went through.”
Cassius admits he had his struggles, but he always loved his girls as he was in and out of their lives. He said he never knew about the abuse they endured.
“Everyday is just a miracle to me,” he said. “I love them and to be able to be a voice in their life is an honor.”
Connie is now going on to Allegheny College to double major in biology and engineering. Jozy is going to Le Moyne College to major in biology and minor in Spanish. She hopes to be a physician’s assistant.
They say they're excited about their futures, but scared because for the first time in their lives they won't be together.
“We definitely wouldn't be here without each other. We've been through everything with each other. We basically raised each other. We were the only people there for each other,” said Connie.
They don't want their future to resemble their past. So they'll continue to rely on their grit, determination, and spirit to guide them.
“Being so unstable, it's like the fear of going back to that, is why I work so hard,” said Jozy. “We want to be more than what we saw.”
And they don't want their past to define them or receive special treatment. They said they don't want others to see them and say ‘look how successful they are despite all they've been though.’ They just want others to see them and say 'look how successful they are.'
Jozy and Connie’s father has established a Go Fund Me Account to help fund their college tuitions. A link can be found here.
2 On Your Side also recognized the following Great Grads:
Jacob Wallace, Kenmore West High School- Click here to see Jacob's story.
Eh Ler Tha, Riverside High School- Click here to see Eh Ler's story.