For Havre de Grace teen Jeremy Holmes and his family, it's been a long journey to make it where he is: a lance corporal in Kennedy Krieger High School's Young Marines program.
Up until a few years ago, Jeremy couldn't walk, let alone attend school, the result of a terrible car accident that changed his family's life in more ways than one. With work, his parent's help, an understanding community and the school's program that allowed him to blossom, the young man is living out one of his dreams: a trip to Hawaii.
"Jeremy is so much a miracle," mother Deborah McCarter said of her son. In 2002, Jeremy was injured in a horrific car accident that killed his 9-year-old brother, Jay, and left the then 8-year-old with a traumatic brain injury.
Not only did McCarter lose one of her sons — something no parent should ever experience —her youngest child was forever changed.
"I couldn't tell you how much our hearts hurt from Jay," she said. "We had to start a new life."
After the accident, Jeremy had to re-learn how to do everything — roll, crawl, walk, speak — and his personality was different, as well, McCarter explained.
Jeremy would have what she described as "behaviors," when her son would be violent and angry because of his brain injury. McCarter said Jeremy would break things, hit people and take medication, about 20 pills a day, to control the mood swings.
"We prayed and prayed and prayed," she said, referring to her and her husband, Stanley McCarter. About four years ago, she went on, "I heard a voice to stop the meds and he started to turn around that day." Soon after, Jeremy became calmer, she said, and began to make even more progress in his recovery.
While Jeremy still has outbursts, McCarter explained, his behavior and mood have greatly changed for the better.
"We couldn't take him to the park before, but now we can," she said. Jeremy now dress himself, tie his own shoes and interact with others. "He can do anything, just not at a normal 17-year-old's level."
Part of that normal routine is attending Kennedy Krieger High School in Baltimore and participating in its Central Maryland Young Marines Unit, a program that serves students with special needs.
The unit, which has 28 students, is the only one in the nation that is comprised entirely of people with special needs and based at a school for special education.
"The Young Marines teaches discipline and teaches respect," McCarter said. "When he's in that uniform, he's like another little man."
As part of the program, Jeremy has learned about theU.S. militaryand its veterans, as well as the physical and mental requirements a Marine must handle. He's also learned important social skills, such as making eye contact, shaking hands and holding short conversations.
While the physical fitness requirements are modified for the students based on their individual disabilities, which range from intellectual disabilities to autism spectrum disorders, the students in the program must adhere to the same dress and haircut standards all young Marines are held to, and the same requirements for earning awards and ribbons.
In early December, Jeremy and four of his classmates flew to Hawaii to take part in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The students marked in a parade and participated in a wreath-laying ceremony. The trip was one of few without his parents, as well as a dream come true.
"I'll never forget that day," McCarter said about when Jeremy told her about the Hawaii adventure. "He always wanted to go to Hawaii." She said Jeremy had previously written her a letter, saying he's going to move to the state, and while he'll miss her, his stepfather would take care of her. Then one day, Jeremy came home from school excited and told her that he was going to Hawaii.
"I can't believe that happened," she said. "It's very much fulfilling a dream of his."
His transformation from a child who couldn't take care of himself to a young man who's pursuing his goals, astounds McCartney.
More recently, Jeremy had been busy focusing on graduating and portrayed an angel in his church's Christmas play after returning from his trip.
He also wants to join the military, and hopes to one day make video games, the proud mother explained.
"There's something out there for Jeremy," she said, "and when it's his turn, it's going to be unbelievable."