A Wednesday's Child reunion: Toni's story




Posted on February 8, 2012 at 11:13 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 8 at 11:37 PM

Almost 22 years ago, I filed my first Wednesday's Child report here at Channel 8. During that time, follow-up stories were rare — except in the case of Toni Reynolds-Criner.

We first met her in 1998, and we were there when she graduated from high school in 2007.

Now, she has crossed another major milestone. Graduation is a rite of passage for thousands of young peope every year. But not for 23-year-old Toni Reynolds-Criner. Toni's future is a bright as the medal she earned as an honor graduate.

And she has earned the respect of those who know her.

"I'm very proud of her," said Debra Peek-Haynes, Toni's boss, mentor and family friend. "She's been through a lot, but she has not let her past define her."

Peek-Haynes says she feels good about Toni's future. "Very much so," she said.

"No, I'm not a statistic," Toni said. "I refuse to be... my mother would not allow it."

Only about two percent of children in foster care will earn a college degree, but it was expected of Toni.

Her mom, Cecilia Criner, is a principal; her grandmother, Gwendolyn Hill, a retired teacher.

"Every child born in this world deserves love and a home," Hill said. "In our family, education is just what you do ... she [Toni] had no other choice but to be successful."

Toni's path to success was rocky at first.

In 1998, nine-year-old Toni and her sister, La Shaminque, were featured on Wednesday's Child. But after several foster placements and separation from her sister, it was three years before Toni found a forever home.

"I was kind of surprised that my mom went ahead and adopted me," Toni said. "Between 12 and 15 I kind of gave her every bit of trouble. She never backed out... kept on going with the adoption, and never looked back.

"I knew subconsciously she was trying to make me call the caseworker; she was trying to make me give her back," Criner recalled. "She tried to be very successful at that — the more she pushed, the more she pushed back, and the more determined I was to show her this is what family is about."

Ultimately family, friends and faith prevailed, even though Toni was still torn over the split with her parents.

"I said I wasn't going to cry," Toni said. "I can't too much remember, but I don't know the truth, the actual truth."

Now, Toni's making peace with her birth parents, and making plans to attend graduate school — hoping to work with troubled juveniles and sharing her message of hope.

"Yeah, I was a foster child; yeah, I was adopted. But that doesn't define who I am as a person, as a Christian," Toni said. It's something that just helped me get to where I am today."

Toni Reynolds-Criner broke the cycle.

E-mail gcampos@wfaa.com