Bo knows how to excel in life despite adversity
Bo Raab went from foster home to foster home as a young child.
At an age when most young people's biggest worry is how much homework they would have that day or whether their friends would be able to play, the youngster had a bigger concern — whether he would ever have a family to adopt him.
The unkindest cut of all for Raab came when a family that had fostered him for a year and gave indications that they wanted to adopt him said they did not want him any longer.
Perhaps that's where Raab gets his empathy for the disadvantaged, for those who may have been cast aside. It might also be where he toughened his resolve to do his best at school.
Raab, who was recently named by the Rantoul Exchange Club as its Ace Award winner for excelling in high school despite significant hardships, has a soft heart for animals, especially animals that have been abused.
Raab's favorite television show is "Animal Cops," an Animal Planet show that highlights the rescue of abused and endangered animals. Raab said he can see himself in that role. He would like to be an animal rescuer, either on a professional or volunteer level.
Life has not been an easy trip down a sunny lane for Raab. In addition to being a foster child for several years, his eyesight is at risk. He has lost sight in one eye.
Born with poor vision, Raab hit his head on the ceiling of his bedroom while sleeping on top of a bunk bed at age 14, which caused him to gradually lose sight in his right eye.
"I was waking up from a nightmare or something," Raab said. "I sprung up out of my sleep and I hit my head."
As a result of his poor sight, doctors said, Raab shouldn't take part in any sports or other physical activity that might cause head trauma. That meant no physical education classes, no football or other sport in which he might sustain a blow to the head.
Raab ran track his freshman year at Rantoul Township High School but has primarily confined his extracurricular interest at school to non-sports activities.
"I did a lot of clubs," Raab said. "I do plays and musicals."
His favorite role was as Professor Plum in "Clue, The Musical."
"It was a fun character to do," Raab said. "I really loved the cast that I was involved with."
And RTHS students evidently loved Raab — a polite, well-spoken, laid-back individual.
He was named the school's homecoming king last fall and was a member of the prom court in the spring.
Raab was also active in Future Business Leaders of America, Interact, Student Council and the Eagle Mentoring Program in which upperclassmen mentor freshmen.
And he did it all, his mother, Elsa Raab, said, while earning a 4.95 grade-point average. Rare was the report card without all As.
Some people who fail in life tend to blame their problems on a disjointed childhood. Others, like Bo Raab, don't let obstacles hold them back. They use them to grow stronger, while acknowledging that the struggles were, indeed, hurtful.
Originally from Peoria, Raab doesn't remember his parents because he was placed in foster care at such an early age.
"I was in foster care ... until the age of 7," he said. "I moved around a lot and had different homes."
Then he was brought into a home at Hope Meadows in Rantoul, where he began to feel like he belonged.
"There was this home I thought I was going to be adopted to, but the family didn't want me," Raab said.
He had lived with the family for long enough that he felt he could trust them.
"When the family said they didn't want me, I cried a bit," Raab said. "I was with them like a year or so. It was enough time to get a strong connection."
Foster care was tough, he said.
"Sometimes you feel unwanted just moving house to house," Raab said. "It was something I had to deal with. You had to get reacquainted with a new family and a new way of living."
But there was someone watching.
Elsa Raab, who lived next door, said she would like to adopt him.
Bo Raab said he had a little trouble trusting her for a time because of his past experiences.
"It was kind of hard," he said, "because I didn't know if I would be moving again. I thought, what if these people don't want me either?"
But he's glad that Elsa Raab decided to say yes.
"I love my mom," he said. "She's the best."
The feeling is mutual.
Elsa Raab said she didn't have to think long about adopting Bo. It was, she said, a no-brainer.
That's because she got to see what kind of a person he was when he came over to play with Elsa's daughter, Marisa, whom she adopted at age 6 months from China.
"When they were little, before Bo came to live with us, he was 6 and Marisa was 5," Elsa Raab said. "They were real good friends before they became siblings."
Bo, who is 18, also has two other siblings — a sister who is 25 and a brother who is 21.
When the next-door neighbors decided not to adopt Bo, "there was no question" that Elsa wanted to adopt him, she said. "He was such a sweetheart."
Still waters run deep for Bo Raab, his mom said. Beneath the shy, polite young man with the scholastic acumen lies someone with a humorous way of looking at life.
"He has a very unique sense of humor," Elsa said. "You really have to get to know him before the real Bo comes out. He's very popular at school. I think his sense of humor is incredible."
Asked if he ever thought about trying to contact his biological parents, Bo said he thought about it, but he made a decision.
"The more I've thought about it, I don't really need to because I already have a family," he said.
Raab said the whole foster experience has helped him but also lingers with him.
"It's helped me make a better connection with people," he said. "It's also made me feel rejection a lot. (It makes Bo know that) even though you're in this relationship that they could reject you at any time."
Elsa Raab said Bo's hard times have "certainly made him stronger. Nothing's been handed to him. He's had to work hard for everything, like not having a family till he was almost 7 was really hard. But in spite of it, he's just an incredible kid. He doesn't like to let people know that he's blind in one eye."
Even though he has a love for animals (Raab has a 7-year-old English setter "mutt" that he calls Foxfire), he isn't sure if he wants to go into some type of animal care work after high school.
He will take general education courses and other classes to explore what he might be interested in at the University of Illinois.
One of the things at which he excels, his mother said, is writing. He received a creative writing award during the recent RTHS awards night.
The Raabs will be traveling to Chicago next month. Bo is one of 48 foster children who will receive a Department of Children and Family Services scholarship. Elsa Raab said Connie Payton, widow of former Chicago Bears great Walter Payton, will hand out the money, which will come from The Walter Payton Foundation.