COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Since she was 12, Miaja Jefferson had mostly been on her own.
"That's when I started taking care of my brother," she shared with 11Alive. "I was in sixth grade. No parents, nothing. I put myself through school."
Homeless and caring for her brother, Jefferson said most people had no idea what was going on. Until as a teen, she got pregnant and officials started asking questions about her situation.
"I remember, specifically, going into foster care because that Cobb County Police officer came up to me, and you know, DFCS was involved. They wanted to kind of know what was going on because at this point, school is finding out," she said.
As she explained her situation to the officer, Jefferson said she felt someone listened to her for the first time in her life.
"That was the first time someone actually believed me," she said. "That officer really, really changed my life."
Jefferson was subsequently placed in foster care. She had next to nothing, her foster family explained, but what Jefferson did have was a dream of a better life for her daughter, a life where she could give back as a police officer and now, the support to make it happen.
"She literally came in in pajamas, and that's all she had and a baby," foster parent Jennifer Schiltz said. "And she never stopped. She never let her circumstances change her goals at all."
While the Schiltz family credits Jefferson's drive and "go-getter" determination for her accomplishments, Jefferson herself said it was the new network of support that defined her next chapter.
"I started seeing support I didn't even know was there," she explained. "I needed that. I needed someone believing in me. Anybody who crossed my path who helped me, they are in my life today."
As a result, Jefferson kept pushing forward and graduated from Pebblebrook High School. But, she said it wasn't easy. Initially, Jefferson didn't get accepted into Kennesaw State University, but she persevered and ultimately transferred credits and graduated. She eventually pursued a certificate in IT and briefly worked in the corporate world. It was all groundwork for becoming an officer.
"When people kept coming and saying like, 'This is amazing. This is amazing.' That's what kept me pushing," Jefferson said. "And also the people who told me I wasn't gonna be able to do it."
This year, Jefferson got one step closer, graduating from Cobb Police Academy.
"She knew early on she wanted to be a police officer and go to college and that's what she did," Schiltz added. "She just put her mind to it and didn't let anything stop her."
"She's such a great example of perseverance," Craig Schiltz added. "We always can point to Miaja, and say listen, this girl had everything against her and look where she is now."
Jefferson now hopes to use her story to help others, serving in the same community that had believed in her.
"Why not join a community that changed my life? Why not join and change someone else's life?" she explained.
As she continues field training, Jefferson's life also continues to flourish. She and her fiancé recently bought a home for their growing family, and she also aspires to become a detective.
One day, she even hopes to find the police officer that took time to listen to her and put her on the path she's following today. In the meantime, she hopes her story will resonate with other kids and teens in the community to keep working hard no matter the obstacles.
"I really want [kids] to know, to not let what they're going through or their past dictate their future," she added.