Alana Franklin doesn’t know exactly how old she is.

Born in southern China, she lived in an orphanage in Guangzhou, a city of 14 million people, from the time she was 3 or 4 years old until she was adopted by a Maine woman 10 years ago. She was pegged as 8 years old then, so she is officially 18 now.

The last decade has brought Franklin heartbreaking challenges and deep gratitude for the people who she says have helped her cope with emotional abuse, depression and homelessness along the way.

“I’m really into thanking people right now because I’ve gotten a lot of help through the years,” she said.

Franklin and her adoptive mother never bonded, she said. As Franklin grew older, resentments and emotional strains increased, she said. The summer before her junior year, Franklin visited relatives in California to give the relationship a break. When she returned to Maine in August, she moved in with an aunt, who lived in another town, and switched high schools.

“That was a difficult, life-changing moment for me,” Franklin said. “But I didn’t want to lose sight of my goals, because I have a vision of what my life will be like and I know what I want my future to be.”

Franklin struggled with depression through her junior year, she said, but counseling helped her cope and keep up with her schoolwork. In March of her junior year, Franklin moved in with a family friend in Freeport. She enrolled at Freeport High School, settled in, made friends, even got a job that she loves at a senior living facility.

In January, Franklin found herself on the verge of being homeless again. Her best friend, Madison Fleenor, invited Franklin to move in with her family.

“They’re the most amazing people,” Franklin said. “Before them, I was always battling with people to feel safe in my own skin. (Fleenor’s family) threw their door wide open and accepted me without reservation. Now, they’re the anchor in my life. I feel like I’m able to be happy for real.”

Franklin will attend Wheaton College in Massachusetts in the fall to study biomedical research. She’d like to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or depression.

“I’ve gone through depression and I know how hard it is,” she said. “I’d like to find a solution so people don’t have to take copious amounts of medication.”

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