Catching Up With 2 of the Kids from ‘Poor Kids’

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From left: a still image of Kaylie Hegwood from the 2012 version of the documentary "Poor Kids" and a recent photo, courtesy of Hegwood.

From left: a still image of Kaylie Hegwood from the 2012 version of the documentary "Poor Kids" and a recent photo, courtesy of Hegwood.

December 7, 2021

It has been nine years since FRONTLINE viewers first met Kaylie Hegwood. She was 10 at the time, living in Iowa with her mother, Barbara, and her brother, Tyler, and had just filmed the 2012 documentary Poor Kids.

Now 20, she spoke to us from Ottumwa, Iowa, just days before she planned to move to the Quad Cities with her two dogs, Bella and Sadie.

Hegwood moved around a lot in the years after the film first came out, mostly around the Quad Cities. She’s excited to go back, she said, adding, “I did not like Ottumwa.”

In the two years since FRONTLINE last checked in with her, Hegwood’s life has changed dramatically. She moved out on her own, confronted the COVID-19 pandemic as a hospital worker and decided to pursue a career in law.

The last time Hegwood watched Poor Kids was in 2017, when an updated version of the documentary premiered. The film has played an important role in her life since the original version debuted in 2012, she said.

“I definitely don’t know where I’d be without the film,” she said. “Kids used to bully me all the time for the film, but the opposite is I get, I mean, hundreds of messages from people all the way around the world telling you about their stories and wishing you the best of luck.”

When she last spoke to FRONTLINE in 2019, Hegwood was considering becoming a veterinarian. Now she’s in college to become a paralegal. Inspired by criminal justice and family issues, she said her long-term goal is to practice criminal or family law.

“I’m very passionate about helping [get] justice for [people] being mistreated because of their ethnicity. And then family lawyer: I have a lot of family drama,” she said.

Hegwood finished up high school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her senior year moved online, which was “a struggle.”

“I’m not going to lie: I almost failed,” she said. “It’s harder for me to learn on a screen, you know. You had to figure out how to do everything on your own.”

Hegwood also worked as an assistant nutritionist at a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, serving food to patients according to their dietary needs and wishes.

“It was super sad seeing all these people sick, and a lot of patients died from COVID. That was definitely rough on my mental health, because it was hard seeing all these people die because of something so terrible,” she said.

It was a difficult time, and she didn’t have many ways to look after herself. “I would work, like, 12-hour days, sometimes more,” she said. “I just came home, hung out with my dogs. Honestly, my dogs are my therapy.”

Well-being is something Barbara Hegwood, Kaylie’s mother, has been working on, she said, although the process has been disrupted by COVID-19. When FRONTLINE last checked in with Barbara, she was working to become a medical assistant. She has completed the training, she said, and hopes to become certified.

Currently, Barbara is living with her son, Tyler, and her grandson. Her eldest daughter, who didn’t appear in Poor Kids, has a son too, she said, and she’s close to them. She’s proud of her kids, she added. “My kids are doing well. Every parent wants their kid to do better than them. I smile because they do better than I do.”

“I’ve always been in this position, where I feel like I’ve had to look after and take care of people.”

When he was 14, Johnny Davis looked into the camera in Davenport, Iowa, and talked to FRONTLINE about wanting to be a professional football player. Now 23, Davis sat in his home on a November morning in Jacksonville, Florida, and did the same.

When FRONTLINE last checked in with him in 2019, Davis was living with his grandmother in Chicago. He has since moved to Florida, where he now lives with his fiancée; his sons, Jayden, 2, and Jaire, 6 months; and his parents. He’s working in construction — sometimes alongside his father — and pursuing his dream to play football.

For about four months, Davis has been part of the Jacksonville Athletic Academy, a two-year program for student athletes to “build up our GPAs for the classroom [and] stay in shape and possibly get recruited by bigger programs.”

While his passion for football has been a constant, many other aspects of Davis’ life have changed. He and his family moved to Jacksonville just as the pandemic hit, in March 2020. The initial transition went fairly smoothly.

“Everybody found jobs immediately,” he said. “We started working. I’d say within a month of staying down here … we ended up getting a house. So, we end up moving into a house, and then my father’s business started going really well.”

In addition to working, Davis enrolled in college, but with the pandemic continuing to disrupt athletic and academic programs, life had other plans. Then, in December 2020, Davis and his fiancée learned they were having twins.

“They were supposed to be born August of this year,” he said. “June comes around; June 2nd is my birthday. Both of the twins were born. One passes away that day, and one stays alive. That’s Jaire. J.C. was his brother.”

At the time, Davis and his fiancée had their own apartment. He decided to move back in with his parents to cut down on expenses and so that the grandparents could help out with the kids. Then, in the middle of August, the household fell sick with COVID-19.

“We were put out for an entire month. It was hard for everybody to do anything. It was just terrible,” he said. Still, after he recovered, he managed to play four games out of a seven-game season.

Sports have been part of Davis’ life longer than he can remember.

“When I ask my parents, they just tell me I’ve been carrying around footballs and basketballs since I was barely even walking,” he said. One of his most prized memories is playing catch with his father. “If he just didn’t take the time out to do things like that, would I be who I am today, with this? Caring about this so much?”

A father himself now, Davis says parenthood hasn’t changed his life as much as one might expect.

“Being an older brother, it doesn’t feel different,” said Davis, whose sister Jasmine was also prominently featured in Poor Kids. “I’ve always been in this position, where I feel like I’ve had to look after and take care of people. When we were children, I was that father figure for my little brothers and sisters — even though our father was at home, but he had to work. Throughout the day, if I was at home, I was, you know, [making] sure they ate throughout the day, make sure they weren’t doing anything crazy.

“I’m just reliving that time.”

Watch Poor Kids in its entirety below.

Aasma Mojiz

Aasma Mojiz, Abrams Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Columbia Journalism School Fellowships

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