Success Stories

Personal Stories of Recovery

Charity Keith - A lifetime of education

After years of facing adversity and doubt, Charity Keith is getting an education.

It’s a familiar practice for her though, as she has been learning all along.

Charity, 35, is currently aiming for her bachelor’s degrees in Child Development and Cognitive Studies as well as a minor in psychology.

Her 3.30 grade-point average at the online Ashford University and her willingness to learn— “I decided one day to see if I was any good at school,” she says—might suggest school comes naturally to Charity.

But in reality, her education is guided by an even greater teacher: experience.

Charity’s first try at higher education was interrupted by episodes of mental illness and eventually halted by a suicide attempt. Charity was subsequently asked to leave the Hiram G. Andrews Center, a vocational rehabilitation and education institution for people with disabilities in Johnstown.

Just 21 and struggling with Bipolar I and Borderline Personality disorders, Charity’s life was without direction and would be fraught with hardships in the coming years.

Charity tried to gain a sense of structure in 2003 by living in a personal care home but was unhappy and left after a year. By 2005, she was homeless and living in a shelter when she formed a most meaningful if not unlikely relationship.

To that point, Charity had no contact with nor had even met her biological father. When someone at the shelter noted her resemblance to an acquaintance of his, she was willing to reach out and contact the man he suggested.

“Someone that knew him said ‘you look a lot like my friend’ so I wrote him a letter and he responded,” she said.

Though hesitant at first, her father eventually accepted a relationship with Charity, a bond they continue to maintain.

“It felt like a piece of me that was missing was made whole again,” Charity said.

Despite forming a meaningful relationship and learning skills of independence, she said, Charity continued to face adversity.

She was hospitalized on several occasions over the next few years. It wasn’t until she graduated from Stairways Behavioral Health’s Blended Case Management program that she began to consider pursuing the college degree she had originally set out for more than a decade earlier.

Charity began her studies in February 2013 in hopes of becoming a child therapeutic support staff (TSS) member. She wanted to attend a school that would allow her flexibility in time as well as the opportunity to try different courses. Additionally, she was concerned about the college level work proving too challenging.

The statement a doctor had made years earlier that Charity’s IQ of 83 would likely prevent her from ever attaining her goal of a degree had left doubt in her mind. And the setbacks that ensued increased those misgivings—for the moment.

In April 2014, Charity was last hospitalized for a psychotic episode. As it happened, her hospitalization occurred as she was failing a psychology class, averaging just 60 percent.

“All I can remember was I kept saying ‘I gotta get out of here. I have psychology homework,’” she said.

As per usual though, Charity rose to the occasion, boosting her grade to a passing 80 percent – and not without a little resourcefulness.

“I think the firsthand knowledge of being a patient and being in a hospital—I think that’s why I have an A,” Charity said. “I think my firsthand experience gives me an edge.”

Having recently passed the halfway point in her collegiate career—she completed 67 credit hours and has 66 to go—Charity is up for learning a little more.

“I know that I’ve gone through hard times and have come out stronger and I can hold my head up high,” she said. “I used to be in a really dark place but now I have hope for the future.”

Top left: Charity holds her certificate of achievement for being inducted in the Delta Alpha Pi honor society at Ashford University.

"Stairways helped me to work on recovery, one step at a time." -Ron S

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