Congratulations 2018 Extraordinary People!
Congratulations to our 2018 extraordinary people Ci, Brittani and Stephen! And thank you to event MCs Angela An and Pete Scalia - you bring our event to life. We are so grateful to all of you for supporting Goodwill Columbus participants. Here are their remarkable stories:
Ciatisa (Ci) Walker grew up one of 14 children in an abusive household. In their shared trauma, the siblings formed a strong bond and when possible, sought to protect one another. Sometimes, though, they hurt each other, inflicting the same kind of abuse on one another that their parents perpetrated on them, because that’s what they knew. Despite their traumatic past, Ci and her siblings are close today and don’t blame one another for the hurt.
The family lived an isolated life far out in the country in Waverly, Ohio. They lived off the land, and the
kids had chores in running the farm and home. Ci gravitated to cooking and cleaning. While the children attended school, they were taught to distrust others and faced brutal consequences if anyone shared the family’s secrets.
At 17, Ci had had enough. She left home without finishing high school. On her own and away from he abuse, she got a job and her own apartment. In the factory where she worked, she met the man who would become her husband. Though money was tight, they made it work. At age 26, she experienced true joy when her son was born.
As her baby grew older, the marriage hit a bumpy patch and Ci began to suffer from debilitating depression, anxiety and blinding headaches. The issues compounded when she moved with her child to Columbus for work and the family was forced to live apart during the week. The marriage broke apart and Ci and her husband divorced. She went directly into a rebound relationship and second marriage, and eventually, that too ended. By this time, she was having unexplained seizures, memory loss and intrusive thoughts about her childhood, falling deeper and deeper into a pit of despair. The final straw happened when she lost her job and completed divorce number two while barely out of her 20s.
The psychological pain Ci experienced was indescribable. Suffering from incapacitating depression, she decided that the world - and her son - would be better off without her, so on a quiet morning on a day seemingly like any other, she tried to end her life with an overdose of prescription medication.
Fortunately, a friend found her just in time and called an ambulance. When she woke up in the hospital, she didn’t remember anything other than she had a son and needed to get back to him. Ci recalls this desperate moment as one of the turning points in her life, and ironically, the suicide attempt was the catalyst that made her want to live again.
“I was so grateful for my survival. I made an unwavering commitment to therapy and started to unwind the trauma of my childhood,” said Ci. “I learned that all of the things I was experiencing – depression, anxiety, memory loss, seizures – were physical manifestations of the abuse.” Ci was formally diagnosed with PTSD. Her therapist suggested she consider art therapy as a path to healing.
Ci discovered the Goodwill Art Studio and Gallery by happenstance when she walked in off the street one day, thinking it was a Goodwill retail store. She struck up a conversation with Program Manager Debbie Griffing, who invited her to take classes. “At first, it was brutally difficult for Ci to break through barriers, interact with people, and endure loud noises like the building’s fire alarm,” said Debbie. “The pain she kept buried for so long was still raw from having to re-experience childhood abuse during the course of her therapy. It took some time, but eventually, Ci opened up artistically while progressing interpersonally.” With Debbie’s caring encouragement, Ci began to dig deeper and produce exceptional quality work.
Some years before, Ci had completed her GED, and took some community college-level courses. Debbie encouraged her to apply to art school. To Ci’s amazement, she was accepted by the Columbus College of Art and Design and Capital University, and was offered scholarships at both schools. She chose Capital, where she could study both art therapy and psychology. She will soon complete her undergraduate education with a double major and following graduation, plans to attend graduate school and become a licensed art therapist. She wants to work with kids who suffer from the same type of abuse, helping them express themselves through art therapy.
“I never would have discovered my life-changing path without the help of Goodwill and in particular, Debbie Griffing,” said Ci. “I learned that I could own my pain and turn it into something else, and have the freedom to focus on the amazing, creative, resilient person I am.”
Ci Walker is our Extraordinary Person of Courage.
Brittani Hill is a lucky woman…A mother of two sons and a niece she is raising, with a career she loves, a devoted fiancé and a lovely home. When you meet her, it’s hard to believe she was incarcerated three times for a total of 7 ½ years for drug-related felonies. No one could have predicted it. Brittani came from a loving faith family in Newark, Ohio and was homeschooled during high school, with a stay-at-home mother and professional father. Despite her parents’ protests, Brittani married at age 19 and the birth of her two sons soon followed. The young mother felt her life was constricted and was already having major problems in her marriage. Brittani fell in with people who used illegal drugs. One day, one of them passed her a crack pipe. She took a hit, and it was all over from there. Brittani had the gene. Her brain was on fire with overloads of dopamine, the chemical that activates the brain’s “reward circuit” and generates euphoria. Nothing mattered more than the next fix.
The first of Brittani’s three incarcerations took place when she was just 21, after being charged with a
marijuana violation. She couldn’t meet the condition to stay clean during probation. Brittani didn’t see her
parents much then due to the hurt she had caused them, but she remained close. One day, she accepted
their invitation to dinner, which turned out to be an intervention. In their desperation to save her life, they
had her probation officer there, and police were on their way. Brittani agreed to turn herself in and went to
the basement to take a moment for herself. Minutes later, her father caught her by the ankles as she hung
halfway out the window. He pulled her back in and held her close, moments before police arrived. She was
taken into custody, and served her first nine-month prison sentence.
Upon release, she made it six months sober before falling back in with the same crowd. She started
using again, fell afoul of the law, and faced more charges. She was then sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison.
After her second incarceration, Brittani attended AA and socialized with sober people while
rebuilding family relationships. Then the unthinkable happened…Brittani’s sister, a nursing student with
two children, was murdered in an act of domestic violence. The family was devastated, and her sister’s death plunged Brittani into an abyss of grief and self-destruction. She was introduced by a “sober” friend to meth, which provided a high unlike any other, making her numb to the excruciating pain of her life. Her drug use escalated. She started dealing.
Her now ex-husband, to that point very understanding about her need to see the kids, cut off contact. It was too hard for them to see her that way. Brittani’s activity eventually
drew the attention of police, who set up a confidential informant to make a purchase, catching her in the act. When it all came down, she was charged with two felonies and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. “That was it for me,” said Brittani. “I couldn’t believe what addiction had done to my life. When I entered prison the third time, I decided to stop hurting those I loved and began building healthy relationships.” She started a support group for new prisoners and a weekly “poetry slam” that was regularly attended by 200 women. “I helped other women find resources within the prison system and took advantage of every available program.” Brittani attended life skills classes and AA meetings, and was chosen for a private pre-release program called EMBARK, which offered one year of programming while in prison, and support following her release in 2016 when she entered Alvis. Alvis connected Brittani with Goodwill Workforce Development, where she continued her drive for self-improvement and redemption. Brittani enrolled in Goodwill Career Pathways through Alvis, earning several certifications in the hospitality and lodging track. “When applying for a hotel front desk position, she was mortified to have to check ‘yes’ on the box that asked, ‘Do you have any felony convictions?’ but she pushed forward, and we’re so proud of her for that,” said Career Counselor Diane Linton. With Diane’s steadfast support, Brittani held her head high and used the skills she gained at Goodwill, confidently presenting herself as the ideal
customer service candidate. To her surprise and elation, Brittani landed the job and has been promoted three times over the last 18 months. Today she is the assistant general manager at a well-known hotel. She is a sought-after public speaker and is making up for lost time with her boys, sharing parenting responsibilities with her exhusband. “I am still working on forgiving myself for the past…to be the person I was destined to be,” said Brittani. “Though my journey was excruciating, it made me the person I am today, and the sky’s the limit as
to what I can achieve. Goodwill helped me start the next chapter of my life.”
Brittani Hill is our Extraordinary Person of Promise.
Stephen Parks is a young man on a mission to experience as much excitement in his life as his body can handle. Despite having advanced cerebral palsy, Stephen rarely turns down a challenge. He’s had some big adventures in his 42 years, including snow tubing, rappelling, boating and hiking. His staff marvels at his resilience and adventurous spirit. Stephen’s mom Barbara went into labor early and delivered a healthy – though tiny – daughter, Stephanie. To everyone’s shock, there was also Stephen! After a moment of excitement, there were immediate
health concerns about Barbara’s baby boy. Stephen remained in the hospital for the first three months of his life.
Stephen and Stephanie were Barbara’s second set of twins. The first set, Stanley and Stacey, were born
when she was just a teen after she and her parents moved to Columbus when she was 15. Making new
friends was daunting, and just wanting to fit in, she made some personal decisions that resulted in early
Barbara was grateful the day Stephen was discharged from the hospital, and she doted on him. She
did not care what the level of his disability might be, he was a blessing to her every day of his life. When
Stephen was six months old, it was apparent he and Stephanie were developing at dramatically different
rates. His legs were crossed at the knees and he had great difficulty with deliberate movement. Barbara
found few resources available through doctors; she was on her own.
Barbara made a pact with Stephen that he would live life like any other kid. Though completely
dependent on a mobility device and unable to sit upright for more than one hour at a time due to severe
leg pain, Stephen went to school, made friends, and was popular due to his outgoing personality and great
sense of humor. Like so many kids with severe disabilities, services dropped off after he graduated from
high school. With nowhere to go, he spent the next ten years at home with his mom, with limited mobility.
Moving him was a huge undertaking; he ventured out only once a week to church. The sole purpose of
Barbara’s life was to keep Stephen clean, fed and comfortable.
Stephen’s life changed when a service coordinator from the County Board of Developmental
Disabilities made a house call one day to check on him, advising the family about a great program offered through Goodwill Columbus called Young Adult Services
(YAS). It would get him out of the house and around other young adults. Stephen embraced the idea, but Barbara was hesitant. Stephen was the center of her world and she feared no one could
take care of him like she did.
“While it was hard to let go, I knew Goodwill was the best thing for Stephen,” Barbara said.
Stephen presented a challenge for the YAS staff due to the level of difficulty involved in just moving
him. But they were up to the task. They acquired lifts with heavy chains that enabled them to get Stephen
out of his chair safely. When they went for an outing, they made sure he had equipment specially adapted
for his abilities. When he was in pain from sitting up too long, they made him comfortable.
As Stephen started opening up to all of the possibilities of life at YAS, he discovered he had some
exceptional talents. He developed a love of sewing and regularly donates his creations to charities. He
makes bandanas for dogs at the shelter, bags and wreaths for friends and family, and hats and scarves for
kids with cancer. It’s not easy work for Stephen, but with the help of staff, he gets it done.
Stephen suffered a huge blow last year when his beloved friend, YAS staff member Tim Myers, died
after a prolonged bout with of cancer. Tim was like a brother to Stephen and did everything to make sure
he could experience recreational activities regardless of his disability. With Tim’s passing, Stephen went into
mourning, not understanding how a kind and loving man like Tim could be gone. With the help of staff
and Barbara, he eventually came around. Though the pain of Tim’s loss persists to this day, Stephen knows
he has a lot to live for.
This last year has not been easy, but it is a testament to Stephen’s strength that he came back from
such a devastating loss and learned to live again. Everyone misses Tim, and everyone agrees YAS would
not be the same place without Stephen. “When Stephen smiles, the world smiles back,” said Diane Ivery,
Activity Specialist. His personality, humor, and sense of adventure are infectious. Stephen Parks is a living,
breathing example that you can do anything you set out to do, with a little help from your friends.
Stephen Parks is our Extraordinary Person of Spirit.