Gaston College spokeswoman Stephanie Michael Pickett says Chasty King is among the school’s May 14th graduates, having earned an associate in applied science degree in human services technology for substance abuse. For King, 29, that degree is highly significant, as it represents the culmination of a journey fraught with struggles, and she is grateful to the college for all the support she has received.
As Pickett explained, King first enrolled at Gaston College back in 2009, and she earned her GED. She started taking college courses in 2011, but by that time she was struggling with drug addiction and mental illness. Her classwork suffered. She failed all her classes and dropped out. She re-enrolled in 2013 and once again failed all but one class.
“Time and again,” as King recalled, “finding ways and means to get more drugs became greater than finding ways and means to maintain a passing grade point average.”
Despite the attempts by some of her teachers to help her through her drug problems, King left the college again.
A Gaston County native, King had originally chosen to attend Gaston College because it was local, and she could get financial aid. However, when she wanted to return after having dropped out, she was no longer eligible for financial aid, because previously she had not adhered to the requirements of maintaining the appropriate GPA. Nevertheless, she did choose to go back to the college because of the kindness she had been shown.
“I vaguely remember opening up about my substance abuse problems and receiving an empathetic response,” she said. “My teachers really tried to work with me by giving me second and third chances with assignments. I will never forget that.”
King suffered through years of drug abuse, mental illness, incarcerations and an abusive marriage until the trajectory of her life changed when she followed the advice of a childhood acquaintance. She turned to the Bible to find the truth she had been seeking.
And with that, King said, she became, “a girl who fell in love with Jesus and will not shut up about it!”
She regards her recovery date to be Aug. 1, 2016. She has been drug-free ever since.
King’s most recent return to Gaston College was in 2018. She started attending on a part-time basis, because she was still being denied financial aid, and she could not afford full-time tuition. In her appeal to justify receiving aid, she had to write up a case explaining her addiction and mental illness, and she had to include proof from credible sources and documentation of her illness. She also submitted other reports and records that confirmed her serious problems.
“In addition,” she said, “I had a letter of recommendation from someone who knew me from my past, who also knew about the strides and changes I had made.”
Her appeal for financial aid was granted in July, 2019. Ungina Perkins, the college’s director of financial aid and veterans affairs, commended King on the progress she had made in turning her life around.
“Just know,” said Perkins, “it is not how you start the race, but how you choose to finish.”
With the renewed financial aid, King was able to finish her degree, dramatically improving with a 3.9 GPA. And her leadership and compassion go beyond the classroom. She became a state-certified peer support specialist in 2018, and she started working in that role at Olive Branch Ministry, a Christian-based harm reduction agency, in May, 2019. She is the president and co-founder, with April Payne, of the Calling, a non-profit organization founded in May of last year. It provides spiritual support to those who are homeless, drug-abusers or imprisoned.
Septic: Being Cleansed from the Inside Out is King’s self-published book that chronicles her journey from a troubled childhood, through struggles with addiction and mental illness, to her recovery and commitment to her altruistic mission in life.
“Above all else,” she said, “my main pursuit is Jesus. And in following Him, I know I can’t go wrong.”