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2014 January 6 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Once Homeless, Va. Woman Now a College Grad

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — For Kimberlie Morris, being homeless involved, in her words, ``lots of camping.’’

She says she read so much that her library card “got a workout.”

And she says she came up with some “really cool campfire recipes.”

That’s obviously not a complete portrait of her life at the time, but who can blame Morris for a little positivity?

Kimberlie Morris earned a degree in business management a decade after becoming homeless.

After all, she did graduate from Germanna Community College last month with an associate degree in business management, just 10 years after she reached a point when sleeping in a cheap motel was a luxury.

“I don’t necessarily regret the choices, but I’ve learned from them, so that’s why I don’t regret them,” said Morris, 34, who lives in Spotsylvania County with her husband, Brian, and her father, Don Edwards.

Morris now works 29 hours a week as an assistant at Germanna’s Adult Career Center. Her husband and father, both of whom served in the military, also have jobs.

But that wasn’t the case in 2003, after an ill-fated trip to Las Vegas. Morris says she — along with her husband and father — headed out west from Virginia Beach after a friend told them they could find work in Vegas.

Their stay in Sin City lasted all of two weeks.

The family returned to Virginia Beach, where they rented a motel room before moving in with Brian’s parents in Brockton, Mass. That move was also short-lived, Morris said.

“While you love your in-laws, you can’t always live with them,” she said with a smile.

From there, “We just started floating around . . . just trying to figure out what to do.”

They stayed at campgrounds in Virginia and Morris’ home state of Maryland. It was at a campsite that they met a father and son who were taking a cross-country bike trip, she notes.

“We met so many people that were so kind,” said Morris, whose only income at the time came from selling items at flea markets.

In 2004, the family rented an apartment in the Fredericksburg area from a man who Morris met at a nearby flea market. He allowed them to pay their security deposit over time instead of all at once.

“It just takes one person to give you a break,” she said.

By 2005, everyone in the family was earning a paycheck. And they eventually moved out of the cramped apartment to a three-bedroom Spotsylvania home owned by a colleague of Morris’ father.

Having worked largely in retail jobs after graduating from high school, Morris said she enrolled at Germanna in 2011 to expand her horizons. In June, she began working at the school’s Adult Career Center, where career coach Michelle Beverage describes her as upfront and determined.

“I feel like she is very relatable, especially to the population that we work with,” she said. “I think she sees herself in a lot of people, and she wants to help them and see that they’re successful.”

Morris said she didn’t anticipate her success at Germanna, particularly in light of her high school experience.

Asked about her grade point average in high school, she would only say that it was “very low.” But at Germanna, she says, her GPA was 3.531 the last time she checked — good enough to graduate magna cum laude.

Morris doesn’t have any immediate plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree, though she says she looks forward to continuing her career at Germanna.

Now Brian is following in her footsteps. He’s taking for-credit classes and is also finishing up a program for would-be commercial food equipment repair technicians.

Morris’ dad, who also watched her receive a certificate from Germanna at last December’s graduation, broke into tears after embracing his daughter at the recent ceremony. He and Brian had front-row seats.

“I never thought this day would come,” said her father, who is receiving treatments for skin cancer. “She’s fought through a lot. I just love her to death. She’s my pride and joy.”

“It’s something that I’m thankful he gets to see,” Morris said. “My dad’s my best friend. We’ve been through a lot.”

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