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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Profile – Trapped by homelessness, TR student prevails

TR+student+Connie+Formby+lived+on+the+street+for+a+little+over+two+years+while+trying+to+escape+an+abusive+relationship.+She+enrolled+in+2011+while+still+living+at+a+night+shelter+in+Fort+Worth.%0APhoto+by+Audrey+Werth%2FThe+Collegian
TR student Connie Formby lived on the street for a little over two years while trying to escape an abusive relationship. She enrolled in 2011 while still living at a night shelter in Fort Worth. Photo by Audrey Werth/The Collegian

By Audrey Werth/tr news editor

Connie Formby shares her story of struggle before getting to TCC

For many, an education at TCC means getting the basics out of the way. For Connie Formby, coming back to school has pushed her to revelations that have changed her life.

Formby spent two years and three months on the street after leaving a destructive relationship and before moving into a shelter.

TR student Connie Formby lived on the street for a little over two years while trying to escape an abusive relationship. She enrolled in 2011 while still living at a night shelter in Fort Worth. Photo by Audrey Werth/The Collegian
TR student Connie Formby lived on the street for a little over two years while trying to escape an abusive relationship. She enrolled in 2011 while still living at a night shelter in Fort Worth.
Photo by Audrey Werth/The Collegian

In many ways, being in a shelter was more traumatic than living on the street, Formby said. But it was in those first months at Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth that she began taking classes at TCC.

In her first semester, Spring 2011, Formby registered for speech.

“I didn’t even know what speech was,” she said. “That’s how out of touch with reality I was.”

Demanding father at home

Formby had been raised in a very controlling household and struggled to live up to her father’s expectations.

“He was trying to make his kids exactly what he wanted them to be,” she said. “I never experienced my dad’s acceptance, ever. I didn’t live my life for me. I lived it for everybody else, and I lived it like I thought everyone wanted me to live.”

This struggle between the person she really was, which she suppressed, and the person she thought she was expected to be created an anger in Formby.

She denied these feelings over and over and learned to live by her father’s example. As a result, she became controlling and manipulative.

“That anger I felt as a young girl experiencing my father’s rejection grew,” she said. “And it grew because what was inside of me, wanting to be me, was being hurt, over and over and over again, but I sealed that off. I couldn’t make it go away, but I denied it.”

Formby clearly remembers one time when she had gone over every subject and every grade she had made with her father.

“He took his backhand, and he slapped me across the chest,” she said. “It knocked the air out of me and scared the daylights out of me. I was horrified in that moment. This was my dad, you know.”

Years later, Formby had a son of her own. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s, which, for the person Formby was at the time, was almost too much to handle.

She tried to control her son and struggled to connect with him. She and her husband had different ideas of married life, which often led to Formby being horribly disappointed.

Their first Christmas together, they had all been excited to get a real tree, or so she thought. But once home, her husband made it clear that his part was over — if she wanted the tree decorated, she was going to have to do it herself.

This, and other moments like it, devastated Formby and caused a rift in the marriage.

She continued to suppress her real feelings, and they continued to stoke the fire of her inner turmoil. Then, after 11 years, she left.

“I got hit one time, and I left,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going. I had no clue of what life was like outside of walking out that door.”

Life on streets, in shelters

So with the clothes on her back, a purse and her wallet, she walked out into the world and was on her own.

“I didn’t know how long I was going to be gone,” she said. “I didn’t know where I was going to go, and that led to two years and three months on the street, trying to find a program with room that I could qualify for.”

Remarkably, with so much inner turmoil and external strife, Formby pushed forward on her journey. Though not conscious of it at the time, Formby looks back on her experiences and can reflect on the many positive, life-affirming lessons she has learned.

“Knowing what I know about myself now and knowing the journey I had to take, it required two years and three months for me to get where I got to be ready to get off the street when it was time to,” she said.

This is no small revelation considering the harshness of life on the street and in shelters.

In her first shelter experience, Formby was one among hundreds lying on a mat on the floor with only enough room for a shoe to fit between the mats. Everything she owned was in the backpack at the foot of her bed. All she could do was pray that while she slept, no one would take the only earthly belongings that she had.

When Formby moved into her next shelter where she remained for six months, she came up against rotten food, strict orders and a case worker who didn’t value her pursuit of an education.

Her case manager was not concerned with helping her find a way out of the shelter system. On the contrary, she worked in direct opposition to Formby’s progress.

“When that case manager said to me, ‘I don’t know what we are going to do with you, Connie. There is no program for you. You don’t qualify for anything,’ it was like, ‘Oh, hell yes, I do,’” Formby said.

New experiences, new life

Formby holds on to this moment, claiming it as the final push that drove her to really live her life.

“It woke me up,” she said. “It was like being hit over the head. It kicked something into life that said, ‘I will do something to affect my life, to make my life work.’”

From then on, Formby spent her time contacting programs on her own and didn’t stop until she found something she qualified for.

In July 2011, she got her first apartment with a roommate. She was out of the shelter system and off the street for good.

This same persistent quality that sprang to life in Formby at the mission has carried through to her classes at TCC.

TR financial aid director William McMullen expressed how proud he is of Formby because of her efforts.

“When I would walk by the library in the morning, she would be there and I’m talking like 7 or 8:30 a.m. in the morning,” McMullen said. “She’s hung in there. She’s not given up. She has continued to overcome things that some students take for granted.”

McMullen helped Formby find funding for her education and encouraged her to let him share her story with other students who could benefit from it.

She said more than anyone else, he helped her understand her life could help somebody else.

“We all have our own challenges and struggles. And by Connie sharing her story, I think it’s going to give motivation to a lot of other students,” he said.

Formby is a contemplative woman with a strong sense of motivation to keep pressing ahead. Though she struggles in class sometimes, wishing she could quit, she does not. Instead, she works hard to master what is difficult for her to learn.

“Connie is very determined,” business instructor Maricia Johns said. “She was an outstanding student. She was one who was quiet at first but when she presented her portfolio, all of the students were glad that she didn’t go first – it was amazing.”

Significant hardship was required for Formby to push past the negativity placed upon her by her father and the relationship she had had with her husband.

Reflection directs future

Reflecting on her experiences, Formby would not change her life. She accepts the journey and appreciates it for the benefits it has provided her, difficult though it was.

Now remarried, Formby plans to move to California with her husband to learn how to train service dogs.

“I know what it means to have somebody come up and offer help without having to ask for it,” she said. “People gave to me, and that is what life is about, giving back. I want to be able to do that for other people, to breathe life into them.”

Her journey has been one of survival and self-discovery in search of truth.

“Truth came in accepting the truth that I wasn’t living, I was just surviving,” she said. “There’s not one moment that I can say that I left survival and was living. It’s been a process.”

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