Monday, April 28, 2014

Rio Grad Profile: Kaisi Balmer Finds Purpose

For Kaisi Balmer, graduation means a celebration of self and spirit. When she came to Tempe’s Rio Salado College four years ago, Balmer was homeless, jobless, addicted to drugs, and disconnected from family and friends.

“I was at the end of my ropes with no sign of a future ahead,” Balmer said. “I lost all hope and honestly forgot what it felt like to smile."

Balmer was sleeping in the stairwell of an apartment complex in Tempe when a local church made the rounds to deliver food to the less fortunate.

“Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a beautiful transformation in my life,” Balmer said.

An acquaintance turned Balmer on to Rio Salado College, where she reluctantly met with an academic advisor.

“The student advisor asked me what my dreams were,” Balmer said. “Sure, I had dreams, but they always seemed unattainable. I took a chance and shared with him my goal of becoming a doctor. He helped me plan my course of action to realize my dream.”

Thanks to faith, determination and the assistance of an academic advisor, Balmer mapped out a plan to get back on track. She began by taking online classes at Rio Salado.

“I still remember the nervousness and anxiety I felt about my first classes,” Balmer said. “I thought, ‘What if I’m not smart enough,’ and ‘Can I actually do this?’”

Balmer did it and more. She placed into an Honors English class and tested out of the entry reading class.

“It wasn’t a smooth ride,” Balmer said.

“Over the last few years I failed a few classes, passed a lot more, have grown a lot and stumbled at times. I went from being a lost child to a woman with a purpose.”

Within days of enrolling at Rio Salado, Balmer also managed to secure a job.

“I realized that in order to work I would need to become drug-free, and quit doing drugs that day,” Balmer said. “With the help of God, my church and an amazing support group, I have been drug-free since.”

Balmer will graduate with her associate in arts degree at Rio Salado’s upcoming commencement ceremony in May. She is also one of two students selected to speak at the commencement ceremony.

“I want to share my story with others to help inspire them,” Balmer said. “When life happens, people may give up on their goals, dreams, purpose, and even themselves. Then along comes hope in the shape of a person, or opportunity. Take it. You have nothing to lose.”

Balmer plans on continuing her studies this fall at Arizona State University to earn a degree in global health, and ultimately become a Missionary family practitioner.

Rio Salado’s commencement ceremony takes place Tuesday, May 6, at 7 p.m. at the Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street in Phoenix.

This story can also be found in the April 26, 2014 edition of the Tempe Republic. By Mira Radovich, Communications Coordinator at Rio Salado College.