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Jon Mark Beilue: 'To See a Miracle, This is One'

 

March 21, 2019

'To See a Miracle, This is One'

3 1/2 years later, Kim Salerno's past is just that -- past 

By JON MARK BEILUE

Journalism is often a hit-and-run occupation. Story subject and writer meet, the questions are asked, the answers are given, the story is written, and never the twain shall meet again.

Subject goes one way. Writer goes to the next story, and then the next, and then the next…

And then came a day in early February. I was on the West Texas A&M University campus, at the Classroom Center, to be exact, to listen and report on a marketing seminar about the Super Bowl sponsored by the University’s chapter of the American Marketing Association.

Before the seminar, I was writing on a sheet in the hallway when I heard my name. I turned and the past of 3 ½ years returned in a smile.

“Kim?” Kim

There she was. I had not talked or seen Kim Hayes since the summer of 2015. Just so you know, Kim could be, maybe should be, dead long before this day, long before the day we met in June 2015.

She should not be dead by a disease or accident, but sprawled out in an overdose coma on some strange floor. Or she should be in prison, doing two to 20 years for various drug felonies, or at the least, looking to con someone for the next of her continuing drug highs.

‘If you want to see a miracle,” said Ted Salerno, Sr., of Philadelphia of his daughter, “this is one.”

The headline on the column in the Amarillo Globe-News on July 5, 2015 was “Restoring the Broken: ‘Drug addict’ leave past for new life.” And what a sordid past it was.

It was the dead-end tale of 20 years of a washed-out hell on drugs, starting at age 11 in Philadelphia, dropping out of school in the eighth grade to join a traveling carnival. She spent more than half her life in the meandering trail of a junkie, a trail littered with lies and petty crime.

She exhausted the will of her divorced parents, put a daughter in jeopardy, and wasted natural intelligence and any remote chance of a purposeful future.

Kim was, she said, a consumed drug addict. Her reason for being was reduced to pursuing the next high.

“It got so bad,” said her mother, Bertie Begin, “that I prayed several times, ‘God, either cure her or kill her because I can’t endure this any longer.’”

When I had last talked with Kim in 2015, she seemed finally cured, a miracle as her father said. Eight years earlier, she left Philadelphia, taking young daughter Donna to live with her mother in Amarillo of 2007.

She stayed clean – for two months – and it wasn’t long before she was the self-described meth queen of Amarillo. Her boyfriend was a gang leader. By 2011, she had two drug felonies and been arrested about a dozen times, several of them for parole violations.

‘You have to want it – really want it’

It was Dec. 30, 2011 when she said her new life began. It was a fork in the road. That was when the Potter County drug court decided not to send her to prison, but to get her to rehab. For an addict, the desire to change has to be more than the desire for the next high. For Kim, finally, it appeared to be.

“To want to change, you have to want it – I mean really want it,” she said. “For many years, I didn’t want it bad enough.”

She was sent to the Walker House for Women in Lubbock for 60 intense days of treatment. She then spent 30 days at an Amarillo halfway house.

Alcoholics Anonymous awakened her to a need for a spiritual renewal, a recovery she believed could only come from God’s mercy.  It would become her foundation.

Kim would complete a required 370 hours of community service and earn her GED in December 2013. Her 5-year probation in late 2012 was dropped 2 ½ years early.

At the time of the original column, Kim had 49 semester hours at Amarillo College and a 3.85 GPA. In the fog of drugs had been a bright mind. She wanted to eventually attend WT to pursue a degree in business administration and marketing.

I wasn’t skeptical of her goals 3 ½ years ago, but I wasn’t naïve either. I’ve written and read too many stories of redemption to know many don’t unfold like planned. Obstacles never quite go away, and neither does temptation. I finished the story, hoping she would continue on, but not for sure.

But then, there was that voice in the hallway.

“I’ll always keep growing in life,” she said later. “It will always be a matter of what’s ahead of me. I’m an incredibly blessed woman. I’m free and grateful and capable of handling life’s ups and downs, and I understand more of who I am and who I’m going to be.”

As it turned out, the only thing Kim Hayes retrieved from her past was her maiden name. She is now Kim Salerno.

And as Kim Salerno, she graduated from AC in May 2016.  Earning multiple scholarships from WT, she transitioned rather seamlessly.

With her 3.82 GPA, Salerno, 38, graduated magna cum laude from WT this past December with a degree in marketing and management.  She belonged to six – count ‘em, six – honor societies, including Alpha Mu Alpha, the American Marketing Association’s honor society.

When we met again, she is in the first semester of her MBA where she is vice-president in charge of fundraising for WT chapter of the AMA. She sees herself as a philanthropist, not so much financially as much as a business acumen to help those who have gone where she has with addictions and family crisis.

WT has been a springboard to those post-graduate goals. She can remain at home where Donna is a senior at Randall High School and Ted Michael is 6 years old.

“I realize WT has been more inspirational than I thought it would be,” she said. “I love AC with all my heart, but I realize how nice WT is. What I mean is WT not only is giving me a great education, but with what they provide, they are the focal point of transferring me to an educated businesswoman I desire to be.

“I can look at my wall and see a double bachelor’s degree and look at ‘West Texas A&M University,’ and think, ‘My God, we did it.’ God bless WT. I love WT and I love AC. I’ll always love this university. It’s part of my life and part of who I am today and what I will do.”

And what will Kim Salerno do? After a chance meeting 3 ½ years later, I’d say whatever she wants.

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

—WTAMU—