Faith, Hope...and Charity

Against all odds, this nine-year-old has been voted the most likely to succeed.

Since then, Charity Unique Norwood has continued to move fast.

The Norwoods' fourth child, JoVaughn, was born in the summer of 1999, and about a year later, the family bought their first home. But in 2001, they all moved to Oklahoma, where Lisa's husband was relocated by the insurance company he worked for. Charity loved the water parks in Oklahoma, as well as the little sister, Autumn, who soon arrived.

But Charity also remembers her parents fighting. And one morning in July 2003, her mother loaded all the kids into the minivan. Charity thought they were maybe going to the store, but Lisa Norwood drove her five children all the way back to Denver, leaving their father behind.

Head of the class: Charity Norwood is a third-grader in a fourth-grade world.
Jim J. Narcy
Head of the class: Charity Norwood is a third-grader in a fourth-grade world.

The family moved into Lisa's mother's house. Lisa had been working at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma and got a job at a store in Denver. The pay she made working full-time there still wasn't enough to raise her kids, so she started slinging homemade meals of spaghetti, lasagna and catfish out of the back of her van.

In February 2004, Lisa passed out in the Wal-Mart bathroom and was fired for sleeping on the job. It turned out that she had bronchitis and was exhausted.

Soon she had more reason to be tired. Five babies in eight years had been enough for Lisa, but somehow safe sex failed, and that December she gave birth to Majesty. (Lisa thinks Majesty's father was deported to Haiti about a year later.)

Staying at Grandma's house was supposed to be temporary, but Charity and her siblings had been living there for more than two years when Grandma started slurring her words one afternoon in October 2005. A friend rushed the woman to the hospital, where an MRI determined that she'd suffered a stroke. She needed time to recover, and six kids in the house were way too many to give her any peace. So Lisa moved her family into a one-bedroom apartment on the side of the house where a sister of her ex-husband lived. The apartment had a single air mattress; some of the kids slept on the floor.

Lisa was just finishing up eight months of coursework to become a certified medical assistant. She graduated at the top of her class with a 4.0 GPA that November and thought she'd soon be able to afford a better place. But she had to move up her plans when the family that owned the house decided to move.

With nowhere else to turn, the Norwoods wound up at Sacred Heart House of Denver, a shelter for women and children that Charity remembers as "heaven," because everyone was so nice and they all got a lot of Christmas presents.

It was at the shelter that Lisa first applied for public housing, but she was turned down because she had too many kids for anything smaller than a four-bedroom place, and four-bedroom places are hard to come by. She's applied for subsidized spots in Denver, at Lowry, in Aurora and in Westminster, but either her number never comes up or some bureaucratic obstacle gets in the way -- sometimes after she's already put down a deposit.

Micah had a friend whose uncle had an empty four-bedroom apartment, so the family left the shelter and moved in, broken windows at all. But soon they saw bubbles forming in the ceiling, then came the leaks, then the ceiling started to fall. By May 2006, it was too much to bear. Lisa packed up her six kids for the fifth time in three years and moved them to the basement of an uncle's house in Aurora. Here the problems came not from above, but below, with flooding and sewage leaks that ruined some of their clothes. By this January, they were back at Grandma's house. But this, too, could only be temporary.

"It's not that I don't love them," says Norma Epperson, the children's grandmother. "I do, but I gotta get back to my health. My doctor's been telling me I'm too stressed again."

One thing has remained constant in Charity's chaotic life: Hallett, the school she's attended since the Norwoods returned to Denver and she started kindergarten.

At the end of second grade, Charity became a mini-celebrity. A lending company had taken her class out to buy the students school supplies; the assistant principal picked Charity to give the thank-you speech, and she got to pass out crayons and backpacks to kids who needed them. It made the evening news on Channel 7. Charity liked the limelight. At church, Charity waves to everyone as she walks down the aisle. At the dentist, she asks the person cleaning her teeth to make sure they're sparkling clean, because, she says, "I'm going to be a star."

Or the President of the United States. She's wanted to be president since she was six, when she saw a list of presidents' names and thought she'd like to see her name on that list, too. Thing is, there are plenty of people who think Charity has what it takes. Her teachers. The social-services types who've helped her family. Even her siblings, usually the toughest critics.

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