By Cory Phare
At age 15, Tabitha Shackleton was a “full-blown addict,” she said, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain of an abusive childhood.
By age 40, Shackleton, still in a cycle of trauma and addiction, was homeless and pregnant. When, after giving birth to a son, she couldn’t get clean, Child Protective Services removed the infant from her custody.
She entered a rehab program on the recommendation of a CPS employee after losing her son. This was followed by intense outpatient treatment at the Mental Health Center of Denver (MHCD) from 2015-2017 in their 2Succeed program. The experience helped Shackleton get sober and opened her eyes to the importance of clinical caseworkers.
Today, she’s a Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate and pursuing a Master of Clinical Behavioral Health while working as a residential counselor in the very same MHCD program that helped her. She also works on the Early Intervention Team for Denver Health as a peer-recovery coach. She regularly responds to encampments for those experiencing homelessness to connect people with the services available to them.
She has also regained custody of her son.
“The wraparound services work,” she said. “I know it; I’m living it.”
Shackleton’s outpatient work with her clinical caseworker helped her understand the trauma she had experienced as a child and how the subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder she experienced affected her. “That was a revelation,” she said, “and I wanted to learn more.”
That personal inquiry and a recommendation from an MHCD employee inspired Shackleton to apply to MSU Denver, even as she was still living in a shelter. By July 2016, she was in transitional housing and enrolled at the University.
She wrapped up her first semester with a 4.0 GPA and graduated in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in social-welfare services, thanks in part to wraparound services such as MSU Denver’s Access Center and TRIO Student Support Services.
“It was so hard to get my footing, but those resources and the people helped me both academically and therapeutically at every step of the way,” she said. “I never would’ve made it without them.”
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