ALBANY -- Her beaming smile belies the heartaches and struggles Lisa Harvey has had to endure and survive in her 18 years.
Yet Harvey refuses to let things in her life that she has no control over keep her from being a quiet inspiration to those around her.
Fellow students, faculty and administrators have all been impressed by Harvey at the Performance Learning Center housed at the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center, the Dougherty County School System's alternative school.
"She's a fighter," PLC Services Coordinator Donna Morgan said. "She never gives up. We have people coming in late because they miss a bus (that live) down the corner, and she's here early every day. She lives (in an apartment) in downtown Albany and works at Goodwill and walks to and from school."
Harvey said her life has been tumultuous since she was a child. Because of the abuse and hardships she has overcome, Harvey didn't want to reveal the names of her parents.
"I didn't have much of a childhood because my father would drag me around with him to pool halls to hang out with drunks," she said of the time she was between 7 and 12 years old. "He had a bad childhood himself. I don't blame him for mistreating me, but I know he could've done a lot better because everyone has a choice."
One of the choices Harvey's father made on countless occasions was to abuse her.
"He'd hit me basically anywhere," said Harvey, who grew up in Tampa, Fla. "What don't kill me only makes me stronger, and it has. I still talk to him because without him I wouldn't be here. But we don't have much of a relationship. I talk to him during the holidays."
FIGHTER AND SURVIVOR
Harvey's ability to keep a positive outlook helped her to get through the last two years of her life following her parents' separation after 20 years of marriage. She was placed in a group home in Americus when she was 15 years old.
"After my father left, me and my mother lived in 22 different locations between Albany and Leesburg, and they were all friends except one," Harvey said. "I thank God I had friends to go to. I got through it because you have no other choice. Failure's not an option. Just because you have obstacles in life, that doesn't mean they should stop you.
"My situation is bad, but people all over the world have bad situations. You just have to learn to make the best of it."
Harvey attended Lee County High School as a ninth-grader before leaving the school midway through her sophomore year when her parents separated.
"I was out of school for six months," she said of the time from January to June in 2008. "Dougherty County wouldn't enroll me because I didn't have a permanent address. We were staying off Washington (Street) because mom finally got her own place and got a light bill. With the light bill, I was able to get into Albany High. From Albany High, I had an interview with Communities in Schools and PLC, and I was placed in this program in September 2008 as a sophomore. I've been here ever since."
The Performance Learning Center is one of three non-punitive programs at the South Georgia Regional Achievement Center. The programs are geared toward students two years behind their peers chronologically and two years academically. Students have to fill out applications for the non-punitive programs.
"She's a fighter; she's a survivor," Morgan said. "When I first met her, she was going through some issues. She was homeless and her clothes had mold on them because the house they were living in was in bad condition. Her and her mother were living place to place with whoever would take her in."
Unfortunately, Harvey and her mother -- who suffers from depression and was diagnosed as bipolar -- had a falling out. As a result, Harvey has lived by herself since December. She was taking classes at Albany Technical College in law enforcement, but was forced to quit to make sure she was able to pay her bills.
"My dream is to be a JAG officer in the Navy," she said. "The weight requirement is 163 (pounds), and all I have to do is lose a few pounds (a recruiter said). I've always been interested in the law."
Although it's because she doesn't have a car, Harvey walks everywhere.
"I don't take the bus because I'm not going to pay $30 a month when I'm healthy enough to walk and not pollute the earth," she said.
She said Albany residents frequently offer to pick her up as she walks around town either to her job at Goodwill or when she's headed to or from school, or the library to use the Internet.
"I'll be like 'I'm OK, I don't need a ride'," Harvey said. "I'll just have my MP3 player and try to ignore everyone around me and watch the traffic. I'm not one of those stupid ones that will jam and jam, and walk out in front of a car. Because I treasure life. You only have one life, and you might as well make the best of it."
Harvey has capitalized on her few opportunities by excelling at the Performance Learning Center. She has either A's or B's in all of her classes despite taking 12 classes all year in order to graduate in May.
"(The PLC) has helped a lot because otherwise I wouldn't be graduating for another year," she said. "Being over here is a lot better than a regular school because I can work at my own pace. The teachers definitely support you a lot better because they get to know you. They have fewer students, so you get to talk to them during the day. (English teacher) Mrs. (Jakki Primus) Reliford is my favorite teacher because I can look to her for advice if I really need it."
BOUND FOR SUCCESS
Reliford said she appreciates how Harvey doesn't make excuses.
"She comes to school, does her work and does it well," said Reliford, who has taught at the DCSS alternative school for four years. "She has done one of the best senior projects I have ever seen done at this school. You could tell she put a lot of work into it. Her senior project was about child abuse, and she wrote two chapters of a book. And in those, she shared some of her personal experiences."
Because of her tight finances, Harvey has been unable to take the SAT, but Reliford and others at South Georgia Regional Achievement Center are trying hard to remedy that.
"She's got a lot of determination, and I really want her to succeed in life," Reliford said. "I'd like to see her go to college. I worked on a letter of recommendation for her on a scholarship."
Classmate Raven Snow said she relies on Harvey for advice.
"She's my best friend," Snow said of Harvey. "I've come to her with my problems. She's a good adviser. She's always there when I need her. She's a very strong person. She's independent. She's the shoulder I cry on."
Morgan said Harvey simply doesn't give up.
"She's thriving at PLC," Morgan said. "There's a lot of stories here with students that have gone through a lot in their life. You've got children here that have gone through more in their lives than most adults. And this is their last chance. I really do care about the kids and the program."
South Georgia Achievement Center Principal John I. Davis said Harvey's perseverance has served -- and will continue to serve -- her well. Davis has been a principal at four Dougherty County School System schools after working 25 years at Albany State University.
"I've worked with a score of kids over 42 years of experience," Davis said. "Lisa has demonstrated a self-esteem and drive to succeed as a student, to finish high school. To see her persevere in the face of so much adversity like money, clothing and transportation. ... She's bound for success."