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Homeless to hero

By TIM STEPHENS The Herald-Dispatch tstephens@herald-dispatch.comMay 27, 2019

HUNTINGTON — To see Noah Bolton dressed in his school uniform, required at Huntington St. Joe High, one might assume he’s the typical Catholic school kid, maybe even privileged.

“It’s not that I go to a Catholic school because my parents have a lot of money,” Bolton said. “It’s a lot more behind closed doors than people realize. They don’t know the true story behind it, living in shelters, having no food and no money.”

Bolton was homeless.

His disabled mother suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, the result of an IED explosion that threw her through the Humvee in which she rode in Iraq, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury. Bolton’s dad moved out. His mom attempted suicide. Bolton literally didn’t know from where his next meal would come. He lived in and out of shelters here and in Charleston.

Last week, as his mother and father watched, Bolton signed to play basketball at Ohio Valley University, completing a remarkable story of perseverance, compassion and reconciliation.

Bolton, 18, graduated Friday. He walked across a stage and received a diploma that meant a bit more than those handed to his classmates.

“I hardly went to school at all,” Bolton said, remembering his days at Ona Elementary. “It was about as bad as you can imagine.”

Bolton’s mother Melissa is a disabled veteran of Desert Storm/Desert Shield. The 1991 explosion altered the mind of the mother and nurse, leaving her suicidal. She attempted to kill herself

multiple times, even leaping off the roof of the parking garage at the Veterans Administration when Bolton was 7.

“I landed in bushes and all I did was break my thumb,” she said. “They were going to send me to the state hospital, and I said, ‘No! No state hospital.’ After I jumped, I still wanted to die. Then Noah asked me, ‘Am I not worth living for?’ ”

Melissa Bolton decided then she would live for her son, but that didn’t make life easier.

“I didn’t go out of the house for weeks at a time,” she said. “If I got a shower and got dressed, I had done something. People don’t know what the nightmares are.”

Noah Bolton knows them well, for unlike a bad dream, he faced the reality of living with someone with PTSD.

“Fighting, breaking things, throwing things,” Noah softly said.

Melissa Bolton patted her son’s arm.

“He has endured so much,” she said. “He has never known me without my disability. He’s watched me struggle and he’s watched me become normal again. They have a lot of stuff for veterans and people say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ but in reality, the family suffers as hard as anyone else. They have to live with it every day. They never have a holiday.”

The Boltons lost their home. Bob, unequipped to handle the stress of his wife’s PTSD, left. Noah and Melissa Bolton bounced from place to place. The shelters provided a roof and meals, but was no place for a young boy.

“It wasn’t that clean and the people there weren’t really nice at all,” Bolton said of the shelters. “I had no contact with the rest of my family. I didn’t know where my dad was. I didn’t know where anyone was. My dad went through a lot behind closed doors, and when he moved out it was just me and my mom.

“People don’t understand. I don’t want him looked at any other way than a great guy. My mom received a VA check, which is nothing, not enough to live on. She wasn’t in the right state of mind. We had no money. We didn’t have anything.”

On Easter 2008, Melissa Bolton took Noah to a church service at the Clay Center in Charleston. Noah said something miraculous happened that day.

“I got saved,” Bolton said of his commitment to Jesus Christ. “That’s where my life turned for the better.”

Tears trickled from Bolton’s eyes as he remembered that morning and the series of events that followed. Bob Bolton returned to his family. Melissa found a public-sector doctor who diagnosed her and prescribed medication that helped her return to the productive member of society she was before her brain injury.

“It took one doctor who knew exactly what I needed to give me certain prescriptions — and it was like somebody turned a light on,” Melissa Bolton said.

The transformation was astonishing.

“I never took PTSD seriously,” Bob Bolton said. “I didn’t think it was real — I thought it was just people trying to get money. But I tell you it is real.”

Bob Bolton completed college and found a job as a plant manager with CSX. Melissa was declared 100 percent disabled and received compensation for her injuries. The Boltons became a family again, with a house, food and vehicles. Noah Bolton said he knew divine intervention took place.

“God gave my dad a job,” Noah Bolton said.

Noah Bolton wears a breast cancer lapel pin nearly everywhere he goes. He does it to remember his grandmother Connie Carter, who died from the disease when he was a young boy.

“She set an example of what to look for in a girl,” Noah Bolton said of Carter. “I see a lot of Connie in Lexi.”

That brought to tears to the eyes of Noah’s girlfriend Lexi Adkins, a senior at Cabell Midland High School. Adkins has signed to play basketball at the University of Charleston. She and Noah met six months ago via Instagram. Noah asked her to prom using Snapchat.

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure, thinking we would just go as friends,’ ” Adkins said. “He met my parents and we were just friends. Then we started hanging out more and I thought, ‘I kind of like him a little bit.’ We started dating, and he helped me through a lot. He’s a great guy. I’m so proud of him. He’s turned everything he’s had happen to him into an achievement.”

St. Joe counselor Karen Appell sat nearby as the Boltons, Adkins and friends Anthony Harshbarger and Sam Ransdell talked. When she could hold it no longer, Appell told a story of Noah Bolton’s graciousness.

“We had a boy who wanted to be a part of the basketball team and I said, ‘What about being a manager?’ ” Appell said. “He said he’d like that. I took him to the gym and introduced him to Noah, who said, ‘We would love to have you. We need you.’ The kid was on cloud nine. Noah insisted that this boy be allowed to dress like the rest of the team because he was one of them.”

Noah Bolton said he never blamed God for any of his family’s problems. He said those difficulties brought him closer to the Lord, so much so that he told his story last week at his home church, Friendly United Baptist in eastern Cabell County.

“Church and a lot of spiritual backing got me to this point,” Noah Bolton said.

Melissa Bolton said she knew soon after Noah was born that God had plans for him.

“His grandpa Kenneth Howell, a minister, looked at him when he was born and said, ‘God has his hand on him,’ Melissa Bolton said. “I kind of blew it off, but he stopped and said, ‘No. God really has his hand on him.’ And now I understand that. He does.”

Ohio Valley University is a Christian college in Vienna, West Virginia. Noah Bolton said he plans to major in business management, but desires to become a minister. Bob said he knows why.

“All of this he has gone through has made Noah the man that he is,” he said. “It has made him who he is, and we couldn’t be prouder of him.”

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