Alumna Lacy Martin: Homeless and hopeless to full of promise

Lacy Martin ‘18 definitely faced many challenges through her young adult life: from growing up in a single parent household, to the loss of a parent, to grappling with college life while coming from a family that was homeless. Her perseverance has made her a stronger person and a better teacher today.

“I have learned what it means to be resilient through hard times. I am proud of the person I am today, and I hope that I can make a difference in the lives of others as so many people have done for me. It’s not the struggle that makes or breaks you, it’s what you do in the situation. Make your story, don’t let it make you,” said Martin.

Martin, from King, N.C., received a B.S. in English secondary education from Appalachian State University and currently is enrolled at Gardner-Webb University, pursuing a M.A. in English while teaching 9th grade students at R.J. Reynolds High School.

She grew up with three other siblings in a household supported by a single mother. As the youngest of four, she watched her mother struggle most of her life. By the time she was a senior in high school, she was homeless and hopeless. During this time, school was her only outlet and where she felt rewarded for her work. She was inspired by her teachers and decided she wanted to become a teacher, in order to have the same positive impact on others’ lives. 

Martin received a full ride scholarship from the ACCESS program to Appalachian in 2015 and it changed her life. The ACCESS scholarship and support program ensures students from low-income families in North Carolina can attend Appalachian debt-free. ACCESS offers its scholars a four-year university education at Appalachian without student loans, specifically supplementing federal financial aid grants, state grants, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance with sufficient funds to cover the cost of institutional charges (tuition, fees, room, board, health insurance) and provide students the opportunity for a work-study job to help with personal expenses.

“Lacy is an outstanding example of the excellent teachers that graduate from our department and our college. She has faced obstacles that would have defeated most people,” commented Dr. Donna Lillian, Associate Professor, Department of English.

Martin’s struggles continued as she learned of the loss of her father her freshman year of college. She depended heavily on the friends she made in the dorm, her advisor Beth Marsh and her fellow members of the ASU Gospel Choir – feeling that there were unlimited resources available for support when she needed it most.

“Lacy came to Appalachian with a goal in mind, and, despite the hardships she endured in her personal life, she kept her goal of attaining a college degree so that she could impact other people in the forefront of her mind. She went after this goal with determination and creativity. I could not be more proud,” said Beth Marsh, Director of ACCESS at Appalachian. 

Martin was nominated by the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system for a PROMISE award in her first year of teaching at R.J. Reynolds this spring. The Forsyth Educator Partnership honors teachers in their first year who have demonstrated potential, responsibility, optimism, motivation, ingenuity, sensitivity and excellence (PROMISE) in teaching.

“Even as a brand new teacher, Lacy displays the level of professionalism that administrators hope for in veteran teachers. She is reflective about her practice and deeply invested in the success of her students,” said Leslie A. Alexander, Principal, R.J. Reynolds High School. “She is exactly the type of person that we hope to attract to the teaching profession to provide a bright future for our students.” 

Now in its eleventh year, PROMISE Awards are a WS/FCS mentoring program designed to help new teachers during their first year in the classroom and to promote excellence in teaching, commitment to the profession and assist in retention of quality teachers. In 2018-19, 180 first-year teachers joined the school system and Martin was one of 22 nominees this year for the award.

“I do not teach for clout, I teach to change the lives of those who have odds stacked against them. I share my story of struggle with them to let them know ANYTHING is possible. This nomination is not my success story, my students are,” said Martin.

Martin is completing her M.A. in English at Gardner-Webb University, so that she can teach at the community college level and is considering a doctorate in English, in order to be able to teach at the University level one day.

“My educators at Appalachian taught me everything I needed to know about life inside the classroom. I owe my success to Dr. Lillian, Dr. O’Quinn, Beth Marsh and Mrs. Van Hoy,” said Lacy Martin. 


About the Department of English
The Department of English at Appalachian State University is committed to outstanding work in the classroom, the support and mentorship of students, and a dynamic engagement with culture, history, language, theory and literature. The department offers master’s degrees in English and rhetoric and composition, as well as undergraduate degrees in literary studies, film studies, creative writing, professional writing and English education. Learn more at

About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at

July 22, 2019
Ellen Gwin Burnette

Appalachian Alumna Lacy Martin outside her classroom at R. J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, N.C. photo submitted.
Published: Jul 22, 2019 12:27pm