Veteran's non-linear path to social work leads him to Malone

File Under: Outcomes

Charles Zollicoffer ‘22 believes that a county social worker changed his life at a young age. He felt lost for some time and knew he needed to turn his life around; enlistment in the United States Army for 11 years and the United States Marine Corps for 6 years, with a side of basketball, helped him do just that.

Zollicoffer is taking his final classes at Malone to further his mission in life: helping others find their purpose.

It all began at age 14. 

“I was homeless due to circumstances outside of my control and was placed in the juvenile court system, shuffled off to facility after facility.” he said. “I was finally assigned a social worker and my situation started to change. With hard work, love, and encouragement from her I was able to discover self worth and gained the motivation to change what I didn't want to become. I started playing basketball because a great ball player challenged me to be the best I could be at the game. I took him up on that challenge and it saved my life. The USMC gave me the opportunity to release all the frustrations from my childhood through physical activities and gave me what I was missing in the family structure. It gave me father figures and siblings, allowing me to be part of a family that happens to be the world's greatest fighting force. The United States Army saved my life because it allowed me to stay involved with the military training that defined who I had become. It kept me disciplined and it helped me maintain physical conditioning.” 

A whirlwind of unique and difficult life experiences guided Zollicoffer toward his life's calling. 

After graduating from McKinley High School, he attended college and played basketball at University of Central Florida before joining the United States Marine Corps. He finished a bachelor of arts at Edinboro University in 1996, taught for Marietta College and Youngstown State, and went into the Ohio Army National Guard after September 11. During his post-911 enlistment, he still served as a substitute teacher for Canton City Schools.

But in August 2011, he was hit by a drunk driver and left for dead. Four months later, he awoke from a coma after losing his leg, and slowly recovered until he could return to work. He was hired as a chemical dependency counselor assistant and transitioned shortly after into a role with the Veterans Service Commission (VSC) to assist county veterans and their families with financial assistance and filing claims through the VA. Zollicoffer realized that this role would show him what he was really called to do: help others through their individual life hardships. So he resigned from the VSC and began his journey towards a career in social work. 

“I started my program at a local state school because it was the first one my military counselor and I researched but I didn't know Malone had a similar program,” he said. "I transferred to Malone initially because it was closer to home, but now I see that it was an obvious fit for me for so many other reasons. Malone stands on a Christian foundation that allows me to have a greater understanding of God's love. I am not one to push religion on others, but I've learned that, like many of us, I have been morally scarred and am seeking forgiveness from Christ for my actions. Malone is helping me heal spiritually and I'm so encouraged by the love and understanding my classmates have shown me. Sometimes it's humbling to be in a class where you are older than the professors, but their instruction is strong and I'm gaining so much hope in the field of social work and society as a whole because I enrolled in this program."

Upon graduation, Zollicoffer plans to pursue a job with the VA, anywhere in the United States that the work might take him.