It's been a while since I've been in school, but increasingly I have to hit some online courses, go to seminars or networking events in order to stay competitive and "in the know". Balancing that need with my responsibilities at work can be tough sometimes. Add family life to that and it becomes tougher. Even as a dual-income household (go team family!), it's hard to find the time to do everything that needs doing in a day, a week, month... lifetime. There are all sorts of transitions that occur in life (*NOTE: these are not true for everyone, but I think there are enough people who share my viewpoint that this message remains valid): student to professional, single to married, childless to full-blown family, and possibly partnered to single parent. How do people manage to bridge the gap? To make things work?
Recently, I was lucky enough to interview the two recipients of this year's Mary Cone Barrie Scholarship for Lifelong Learners. Their "making things work" stories were inspiring, to say the least. Humbling to be more accurate.
Here are some excerpts from my conversations with Charlene Clay, a single mother of three who spent most of her childhood in foster care and abusive relationships, and Stephanie Taylor, a single mother of two who was diagnosed with cancer shortly after being laid off and enrolling in school to make a better life for her family.
“If you keep moving forward, you’ll have a life to look forward to,” said Stephanie, near tears, about her current philosophy, how she has kept going since losing her job in May 2009 and being diagnosed with cancer the following December. A year, five surgeries, and a battery of chemotherapy and radiation treatments later, Stephanie feels back to normal and has a renewed sense of how important education is.
“I didn’t miss a single class during all of this,” said the 46-year-old single mother of two teenagers who, uncomplaining and ever-optimistic, takes care of her kids, manages cancer treatment, goes to school and cleans to make ends meet. “I never thought education was important growing up, but I was wrong. It makes us better. With education, we can continually reinvent ourselves until we’re the best we can be. It’s a privilege, and this scholarship is helping me get my life back together. One thing this [the Mary Cone Barrie] scholarship has reinforced in me is to never, ever, ever give up.” Stephanie expects to finish her degree in business administration at Buck’s County by the end of summer, 2011. The proceeds of the scholarship will make managing the costs of school and medication a little easier.
Charlene was separated at an early age from her siblings and a mother battling drug and alcohol problems. Foster care and a series of abusive events followed, effectively stealing her hopes and dreams. Now, at 32, and a single mother of three, Charlene knows she has a chance to get those dreams back.
Charlene expects to complete her degree at Concordia this December, and is close to finishing a state-offered course in alcohol and drug counseling. She embraces her challenges, eagerly heading to school, volunteering at a treatment center and working as a customer service representative, all the while making sure her kids are safe and looked after. “Thankfully, they understand,” she said. “I tell them ‘hard work is great, but do you want to work THIS hard?’ They won’t have to work as hard as I have if they grow up with a support network and education.”
Charlene’s kids and her dreams keep her going. “My goal is to be able to treat young girls just like me,” she said. “Girls whose moms and dads have alcohol problems. They don’t have any hopes and dreams, or at least no one to tell them they can have some.”
Education has always been important to Charlene. “It is the root of your life,” she explained. “If you have education, you can go places. My message to other people? You can do it! Education is big. It’s important. It just makes life easier.”