Single moms work toward their degrees

Attaining a post-secondary degree while holding a job and raising a child is the balancing act of a single mother.

A snapshot of the Altoona metropolitan area shows 3,088 heads of households or more than 6 percent of all householders in the area are females with no husband present and children under 18, according to the U.S. census. The state’s overall percentage matches. And nationwide, there are 8.4 million women or more than 7 percent of householders in that situation.

For women in those ranks who have dreams of attaining an education and a better life for their children, Hope Ray of Altoona is perhaps what her name suggests.

Ray is career services coordinator for the South Hills School of Business and Technology in Altoona. She earned a two-year degree in administration management and marketing that led her to that job. She is not a single mother; she needed to become her family’s main income earner nine years ago when her husband sustained a disabling work injury. Her family lost 40 percent of their income. Workers’ compensation provided little to provide for three children.

Although the two years she spent working full time at Walmart while advancing her education are a blur and cost dear family time, it was a sacrifice that paid off, she said.

“There were a lot of things I did miss during that time, but it was to be able to improve the situation we were in. We lost the vehicle. We were close to losing our home. … But if you work hard, it does come around full circle. That’s what I enjoy about this job. Working with students to help them make that change in their life,” she said.

One of the students Ray has helped prepare for entering the work force is Amanda Sager, a single mother from Tyrone.

“It’s not impossible. If you put your mind to it and find the right resources, you can do it,” she said.

It was a knock on the door from her landlord that spurred Sager, 25, to go back to school.

She was going to be homeless, and her landlord had called the sheriff who suggested Children and Youth Services take custody of her son, Gabriel.

“I felt horrible because he was the only thing keeping me here. If I lost him, I would not be where I am today,” she said.

She currently works full time while attending South Hills.

Sager and her son are living with her grandparents until she graduates and can move out as she plans.

“The school has a great support system; every teacher is there to talk,” she said. “And if it wasn’t for my son, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

To afford tuition, resources are available through area agencies including CareerLink, which provides federal Workforce Investment Act funding to approved training providers.

At the South Hills campus in Altoona, Director Holly Emerick said more than a quarter of the 200 students there are single parents, mostly mothers.

“Many go to work for four hours, take care of what ever needs to be done at home and study five days a week. They often have guilt because they are not with their kids. But the end goal is to make a better life,” she said.

Kendra Noye is a 20-year-old single mother whose pregnancy, though a surprise, didn’t halt her plans to graduate from the school.

Halfway through completing a two-year degree, she found out she was pregnant with a son she would name Carter.

“After I had him in December, I wanted to come back to school so that he could look at me and say ‘she has all this stuff on her plate, but she went to school and she bettered herself.’ And so that would make him want to push forward and do something good with his life,” she said.

Carter was born over Christmas break, and with the help of her parents, she returned to school and work when the winter break was over.

Noye will graduate in September with plans to open a cafe.

Patricia Rhodes, a single mother of two children, is familiar with a different kind of narrative.

Seeing that her niece had dropped out of college because she too had a child, Rhodes made a deal that she’d go back to school, at the age of 39, if her niece did.

“Going back to school has given me a lot more confidence,” she said. ” I realize I can balance a lot more than I thought I could.”

Rhodes’ 16-years-old daughter, Kerstin, has helped make that transition back to school possible as she is able to baby-sit her 10-year-old autistic brother, Jacob. With that help from her daughter, Rhodes has been able to hold a full-time retail job while completing her degree. She hopes that for the first time in 18 years, she’ll have a chance to attain a job that doesn’t require evening or weekend hours.

Since she’s gone back to school, she sees her daughter developing a mission for herself.

“She has this ambition to change the world. I don’t know how to explain it,” she said. “She sees everything I go through and have accomplished. I tell her if you can figure this stuff out when you are young instead of turning 40, you will be much better off.”

The perception that Cheyenne McIntyre’s daughter would construct of her when she matures has motivated McIntyre’s decision to further her education. McIntyre, 23, has graduated from South Hills and is currently employed there.

She raises her daughter, Bailey, with support from her grandparents. While she worked toward her degree, McIntyre attended classes, picked Bailey up at daycare, cooked dinner, prepared Bailey for bed and then studied while Bailey slept. And Friday through Sunday, she worked in a retail job.

“I wanted her to be proud of me for going back to school and bettering my life for her,” McIntyre said.

“I wanted her to see nothing could stop you. As long as you have a goal, you can reach it.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.