First in family to attend postsecondary school, single mom says ASPSF ‘helped me keep my head above water’

Shalonda with her daughter, Catoria, and son, Kirdarion. 

Shalonda Garner found herself in a situation like many single mothers find themselves: without a job, two young children, no child support, and a decision to make about the future.

“I was working a factory job in Jonesboro, and I lost my job,” Shalonda said. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to sit around on my butt and do nothing,’ so I had to figure out what I was going to do.” Shalonda didn’t want to find herself in that position again, so she began looking at career options with more stability.

“I didn’t want to be in a factory forever, so I knew I had to give myself options,” she said.

Shalonda’s daughter, Catoria, had also been talking about taking technical classes when she got to high school to earn her certified nursing assistant license while still in high school. Shalonda decided that to show her daughter it could be done, it was something she could do now. Shalonda enrolled in school and completed classes for CNA and phlebotomy at Arkansas State University-Newport.

“I didn’t take the CNA exam because I wanted to continue on to that next level: I knew I wasn’t going to stop there,” said Shalonda, the only of her siblings to continue her education after high school.

Shalonda has been working as a home health aide. She completed the prerequisites and was accepted into the licensed practical nurse program at ASUN on the Marked Tree campus.

Aaliyah Hudson (from left) Shalonda Garner, and Sydney Pollard stand together. 

“Being a single parent and having only that one income was hard,” Shalonda said. “I am thankful for those with Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund that helped me keep my head above water. The scholarships helped us make ends meet with bills and groceries and with gas to get back and forth to school and work. Having people like you on my team, I knew I couldn’t let the people who supported me down. I kept going because I knew I couldn’t let them down because how could I when they invested their time and money in me. I wasn’t going to do that.”

Shalonda’s main motivation, however, was her two children, Catoria, and son, Kirdarion: “I had my kids watching me. It was hard not seeing them much sometimes, but seeing them watch me graduate and them cheering for me while also knowing they accomplished it with you, that does something to you.”

Shalonda said when she first started school, she worried about missing her kids’ games and activities, but she learned along the way how to balance school, work, and her family — even if that meant taking her books with her to the ballpark.

Shalonda completed the one-year program in 2021 and graduated on Dec. 10 of that year.

“The whole day I was pumped! I was so proud I had accomplished one more thing I had set my eyes on. I was overjoyed,” she said. But that excitement quickly turned as she faced a tornado that damaged her home.

While at graduation, work was calling her to come in, so she had to quickly drive her kids home, change clothes and report to work. Soon after, storms were headed toward Northeast Arkansas, so she called her sister to pick up her children. When she was finally able to return home, she found roof damage and other damage including the electrical meter and cable box torn completely from the home. With no water or electricity for several days, she checked her family into a hotel.

Shalonda Garner attends graduation. 

With help from the Arkansas Single Parent Scholarship Fund’s emergency funds, Shalonda was able to receive some help paying for some of her hotel bill, replacing the cold and frozen foods lost during the power outage, and replacing her tire that was damaged while driving through debris.

“Since my journey through nursing school, the ASPSF program has been there every step of the way,” said Shalonda. “I am so appreciative of the sponsors who fund the program. Without their help, a lot of families, single parents like myself, would struggle or even go without.”

When asked what she would like to share with others in school or considering going to school, Shalonda said: “It’s not impossible. You have people outside of your family to motivate you, to help you. You’re never going to be alone.”

In early March, Shalonda took her LPN licensing test and was thrilled to find out the next day that she had passed in only 75 questions.

“I was the first one to finish in the room,” she said. “The test ends when you have answered enough questions correct or it will end if you’ve answered too many wrong. I thought I was going to throw up when I left the room because I didn’t know. I felt like I knew the material, there were a couple I wasn’t sure about, but I felt like I knew it.”

When the results came the following day, Shalonda said she jumped off the couch screaming, “I told [my kids] I passed, and they were jumping up and down and they started calling my sisters and telling them.”

In late April, Shalonda accepted a job offer with NEA Baptist Clinic and will join their staff as a full-time LPN. Her goal is to one day go back and earn her registered nurse license after working for a while and spending a little more time with her children.

 

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