As Anna S., sat down to write her speech for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Agnes Women’s Leadership Breakfast, she began reflecting on her time in the Working Families Grant Program at Marian University. It was the first time she had the opportunity to do so since completing her degree, and thoughts of a life set on a different path flooded her with emotion.
Anna’s journey to the program began at the age of 20, when she gave birth to her son, Oliver. To support them, she began working full-time at Horicon Bank. Despite enjoying the job, she knew she didn’t want to be in field for the rest of her life, and enrolled at University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac with a goal of attaining her degree.
While getting an education as a single parent presented its own set of challenges, they increased when Oliver was diagnosed with autism and she needed to devote more time to helping him overcome the challenges facing him as well.
After completing her associate degree, through a family friend, she learned of Marian University’s Working Families Grant Program, and the opportunities it provides to single parents. She applied and was accepted to begin school as a social work major and psychology minor.
“I knew it was going to be something I was really good at and I was going to want to do for the rest of my life and it was going to make me happy,” Anna said of her major.
As she worked through her coursework, the program supported her in a way Anna describes as fulfilling the bottom levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and allowed her to reach “self-actualization.”
In addition to financial assistance for rent, tuition, food, and childcare, the program helped pay for other expenses, such as clothing for her son, as well as for a portion of a new pair of glasses and a sudden root canal. Whenever she needed to talk, she turned to her “second moms,” Working Families Grant Program Support Specialist Peni Beine and the program’s Director Kerry Strupp — with whom she still keeps in contact.
With such a support system behind her, less stress was put on Anna, which helped her to be able to focus on her son’s health and treatment. It also gave her the opportunity to take part in activities. Through Model UN, she traveled to New York City, St. Louis, and Seattle, developing friendships and an interest in governmental policy. During her time with the Student Social Work Association, she served as the Philanthropic Chair and took part in the group’s efforts to raise $14,000 in their Hope for the Homeless Hygiene Drive.
“When you don’t have those basic needs being met, there’s no way you can ever have an adequate education or really take it all in,” she said. “They really supported me in a way I could learn the material and take the time to be a student at Marian.”
Two years after she started, Anna graduated and accepted a job at Lutheran Social Services. She also entered a part-time master’s social work program at University of Wisconsin-Madison with “minimal student loans” and less exhaustion than would’ve been there without the program. Her degree will focus on aging and health, and she hopes to work in a hospital setting, and possibly one day venture into medical policy, where she could work with the legislature to promote better health care and access to it, she said.
Without the program, she would not be where she is today, she said. Although she believes she would’ve completed her education, she knows it would’ve happened at a much slower pace; she would be working at a job she doesn’t love; and she wouldn’t have her needs met. She also would not have developed the same empathy, which encourages her to not just accept the surface level of people but to peel “away those layers” and see what is happening with them.
“It pretty much changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “It’s the greatest thing I ever did for myself.”
When it came time for her to speak at the Women’s Leadership Breakfast, this is what she told those in the audience. It is also what she tells anyone with interest in the program — be it as a student or a supporter.
“I really think the program is so unique to the Fond du Lac community,” she said. “Helping single parents in the community creates a ripple effect. I have lived in Fond du lac my entire life and I intend to live here a while longer and make it a better place and without the program and the contributions, I wouldn’t be able to do that.”