Stewart saw first-hand how difficult single parenting was as she watched her cousin navigate school, parenting and life and when she lost her own mother when she was just 19, she was emotionally devastated.
“I was in college at the time, and it was never my goal to be a single parent,” Stewart said. “I was just going through the motions after I lost my mom and I was in and out of school.”
Stewart always knew she wanted to be a nurse, and attended both Central State University and Sinclair Community College. When her daughter, De’Aira Easley, was born, she continued to attend school as she could, but fell ill when Easley was two and was hospitalized for a month.
“After I got sick, I was on disability,” Stewart said. “I thought after almost a year that I needed to get back in school and work on graduating.”
In 2002, Stewart graduated with her associate’s degree in nursing. She began working right away in an intensive care unit as a nurse.
“The hospital is requiring that we all get our bachelor’s degree,” Stewart said. “I had no plans to do that but I started to apply to get assistance through my job about five years ago.”
Stewart was turned down for assistance a few times and said she was discouraged and frustrated. She decided to take matters into her own hands.
“The hospital president was walking around and asked me how things were going,” Stewart said. “I told him I felt I was a good worker and after I got my third turn-down letter, I felt it was not acceptable. I had 10 years of service and 20 years in the same (hospital) network. I let him know I expected a ‘yes.’”
Stewart was granted the school loan after applying a fourth time. And she is slated to graduate from Indiana Wesleyan University this August.
“I always wanted to be a nurse,” Stewart said. “But I was distracted at Central State and when I went to Sinclair, I flunked out and got very discouraged.”
But today Stewart is very happy she persevered through the difficult years of trying to go to school, work and raise her daughter, who just graduated from Sinclair Community College and will be working in medical billing.
“I think my struggles were about losing my mom so young,” Stewart said. “Rather than my ability to do the work. I had a lack of encouragement and was trying to navigate through life on my own. I knew I had to get back to working for myself and my daughter.”
Stewart also has a two-year-old grandson, Tristen Brooks, who graduated from his own “Help Me Grow” program the same time as he mom graduated.
“After I got out of the hospital, I would look at my daughter and I knew she needed a role model,” Stewart said. “I knew that I had to get back into the game, even without my mom to encourage me. I needed to show my little girl what the right thing to do should be.”
Stewart’s advice for other single mothers is to put energy into showing your children what life is all about – the good and the bad. Even busy with her studies, she made certain her daughter had many experiences, both locally and by traveling out of town.
“When I was young my dad would take us all kinds of places,” Stewart said. “I think that shows kids how different places are and how things can always get better.”