By ROBIN JACKSON
Everyone told her she couldn’t do it. Her Sunday school teacher said it was impossible to raise a family as a single parent. Her home teacher said it would be better to shovel manure than receive government assistance. A school counselor told her the only way she could make it was to see a therapist.
But Nancy Plagge raised and provided for her children, earned a college degree, and did it without the therapist.
Now, with a program at UVSC, Plagge helps other single parents get through what she struggled with.
Turning Point, a UVSC outreach program, teaches single parents how to hone their professional and personal communication skills to give them confidence.
For a year after her divorce, Plagge worked as a receptionist for a dental office. She was let go.
Around that same time, Plagge’s 3- and 4-year-olds were playing in the basement. Plagge was away, and her older children were baby-sitting. The younger children came up with a great idea: they decided to throw the Christmas tree ornaments and watch them pop and shatter. There were cans of Coleman fuel for their stove nearby, so they incorporated those in their game as well. Next came the chainsaw filled with fuel.
The fumes exploded in a ball of fire that burned the children’s faces and hands.
Plagge came home to fire engines and ambulances in her driveway. Her children were with a neighbor. Thankfully, they were all alive.
That was when Plagge decided she had to go back to school. She went on welfare and got food stamps. A friend told her to do what she loved most: teaching.
After getting her bachelor’s degree Plagge earned her master’s and teaching certificate in three years, sometimes living on nothing but potatoes. She worked in Idaho for five years then came to UVSC as an adviser.
Now Plagge works with students in the same predicament: single mothers who have to raise a family and go to school. She can help them because she’s been there.
All single mothers decide to return to school with someone telling them they can’t make it, whether it be acquaintances, family members or themselves, Plagge said. In fact, the biggest wall the returning students have to climb is their lack of self-esteem.
“They tend to come in with unrealistic goals,” Plagge said. “They want to get straight A’s, and when they don’t, they feel like they’ve failed.”
Plagge said one of the ways she treats unrealistic goals is to redefine success for them. She tells them that they don’t need straight A’s. They can fail a test and still succeed.
“Then success breeds success,” Plagge said.
Plagge said she remembers the feeling of her first success. In a class of dozens of students, she was one of the five students in her American history class who got an A. She rolled the windows of her car down and screamed the whole drive home.
Peggy Pasin, a coordinator for UVSC women’s services, said lack of self-confidence, a fear of math and anxiety about learning with younger students are the biggest roadblocks for women returning to school.
With the help of the Turning Points program, women can gain the confidence and have the encouragement to accomplish their goals.
“They catch a vision of themselves as anything they want to be,” Pasin said.
Women having positive communication with themselves, or self-talk, is essential, Pasin said.
On a day-to-day basis, the best thing women can do is to continually think positively and be grateful for the things they do have.
“Turning Point is a center for personal and career development,” said Cindy Caruso, the office manager for Turning Point.
Community non-credit classes are also available for basic computer, home, finance, language and other subjects offered at UVSC.
“Our mission is to provide life-long learning for the individual and the community designed to enrich lives and position participants at the forefront of technological and educational advancements,” said Delayna Crockett, the community education specialist at UVSC.
For people hoping to sharpen select skills for the workplace, community classes offer inexpensive training.
“In her testimonial, a woman said she was able to get her current job because of the computer classes,” Crockett said.
Getting degrees and jobs from years of motherhood is never easy. Mothers who have to become breadwinners face an inner struggle, said Mikki O’Connor, a graduate of the Turning Point program who is now working as the assistant dean of the School of Business at UVSC. With seven children and a husband with poor health, O’Connor struggled balancing school and her home life.
“The hardest part is having a lot of roles,” O’Connor said. “My top priority is being a mother, but my husband has a terminal illness, so I had to face reality.”
When she was discouraged she would wonder why this happened to her, she said. Eventually, though, she felt like it was time to get over the pity party and get busy.
“I would think, I have seven beautiful children and I want them to have a life,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said her children learned the value of education and responsibility because they saw their mother struggle with homework along with them.
BYU also offers help for single-parent students trying to get through school.