RISING TO THE CHALLENGE
Latesha Jackson from Columbus, GA is a mother, student and Hiring Well Doing Good success story.
Latesha Jackson, a Columbus native and mother of four working towards a four-year degree, grew up in the Chattahoochee Valley and still lives in her hometown. Latesha was raised primarily by her mother in low-income neighborhoods across Columbus. Her mother, a housekeeper, worked in a hotel and later for a judge in Phenix City. Latesha would spend each available weekend and break with her father, across the Chattahoochee river in Phenix City. Her parents’ dedication to their work, she recalled, would inspire her to challenge herself.
“I was the only one of my siblings to graduate high school,”
Graduating from high school was a huge family milestone. “I was the only one of my siblings to graduate high school,” Latesha proudly mentioned. “I never wanted to disappoint my father, so I worked hard every day.” After high school, she went to work and used the income to help her mom pay the bills. At 19, Latesha decided to start life on her own. A year and a half later, she gave birth to her oldest daughter. With three more children to follow, Latesha thought she had put college in the rear-view mirror.
Making ends meet
Paying rent became a challenge early on, as parenting duties increased. Moreover, as her children were born, she had to make a tough decision to stay home and care for them, because it was too difficult to find reliable childcare elsewhere. “If you are a single parent with small kids, you won’t be able to work,” she remembered thinking. For a while, she would leave her children with a relative while at work, but after several incidents that put her kids at risk, she chose to leave the workforce and had to rely on government assistance instead.
Once Latesha felt comfortable her kids were grown enough to care for each other and be left at home by themselves, she felt like she could go back to work. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she moved around housekeeping jobs, settling into a position close to home at Hawthorne Suites in 2008.
“If you are a single parent with small kids, you won’t be able to work”
Latesha quickly moved up to housekeeping supervisor and began filling in at the front desk. She became front desk manager at the hotel in 2012 and thought this would be the career path she wanted to follow. But in 2016 her life was disrupted – the hotel was sold to another chain, and new management asked Latesha to move back into the head housekeeping position. This meant that her dream of becoming assistant general manager was put on hold.
Instead of moving back to housekeeping, Latesha decided to leave. But without a degree, Latesha was unable to be hired for another management position in the hospitality industry. Eventually, she found work as a cook, bouncing around between food service jobs for a year before coming into contact with Hiring Well Doing Good.
“I happened to walk into the local Habitat [for Humanity] office to pay my mortgage, and the woman there was handing out flyers for this program called Hiring Well Doing Good”
Finding new opportunities
“I happened to walk into the local Habitat [for Humanity] office to pay my mortgage, and the woman there was handing out flyers for this program called Hiring Well, Doing Good,” Latesha recalled. “She said ‘you might want to call these people to and check it out.’” Latesha was frustrated with her current position and work environment – she wanted to find a position that felt satisfying, paid well, and offered good benefits. “I called Kristin at the Georgia Center for Opportunity immediately.”
But after attending her first Hiring Well, Doing Good class, Latesha’s life was suddenly disrupted yet again. This time she was rear ended by another vehicle on her way to work. Life became a day-to-day struggle, between handling insurance claims, medical appointments, and workers comp.
2018 was a difficult year for Latesha. Due to injuries and time off of work, she had nearly no income that year. Even after she was cleared to go back to work, she still had no vehicle and reliable transportation to work was difficult to come by. She had to look for a new job again, closer to home. But in the meantime, Latesha made the life altering decision to go back to college – attending Strayer University and working towards a degree in business administration. Through all of the change and adversity, Latesha’s children have been her constant motivation. “With how I grew up, the things that I’ve lived through and witnessed… I don’t want my kids to go through that,” she says.
Pathway to success
Hiring Well, Doing Good “has helped me get interviews and other connections,” Latesha mentions. The program has opened up doors and pathways to opportunity as well as a stable livelihood while she works toward her degree. “Since I’ve been in the program, I’ve learned how to properly format a resume, I’ve learned a lot of different things that are very practical, and I’ve had a lot of job interviews.”
While at school, Hiring Well Doing Good was able to connect her to a position at the on-campus Chick-fil-A. The position was perfect for her schedule and allowed her to attend evening business classes at Strayer. “I work, I deal with school, I do my housework, I apply two hours every day to course work. And on the weekend, I finish what I couldn’t get done during the week,” Latesha says. That hard work is paying off. In February, Latesha was notified that she has been invited to the honors program at the end of the quarter. She’s working hard to stay on track to graduate in 2022.
“pray and take everything
one day at a time.”
Latesha says she has always tried to be a strong role model for her children, encouraging them to do better and achieve at a higher level. This May, she called herself the proud mother of four high school graduates – her eldest daughter now has two degrees and is on her way to nursing school. Meanwhile, Latesha continues to think about her long-term goals and the career she’d like to build in the years to come. College has opened up many possibilities. “It would be interesting to think about starting my own business,” Latesha says, mentioning her famous banana pudding. She thinks it could be a hit, “I’m really motivated to work on my own ideas first.”
As the pandemic grips the nation, many of Latesha’s dreams are on hold and stress levels are high. But her kids are healthy, and everyone is doing fine – and that’s what matters. “Taking deep breaths, praying, and taking a walk,” are how Latesha says she finds moments of peace when things become overwhelming at home, work, or school. “I find a beach or lake or hear the water flowing of the Chattahoochee River and sit out on the benches and it helps get me centered again.”
Latesha can’t wait to return to work and school, to pursue the opportunities she’s earned. But, “first of all,” Latesha adds on a final note, “pray and take everything one day at a time.”