By Shelby Gardiner | firstname.lastname@example.org
A box is always defining us. When you fill out a form you must check: male or female, black or white, married or single. It is these little boxes that set us apart from one another. It is these little boxes that we are judged by.
According to the 2014 census, nearly a third of households in St. Augustine were single-parent homes. And almost all those single parents were women.
Now, raising a child without a man in the house isn’t every woman’s deepest desire. It’s not the American dream at all – the white picket fence, adorable house, two cute kids and a dog.
But that hasn’t stopped some single mothers in St. Augustine from pursuing their dreams and raising healthy, happy children.
“Watching your child grow into someone you can be proud of, and watching them learn new things is one of the most rewarding things about being a mom,” said Brianna Butterbaugh, 28.
Her 2-year-old boy is named Braylen and she loves him dearly. But the father – the ‘baby daddy,’ as she calls him – is not a part of their lives. And raising Braylen alone can be a challenge, she said.
“There’s never enough to support yourself,” she said.
Butterbaugh graduated from Full Sail University in Orlando with a major in digital media and graphic design. She has not been able to find a job related to her major. Nor has she been able to find work that has such benefits as insurance and paid holidays.
“If Braylen gets sick, I’m on a server’s salary so how am I supposed to pay for the medical bills?” she asked.
“I work hard for him. I work long hours for him. I do everything for him, and I would not change a thing. He is my whole world. He is a part of me and that is something special.”
Ashley Quillen, 25, is another single mom. She has two children and says she works hard so she does not have to ask for child support.
Quillen does have a college degree, but hopes to go to college in the future. She says the toughest thing about being a mom is being responsible for another human being. To her, the most rewarding part about being a mom is always having someone who loves you.
Quillen is proud of the people her children are becoming. “I watch them grow everyday and it is heartbreaking, but very rewarding at the same time. I just want them to grow up and be someone great.”
Samantha Chambers, 28, thought she’d have a little easier time as a single mom since she is older, but that hasn’t been the case.
“It’s extremely tough being a single mom,” she said.
Her son, Grayson is 18 months old. She said she constantly lives paycheck to paycheck and cannot catch up.
“I currently do not have a college degree and I think that’s hurting me,” she said.
Chambers also works at the World Famous Oasis Restaurant and has been there for seven years. She is a bartender and server.
“No one plans on getting separated with their significant other, but sometimes it just happens,” she says.
Chambers says the thought of raising a child alone seemed at first to be overwhelming, but it hasn’t been as hard as she expected.
Most challenges are minor, she said, and deals with them as each day passes.
She believes that having a partner is just a luxury.
“I am a mom 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and having a partner doesn’t change that.”
Chambers said the real challenge comes down to work, finances and her own personal life.
“Working a full time job with a child is tough. You wonder rather you are spending enough quality time with your child or if you should cut back your hours, but then at the same time you have bills to pay and finances will be tight. Like the child gets all the healthy meals and you eat ramen noodles.”
She also worries that she cannot buy Grayson the newest toys he wants or if she wants to go out on the town with her friends, how can she afford a sitter? She said these are some of the true challenges, but she has learned that less is more. She doesn’t need fancy meals every night, and Grayson doesn’t need the newest, hottest item out there. She puts her needs on the back burner and gives her son the undivided attention that any toddler requires.
Chambers has also learned about budgets.
“I have learned how to budget not only my money, but my time. If I’m not working then I’m spending time with my child, and when my child is sleeping then I’m catching up on housework, chores, etc. I think the truest challenge of being a single mom is making sure that you balance your basic needs so that you can focus on raising your child.”
St. Gerard Campus in St. Augustine is an independent, non-profit, non-political facility dedicated to assisting pregnant teenagers and single mothers. The house will help anyone in need, whether it be financial, emotional or educational. And the best part about it all, it’s free. So no mother has to go without help. According to the St. Gerard Campus, statistics show that most unplanned pregnancies occur when the mother is 20 to 29 years old. The St. Gerard has had girls as young as 13 come in pregnant.
The founder of the St. Gerard Campus, Carol Wolff says, “This is a mission sent from God.”
Wolff says she was praying in the chapel one day and she heard a voice that told her she was going to be the protector for the little ones. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she soon found out.
“A friend of mine at the time came to me and said, ‘Carol, there’s this young girl and she’s a teenager and she lives next door to me, and I can hear her crying because her husband or boyfriend or whatever is beating her.’”
Back then, Wolff said, the Betty Griffin House, which assists victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, had not yet opened in St. Augustine. And so the teenager had nowhere to go, she said.
“There was no Betty Griffin House here then. ‘She cries out all the time and I know he’s hitting her.’ And I said what are you doing about it? And then I said, I’m gonna go see her. So I went there and I waited until he went to work. I knocked on the door, and she only opened the door about halfway. I could see her and the baby in her arms crying. I said he doesn’t love you if he’s hitting you. And she said, ‘I don’t have anywhere else to go and he loves me, he really does, he just doesn’t know any better.’ That’s not love. I told her if you need me, here’s my telephone number and my address, I’ll take you home with me.
“It wasn’t even a week later, I got a call from Flagler Hospital and he had taken a swing at her and broke the baby’s jaw. I had to go plead on her behalf and the baby because they said she could no longer have custody of him because she was there with him.
“I got a hold of a friend of mine who had a great big house, and they brought her there as a mother’s helper and she stayed there for two years with the baby and learned all kinds of skills. But that day, I took off to Catholic Charities. And I said to the administrator there, what do you do for girls that are abused and they’re young and they have no place to go? And she said, ‘well, I’m studying for my master’s and I’m only here part time, but if you want do something about this you can have half of Mrs. Mary’s desk and a telephone that you share.’
“Not a job. Just half the desk.
“That day she gave me 16 cases.”
The St. Gerard House is now a fully accredited high school. Teachers there offer core classes such as math, science, English and history. The house can accommodate five mothers. They can live in dorm-styled rooms until they complete their high school diploma. They have nurses who take care of the babies while their mothers are getting their education. The girls take college prep classes and classes that teach them life skills such as how to change a diaper.
Courtney Bennett, 18, is a student at the St. Gerard House. She is eight months pregnant and excited to be a mom.
She knows that she will have a baby girl and has picked out a name: Layla.
But when she told her family about the pregnancy, they weren’t supportive and so she took it upon herself to pursue an education while raising her child. She is currently enrolled at both St. Johns River College and the high school at St. Gerard.
Her plan for the future? To be a great mom – and get a master’s degree in engineering.