Alumna Profile: Lamesha and Latayvia
Strong, positive, and giving—these are three words that begin to describe 27-year-old Lamesha Chandler. Lamesha is a multi-faceted woman who radiates kindness and a sense of calm despite, or maybe because of, the responsibilities and losses she carries with her.
Strong, positive, and giving—these are three words that begin to describe 27-year-old Lamesha Chandler. Lamesha is a multi-faceted woman who radiates kindness and a sense of calm despite, or maybe because of, the responsibilities and losses she carries with her. As of September 2020, Lamesha is working to finish her last college classes to complete her degrees at Metro State University, looking for work after being laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and helping her 11-year-old daughter Latayvia navigate her first year of middle school remotely. This may seem like a lot to manage in a world currently filled with uncertainties, but Lamesha has a positive outlook. “We’re stuck right now, but we’ll come out of it. I have faith. We’re going to come out of it.”
Lamesha’s ability to see the brighter future is what has carried her through life. At 15, during her freshman year at George Washington High School, she got pregnant. Freshman year had been a challenge for Lamesha. She felt like a number floating in the largeness of the student population at George Washington. “They had so many students that it was just like, whatever happens, happens,” she remembers. She was unengaged in her learning and regularly skipping classes. When Lamesha found out she was pregnant, her mother asked her what her plan for her life was. Lamesha, not wanting to disappoint her mother, who was her biggest supporter, told her that she was going to finish school and go to college. “My daughter ended up being a blessing in disguise,” Lamesha says. Latayvia motivated Lamesha to set goals for herself and finish her education. A nurse at George Washington connected Lamesha with Florence Crittenton Services, and it was then that her life began to change.
Lamesha started attending Florence Crittenton Services in March of 2009, and graduated with the Class of 2013. When she first started at FloCrit, “It was like a little roller coaster adjusting and trying to get everything in order,” Lamesha recalls. “It was definitely a culture shock going to an all-girls school. But soon I saw all the resources that they had for me, and I started to feel comfortable.” The small size and supportive staff, things Lamesha had not found at her previous high school, made a huge difference. “It felt more like a community, like these people supported you,” she says. “They want you to do better. It just felt like family after a while.” Lamesha flourished under the supportive staff, community, and resources that FloCrit provided. The pre-natal parenting classes prepared Lamesha for what giving birth and motherhood would be like. “It really prepared us to make us feel comfortable with what was coming,” she says. The post-natal parenting classes helped her transition back to school life after maternity leave. “They talked to you about everything,” she remembers. “How’s life going? Are you experiencing postpartum depression? What do you need help with? Do you need daycare services?” Florence Crittenton provided support for transportation, basic needs like diapers and clothes, and even for life after high school. Lamesha learned about business leadership, did mock interviews, and took financial literacy classes. Latayvia spent three year at FloCrit’s Early Childhood Education Center where she grew and learned and socialized with other children. She learned to speak up when she needed something or was struggling, a skill Lamesha says still helps her today.
After never feeling connected to her teachers at George Washington, Lamesha was thrilled to form strong bonds with her teachers at FloCrit. “I remember in the morning we would have advisement. You would go to one of the teachers for 45 minutes and do warm up activities and things like that,” says Lamesha. Her advisement teacher, Joanna Vincenti shared with the girls the importance of going to college and gave them tips on how to afford college classes. “She let us know that if you really want an education, it is there for you, and to not let having a baby stop you from doing anything that you want to do,” says Lamesha. “The things she was telling us, nobody had ever said to me before, and it has always stayed with me. She could just have us doing worksheets, and instead she was giving us all this advice and life lessons as if we were her own children.” Lamesha knew that if every teacher at FloCrit cared as much as Joanna, that she would make it.
During Lamesha’s time at FloCrit, her mother was diagnosed with and battled cervical cancer. Lamesha’s mother was her first and biggest support system, her best friend, her everything. Through the treatments, remissions, and cancer coming back, Lamesha found support in two FloCrit teachers—Ginia Coors and Tessa Rybkowski. “Ginia would call and text me all the time just saying keep your head up, we’re thinking of you. She sent me cards.” Lamesha remembers. Lamesha was out of school for two months when her mother first got sick. Ginia gathered Lamesha’s schoolwork from all of her teachers, and sent it home with Lamesha’s aunt so she wouldn’t fall behind in her classes. Tessa checked up on Lamesha, too, and the two stayed connected even after Lamesha graduated. Throughout her mother’s illness, Lamesha was a student, a mother, and also a caregiver. “To have a support system behind me other than my mom, one that is helping support both of us through this and pushing us through helped,” Lamesha acknowledges.
In May of 2019, Lamesha’s mother’s cancer came back. They battled it until January 15, when Lamesha’s mother passed away. Lamesha is trying to find space to grieve while she continues to care for her daughter and support her in her grief. She focuses on Latayvia, who has always been a bright light in her life. “My mom raised both of us,” says Lamesha, “so that’s like her losing a parent as well. We’ve both been with her our whole life. I try to focus on Latayvia and trying to keep her spirits high. And I try to find time for myself to keep my own spirits high, but it’s been hard.” Through her loss, Lamesha has an incredible strength. “You have good days, and you have bad days. We’re just waiting on the good days to outweigh the bad ones.”
This year has been hard on Lamesha and Latayvia, but there have been positives. Latayvia started sixth grade at a new middle school, Aurora Science and Tech Middle School. Starting a new school remotely during a pandemic has been a challenge, but Lamesha can tell this will be a good place for Latayvia. They provide personalized support and teachers who really engage with their students. Latayvia has a big personality. She loves to dance and sing and convince people of her perspective, and she has a big heart, just like her mother. “When her friend is having problems, she sees it, and she tries to give them the best advice to her abilities,” says Lamesha with a smile. “She tells me she wants to be a social worker.”
Lamesha is six classes away from graduating from Metro State University. She has already finished her major in Criminal Justice, and is hoping to finish her minor in Sociology soon. Lamesha began college classes in 2013, the Fall after she graduated from Florence Crittenton. “Every time I get close to finishing, an obstacle comes up. So I’m still fighting to finish,” she says. “Before it was my mom’s health. And then my daughter; I have to schedule my schedule around her. When I was working, I had to schedule classes around that, as well.” Florence Crittenton continued to provide opportunities for Lamesha as an alumna through the Zonta Club scholarship for FloCrit alums. “The scholarship was such a blessing,” she says. “To write an essay and tell people my story and for them to think I am important enough to support, that felt really amazing, and led me back to why Florence Crittenton is so amazing from the start.” Lamesha used the scholarship to pay for books and supplies at Metro State. After she graduates, Lamesha hopes to start a career in crime scene investigation or with missing persons. She would like to find a job where she can have a good home and work life balance so she can support Latayvia as she heads into her teenage years.
In the next five years, Lamesha hopes to finish school, find a job that she loves, and buy a home for her and Latayvia. “I just want to make sure Latyavia has all the resources and is able to not become a teen mother, so she can choose when she graduates from high school, if she wants to travel the world, or go to college,” says Lamesha. “Whatever she does, I’m there to support her.” She wants Latayvia to transition into her teen years knowing that her mother is there for her through all the big changes to come, and to be able to communicate openly with her. Lamesha has kept going through every up and down life has thrown at her. Her strength and resiliency are what make the young women who attend FloCrit so special. “I’ve always promised myself that no matter what—me being in a teen mother—I will always make it,” says Lamesha. “I wouldn’t be a statistic and just not graduate. No, that wasn’t an option for me. I had promised my mom that I would finish school. And FloCrit provided that for me.”
Florence Crittenton Services provides support to its graduates like Lamesha as they continue their education, look for jobs, housing, and childcare, and much more. Help us continue to provide this essential support by making a donation.