When Maria developed a mysterious pain in her back, legs, and feet, she was alarmed. As a mother of three, she had endless responsibilities. She needed to know what was wrong—and fast. After multiple doctor visits—and even a surgery—she finally got her answer: stress. The turmoil of being in an abusive relationship was making her physically ill.
Maria knew she had to make substantial changes to get healthy again. She started to research wellness topics and found herself diving deep into research about food and nutrition. Fascinated with what she was learning, she began to dream of becoming a registered dietitian.
She ended her relationship and moved with her kids from Colorado to Washington state, filling out one college application after another. “I got into every school I applied to, but it was all about the finances,” she says. “How was I going to do that?” Maria discovered she could get federal loans to cover tuition. However, with a full class load and three kids, she couldn’t work the full time job that would be necessary to cover their living expenses.
When she enrolled as a Food, Nutrition & Science major at Seattle Pacific University, Maria found part time work in a before and after school care program. She also received a WWIN grant to help with rent until she’s done with school and can work full time. Having experienced unstable housing in the past, this comes as a massive relief. “I don’t ever want to be homeless again,” she says. “I know what it’s like living in shelters, living in my car, and going from couch to couch. My main priority is keeping a roof over our heads.”
She appreciates not only the financial help, but the emotional support she gets from WWIN. “WWIN has never just said, ‘Well, it’s expensive to live here.’ They understand my situation. I love the fact that my kids have their own rooms right now!”
Things are still challenging as Maria navigates college and parenting—and now helping her kids through distance learning. But it feels better knowing that someone has her back. “Sometimes I feel like I’m alone,” she says. “This helps me feel like I have the strength and support as a woman. I know if things were to go awry, they’re there. I can always reach out and know that WWIN would be able to help.”
Maria gets outdoors whenever possible, finding peace on the trails of the Pacific Northwest. “Hiking helps me hash out a lot of things in my mind. I can cry or even scream at the top of my lungs. I’m just so glad I’m alive!”
To any other woman facing challenges like hers, she offers this encouragement: “It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to fail. But there are programs like WWIN that can be your support and empower you and see you through. If you have a dream or something you want to be, you’ve got to be able to do it. WWIN can be that next step.”
As Maria finishes her bachelor’s degree, she has her sights set on a yearlong internship for registered dietitians. “They want you to have a master’s degree,” she says, and then grins. “Challenge accepted.”