Kenya Webster

Kenya Webster seems like the kind of person to have by your side in a street brawl – one who, when finding herself face down on the sidewalk, will reassess, shake it off, and come up swinging, fully aware that more punches might follow. Author Brene’ Brown, in her book by the same name, calls it “Rising Strong.”

Quite simply, it’s living with the understanding that each of us will at times in our lives find ourselves face down on the mat. The measure of our character and our success are based on our willingness to rumble with our failures and the stories we tell ourselves and come back fighting.

While each woman’s story is unique and special to her, the framework of the success of the courageous women who’ve sought assistance through CWAH is formulaic – a combination of time, tenacity, education and faith.

For Webster, one of her greatest challenges surfaced when she was laid off from her job with the Bank of America. For two years she was unable to find work. With unpaid bills piling up, the pressure of feeding and maintaining an acceptable living for herself and her three sons grew daily. Her dream of one day owning a home took a back seat to survival.

“I think I was in a state of depression,” she said. “This wasn’t my destiny – scrounging for food at food pantries, trying to find free school supplies for my boys.”

CWAH benefitted her and her sons as well. They participated in Job Readiness, Career Assessment, Jewelry Making, Youth Enrichment, Engineering and Youth Entrepreneurship classes and had an opportunity to travel to Alabama and study the Civil Rights Movement during the summer program.

She began implementing the educational piece of the formula by returning to school. Her success in that arena -- the Dean’s list and a job with the National Archives of Records gave her the necessary confidence to keep going. But it didn’t last long. The job was contingent upon her being in school.  The success of graduation was diminished by the loss of a job – another fall to the mat.

Face down once again, she reflected on the thing she wanted most in her life: to give her kids a home. “I realized I couldn’t move the way I wanted to in the space that I occupied,” she said. Habitat for Humanity was a program she had previously considered, but her credit rating was too low and her debt ratio too high.

“I had applied in 1994 and been turned down,” she said. “I tried again in 1998 with the same results.” It was time for more education.

“When I’m down, education has been the key to getting myself together. It’s how I get back up,” she said. 

CWAH was instrumental in providing that education. The Financial Literacy Program  gave her the framework she needed to get “credit-ready” for home ownership; Fitness and Health classes gave her the physical stamina to keep going; and Soup for the Soul provided the support of sisterhood and the ability to look truthfully at herself and share her challenges with women who were in similar situations. She’s currently working on her Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work at UMSL.

She submitted her third application to Habitat for Humanity and moved into her new 4-bedroom, 2-bath home in November of last year. “It was wonderful to see that my struggles hadn’t been in vain and to see my kids succeed,” she said. She and her sons participated in the actual building of their new home.

Her advice to others: Try to have faith. Believe in your ability to do better. Set goals, educate yourself on how to achieve them; and don’t give up. Sounds like the perfect formula for Rising Strong. Are you ready to rumble?

If you know of a family like Webster’s who needs a little boost this holiday season and could benefit from CWAH programs and services please nominate a family today.

Submit nominations by November 15 at measter@stlamerican.com; mail to The St. Louis American, 2019 People Against Poverty Campaign, 2315 Pine St., St. Louis, MO 63103; or fax to (314) 533-2332.

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