Kathy's Extraordinary Story

Inspiring Other Women to Reach
for Their Dreams After Achieving
Her Own

At age 28, Kathy felt much older than her years. Twelve years earlier, she had dropped out of high school to marry her boyfriend, Joe. The self-described “ugly duckling” was flattered by the attention the 27 year old had paid to her, and says she “fell for him fast.” When Kathy gave birth to her first child, Sophia, her dreams of becoming a nurse were put on hold indefinitely. “At first, things seemed good,” said Kathy. “Sophia was born, and the sight of her beautiful face filled me with more love than I’d ever known.”

Not What it Seemed

Kathy was awarded $10,000 through Soroptimist's <em>Live Your Dream Award</em>
Kathy was awarded $10,000 through Soroptimist's Live Your Dream Award.

On the outside, says Kathy, her family life looked stable. But on the inside, things were deteriorating quickly. Kathy’s husband had begun acting erratically. He would tell his young wife that he was going out to get gas, and then not come home all night. She’d find beer bottles under the car seat. His once sweet talk became abusive drunken ranting. He wanted to know where his wife was at all times and prevented her from working, despite the family’s need for additional income. He was controlling and full of rage.

Kathy’s husband, who worked as a roofer, rarely finished a job. The family would move so he could find work, but he would inevitably lose his job. Meanwhile, Kathy struggled to feed and clothe their growing family, relying only on public assistance.

A Turning Point

“It’s hard to explain why I stayed with him for so long,” said Kathy. “Part of it was that I felt sorry for him and felt it was my duty to take care of him. And I believed I was doing what was best for the kids.”

Most of all, I was terrified of trying to make it on my own. At this point, Kathy was a mother to five children, with no education and no realistic way to provide for her family. Her husband would tell her, “You’ve got all these kids now, nobody will want you. If you leave me, you’re stuck.” And Kathy believed him, for a while anyway.

Kathy reached her breaking point one night in 1992. The kids were in the living room working on a school project, laughing and having fun. Kathy’s husband came in, drunk and asked her to drive him to a bar. When she refused, he stormed from the house and proceeded to wreck their car.

I made a vow to myself right then that by the time I was 30, I did not want to be living like that.

“It hit me like a sledgehammer,” she said. “I made a vow to myself right then that by the time I was 30, I did not want to be living like that.” A couple of weeks later, when her kids came home from school, she told her husband they were leaving. Kathy stuffed their belongings into bags, while her husband pleaded with her to stay. Looking at her kids, Kathy realized that she’d been doing them more harm than good by staying in the abusive relationship. Kathy and her children moved into her sister’s two-bedroom house and Kathy got a job at a pizza parlor making $4 an hour—certainly not enough to make her dream of getting off public assistance a possibility.

Rekindling a Childhood Dream

Sometime later, Kathy was at a dental appointment. She was nervous after having not been to the dentist for many years, but the hygienist was nice and helped ease her fear. "Sitting in that chair, listening to her talk, I remembered my childhood ambition to enter into the medical profession."

Kathy spent the next several months researching the field of dental hygiene. She applied for government loans and grants, but it was only enough to cover tuition. To attend school full-time, she wouldn’t be able to work to supplement the public assistance. Uniforms, car repairs and upkeep, books, in addition to her family’s regular expenses would stretch them to the breaking point.

Taking a Chance

One day, during her first year of school, one of Kathy’s professors pointed out a notice announcing the Soroptimist Live Your Dream Awards. “As I read the requirements, I thought to myself, ‘that’s me!’” said Kathy. She filled out the application, her beginning her personal essay with “The last 12 years of my life have been filled with many trials...”

Kathy’s compelling story resulted in her receiving awards from the local Soroptimist club and the Midwestern Region. Several months later she received a call from Soroptimist’s president. Recalls Kathy: “She asked, ‘Are you sitting down?’ Then she told me I had received the top award—$10,000. I was completely stunned. I turned to my kids and told them the amazing news. Did we ever have a party that night ... screaming and jumping up and down!”

This award helped me so much, not only financially, but emotionally. It helped me to believe that I really could make it.

“I don’t know how we would have made it without Soroptimist’s help. At last, my life, and the lives of my children had hope and direction.”

Finding Peace

Kathy went on to realize her dream of a career as a dental hygienist where she said she earned more working four days a week than she did in a whole month on public assistance. She met her current husband on one of her many trips to the hardware store when she was on her own. She and her husband, who live with their kids in a country home on eight acres of land, later bought a hardware store. Kathy says that her story, including how she received the Live Your Dream Awards, convinced the bank to finance the loan for the store.

“I’ve always heard that hard times build character. If that’s true, I must be quite a character by now.” states Kathy. “But I know that I’m a better person for it."

I’m stronger and I’ve learned a lot, like how to believe in myself. I have grown so much. I have a deeper sense of self worth and a lot more confidence in myself. I feel a great deal of inner peace.


Soroptimist relies on the generosity of individuals like you to improve the lives of women like Kathy. Your support gives women the help they need to overcome obstacles—like poverty, domestic and sexual violence, and addiction—and follow their education dreams.

Please consider donating. Your gift of $100, $50, or even $10 today will go a long way and will transform the lives of women in need!

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