Being a parent is a tough job, but being a single mom taking college classes is even tougher. Yesenia Shaffer ’14, age 26, was one of those moms who juggled and multi-tasked, finally earning her bachelor’s degree in social work in Spring 2014.
It took lots of planning,” Shaffer remembers. “I knew I had to limit how long I was gone from my son.”
Her son, Gavin-Anthony, now 4, was 2 when Shaffer began taking courses toward her bachelor’s degree. Prior to that, she earned her Associate of Arts degree from Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, FL (now Pasco-Hernando State College, PHSC).
Gavin-Anthony was foremost in Shaffer’s mind as she began her education journey. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have him in day care,” she says. “So I went to night school. As I went through school, I got a little smarter, and I gained more strength to let go a little bit of my son. I worked nights at the Generations Christian Church in Trinity so I could afford small things, and my son was always with me when I worked in the day care area. I didn’t take on anything where I couldn’t take care of him. I was figuring out what was best for him.”
In addition to getting a college degree, Shaffer also wanted to become a pilot. When she first started her junior year at the Adult Education Center at the New Port Richey Office-PHSC, she only worked nights so that her son could accompany her. “My last semester, I got a job at the flight school and it was two hours both ways in traffic,” she recalls.
Dr. Marguerite McInnis, department chair of social work at Saint Leo, was impressed that her student wanted to be a pilot. “At first she was living in New Port Richey and commuting to Lakeland,” Dr. McInnis says. “And she still did her field placement. I was just amazed at everything she was handling. She maintained a positive attitude, but she was tired. She was juggling everything for her child’s future and for her future.”
Shaffer pursued a bachelor’s degree in social work from Saint Leo’s Adult Education Center at PHSC after not knowing what she wanted to study. It all became clear when she took her first human services class. “During the class, our teacher talked about if you wanted to be a counselor, you should get a social work degree rather than psychology,” Shaffer explains. “I had taken psychology, nursing, and education classes; I actually have my massage therapy license. I always enjoyed helping people, but didn’t know what way was going to be my way.”
Her own life mirrored what she was studying. “I happened to be in every situation,” she says. “I’m a young, Hispanic single mother, recently divorced, trying to go back to school, [with a] home that I can barely pay the mortgage for, and supporting a son.”
After some soul searching, she realized she wanted to help other people by majoring in social work. “I felt so empowered,” she says. “I was at the lowest time in my life, but I felt like I could build myself up to be anything. I had a clean slate. Everyone was so encouraging. I felt strong.”
Shaffer chose Saint Leo because family members and friends had studied at the university. “I grew up right off Old St. Joe Road and did a summer camp at Saint Leo,” she says.” I always knew it was really a great university. It was convenient. It had everything. And I could afford it. It fit all my requirements.”
Shaffer wants to combine flying with humanitarian interests. “I love, love, love to help people and fly and get to places that don’t have a lot of people coming by to help,” Shaffer explains. One of her future goals is to fly to the Caribbean islands and bring supplies. “I want to help people, meeting them where they are and helping them how I can.”
Now she is director of sales and marketing at Kingsky Flight Academy in Lakeland, a five-minute drive from her home. Gavin-Anthony attends a day care at the airfield and is proud of his mother. “He’s so vocal about it,” Shaffer said. “Maybe it comes from being my kid! He’s very verbal—every emotion is expressed. He’s always telling me how he is feeling. He knows that Mommy has worked hard.”