Life can be disappointing at times. We look to societal norms and create expectations of “the way things should be.” Well, they rarely ever go our way, and a big part of life is learning to adjust our sails to the winds – to make lemons out of lemonade. We also know that some people’s “lemons” are much sourer than others, and some people make much sweeter lemonade than most. The story of Whitney Breckenridge’s life – our 2018 Woman of Achievement Empowerment Awardee – is one of sour lemons made into incredibly sweet lemonade.
Growing up in Charleston, Whitney was like most young girls – she had dreams, she was a good student, she was a daddy’s girl. Her confidence and reliance on her parents made her feel incredibly secure – until her parents split when she was 10 years old.
As many adolescent girls whose parents split do, Whitney began to sneak around and take interest in boys. “I got wild, and went looking for love,” she recalled. In high school, she met her boyfriend while working at Taco Bell, and the relationship lasted until he got in trouble. Whitney went off to Marshall for a physical therapy assistant degree, and for a time, it seemed that her life was on track. However during her junior year, her high school boyfriend got out of jail. They reconnected, and soon Whitney was pregnant with her first child, Zyir. Four months into her pregnancy, her boyfriend began denying paternity. “He just changed. We didn’t talk for the rest of the pregnancy. We made attempts to visit him after taking a test that proved 99% paternity. I was hurt, pissed, scared,” Whitney recollected. She had lost her best friend. On top of that, all her family was in Charleston, and she was in Huntington with a new baby completely alone. It was a long year.
Finally, Whitney was able to move to Charleston. During that Christmas holiday, she met Marvin. Marvin was visiting cousins in Whitney’s apartment complex, and after offering to help her carry in packages, they struck up a conversation and were hooked. They maintained a brief long-term relationship, then he moved in with her. When Zyir was two and a half, Whitney gave birth to her daughter, Maniyah. She was struggling paying bills, but she wanted to make her kids’ life as good as possible.
She went through a period where Zyir had seizures. The first couple times they thought it was febrile. A few years later, he was standing on a ball and fell back into a coffee table. Whitney kept him up for an hour, but while he was laying on her he started seizing again.
When Zyir was 3 and Maniyah was 7 months, Whitney came to rely on the YWCA Mel Wolf Child Development Center for child care and development. At that point she was working at McDonald’s. The security of knowing this was a safe place meant a lot. She, Raina and Pixie (two of the teachers) had been friends for years. Zyir’s teacher, Miss Annie, was patient with how hyper he was. Whitney fell in love with Miss Valerie, Maniyah’s teacher. She became like family. Whitney also loved the Assistant Director, Miss Sharon.
“When someone tells me they’re looking for a daycare, I tell them about YWCA Mel Wolf. The staff are like family. I love the fact that my children love to go there. They get experiences I might not have been able to give them (like visiting national parks and waterways, the Clay Center, etc.) They are active and involved.”
When Maniyah was two, Whitney gave birth to Keylan – eight weeks earlier than expected. At 17 weeks pregnant, Whitney had been placed on bedrest, which she joked was impossible with two little kids. At 29 weeks she suffered a bad bleed, and was given a steroid injection to help her unborn child’s lungs develop. When Keylan was born a few weeks later, the doctors diagnosed him with SVT – an abnormally fast heartbeat – and started him on medication to manage the arrhythmia.
At this point, things had not been going perfectly in her relationship. During Keylan’s stay in the NICU, Whitney felt Marvin should have been more present, not hanging with friends. “He’s an excellent dad,” Whitney remarked, although, she noticed her goals weren’t directly in line with his. “I’m older, wiser and know what I want in life. You don’t have to give me the world, but don’t settle for less. I don’t want to struggle for the rest of my life, or take care of a grown man.”
With three young children – two with serious health conditions – creating financial independence as a single mom was no easy feat. But because life had taught Whitney the value of self-reliance, she trusted the YWCA Mel Wolf Child Development Center to care for her children – and plunged into her studies.
In the face of adversity, Whitney demonstrated her strength: “People would tell me that I wouldn’t be able to go to school. It gave me more will to prove them wrong. When I was in school I made the dean’s list – straight A’s. I’ve been depressed – not wanting to get out of bed, not caring what I look like. Now that I have a decent career, it gives me that motivation to get up.”
And more than anything, she values the path her life has taken for the lessons it has given her: “Growing up I was sheltered. When I got to school, it was like, ‘Heyyy party!’ Having my kids has slowed me down, and made me wiser. I just try to cherish them, ‘cause they grow so fast. I’m doing things on my time now.”
With support from the YWCA Mel Wolf Child Development Center, Whitney obtained a Specialized Associates Degree in Medical Assisting. Whitney currently works for West Virginia University Physicians of Charleston in Electrophysiology as a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant. She is on her way to achieving her dream job as a Registered Nurse.
On March 2, Whitney will receive the YWCA Empowerment Award – sponsored by BrickStreet Insurance and given to a Woman of Achievement who has overcome tremendous adversity with the assistance of a YWCA program. To attend the awards luncheon in honor of Whitney and the other Women of Achievement honorees, go to http://www.ywcacharleston.org/woa.