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Connie Millsap wants to be a nurse to help people, she says with no hesitation.
She comes from a family of health workers on her father's side, and her goal is to work in a nursing home one day.
"When my grandmother was very sick, before she passed away, I used to go help her," said the 25-year-old. "They are like mentors, they can teach you. They tell you stories about how they grew up and it's a lot easier now that it was when they were growing up."
Millsap knows about difficult times.
She graduated from high school in 2004 but didn't go straight to college. Instead, she hopped from job to job until 2008 when she lost her job at Pilgrim's Pride.
She also had three children, now ages 6, 3 and 2, during that time. She tried to go back to work after she had her youngest son but she hasn't been able to. No one is hiring, she said.
"I tell everyone it's the recession," she said. "Everyone is having it rough."
To give her a better shot at a job, she is studying to be a nurse at Chattanooga State Community College.
But life threw another stumbling block in her way. Several months ago, she left an abusive relationship, making her the sole source of income for her and her children.
She stayed at the shelter of the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults for more than three months and, after participating in several programs, was ready to transition back into the community, said Toni Morgan, her case manager at the Partnership.
Millsap found a home she could afford and received the first month's rent and deposit through the Supplemental Assistance for Facilities to Aid the Homeless, but needed $30 for the application processing fee. It was money she simply didn't have.
Morgan filled out a request from the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund to help her move into her own home.
"For some people $30 is no big deal, but for some other people, like the clients we serve, it means a world of difference," she said.
For her, Millsap said, it meant independence.
Millsap didn't want to talk about the circumstances that led her to the shelter, but she's proud of finally having a home for her two youngest children. The 6-year-old lives with his father in Nashville.
"There's nothing like having your own place because it's rough trying to stay with people who already have families," she said.
Her children love riding their toys up and down the street and, when she's not in school, they go to the park together, watch cartoons and color every night before going to bed.
Everybody has their ups and downs, said Millsap. There have been many times when she wanted to give up but she hasn't because of her children.
"I want to be a good influence on my kids," she said.
She wants them to see her graduate and she only has two more years left of school.
Morgan said Millsap has been a pleasure to work with.
"She was one of those individuals who came into the shelter and was very proactive in seeking resources to try to improve herself," she said. "She knows what she wants."
And Millsap's parents always told her: If she wanted something, she had to fight for it.
"I know it's going to get better, I just can't give up," she said.
Contact staff writer Perla Trevizo at email@example.com or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_Trevizo.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...