Tiffany Pangarakis was determined. No one ever doubted that. Smart and hard-working, she could succeed at anything she put her mind to.
Nothing was going to stop her. But life sure tried. Her father died when she was 15. Her mom died two years later. She was legally declared an adult and was on her own. The Lufkin resident struggled to get by but managed to enroll in Angelina College. Then she became “involved in a bad relationship.” Shortly after, her daughter, Kalista, was born.
School would have to wait. Her daughter was more important. Pangarakis started working full time, driving 100 miles round-trip to make a living. As if Pangarakis didn’t have enough to balance, Kalista suffered through health issues. It required numerous doctor visits, forcing Pangarakis to miss work one too many times. She was red. And desperate.
“I was a nervous wreck,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I had a daughter. I didn’t have a job. I had no hope.”
An uncle told her about Buckner Family Pathways in Lufkin, a ministry that empowers and strengthens vulnerable single-parent families by giving them a secure place to live, help with child care and assistance in gaining life skills while parents work to reach their higher education goals.
The solid foundation of Buckner provided the footing Pangarakis needed to take the steps to fulfill her potential. She quickly bonded with Buckner staff members who started out as professional caseworkers, turned into mentors and are now what she desperately missed - a family.
“They’ve really become a family to us,” she said. “My daughter’s gotten to grow up here. We came just before her second birthday. This has become her family.”
When Pangarakis is having a difficult time, Buckner staff members have known just what to say to keep her moving forward. Once when she and Kalista were sick, staff members brought them homemade soup. On other days, she receives texts that staff members are praying for her. Kalista has bonded with the other children on campus. She plays with them daily, her giggles filling her home.
“Seeing how these ladies work and seeing the difference they’ve made in my life, they’ve inspired me to want to work in social work. To be able to give back would be such a blessing.”
Family Pathways in Lufkin Director Holly Valentine is blown away by Pangarakis’ ability and determination.
“She is a very smart young woman,” Valentine said. “She’s probably the only person I know who can function on no sleep and write a 14-15 page paper in a few hours and get a 98 on it. She’s done that again and again.”
Pangarakis finished an associate degree and her bachelor’s degree in social work at Stephen F. Austin State University in December. Now she has her choice of jobs to support her daughter as she begins her postgraduate work.
In preparing for the Family Pathways graduation ceremony the day before the SFA graduation, Valentine admitted she was struggling to come up with words to express adequately how she feels about Pangarakis. Valentine has become like a second mother to her.
“She’s such a dynamo,” Valentine said, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. “She’s such a smart lady. I’m so proud of all she’s accomplished.”