Tara Adesanya is used to hosting visitors. As soon as anyone crosses the threshold of her home, she becomes the ultimate hostess, buzzing around the room. “Would you like some water? Or coffee?” she offers. Hospitality has always been one of her strengths, cooking one of her passions. It’s a perfect combination.
“Cooking is my way of decompressing, relaxing, just maintaining sanity,” she says. “I notice when I don’t get a chance to, I truly get nervous. I get anxious.”
It’s not unusual for Tara to share her meals with her neighbors, and if you are lucky enough to catch Tara on a baking day, she might even send you home with a parchment paper bag filled with chewy chocolate chip cookies.
But when she’s not cooking delicious treats in the kitchen, she’s studying. A lot.
Her living room is furnished with big, black, squishy couches covered in pink, black and white swirled throw pillows. Perched on the end of one sofa is a two-foot tall stack of nursing textbooks, notebooks and manuals. Her kitchen table doubles as a desk, holding her laptop and class notes. Tara apologizes for the mess, but there’s no need. When you’re a single mom and a full-time student, life happens – and a lot of life is happening here.
She’s in school working through the Licensed Vocational Nurse-to-Registered Nurse program at Houston Community College. She’ll finish in May 2015 and not planning to stop there. After that, she’ll start her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and hopes to get a master’s degree eventually. At 45 years old, this string of achievements has been a long time coming, and Tara has had to overcome many obstacles to get here.
Tara was only 6 years old when her family got the news: Her dad had leukemia. He went into remission for seven years, but even as a young child, Tara knew it was likely to come back.
She was 15 years old when her father died. The youngest of five daughters and the only one still living at home with her mother, Tara and her mother both went through their days in a fog.
“I watched a depressed woman,” she says of her mother. “It was like I couldn’t talk to her.”
Tara had other painful experiences and no one she trusted to share them with, so instead, she stuffed them deep inside and developed a hard outer shell. She decided she could keep herself safe if she kept others out.
After graduating high school, she started working toward a home economics degree, but discovered she hated it. She began training as a certified nursing aide instead. She liked how practical it seemed – she’d always be able to find a job.
As she gained experience at different hospitals – mainly focusing on cardiology – she realized that she had a natural skill for nursing. She was a Certified Nursing Assistant for many years and reached a point in her career where she had hit her ceiling and learned what she could.
She realized she had lots of potential to grow her career – she’d just have to return to school first. But going back to school wasn’t as simple as registering for classes. Tara is a single mom, which wasn’t her plan.
“I had no intentions of being a single mom,” she says. “I didn’t wait until 35 to get married to be a single parent. No one does that. No one goes into their marriage to do that.” She married in the spring of 2004 and a year later she talked to her doctor about starting a family. Her chances were slim due to medical issues, but the doctor told her to discontinue birth control and try for a year before coming back to discuss fertility treatment options.
“I left and I got on my knees and I said, ‘Lord, if it’s your will, I’m going to get this baby. And it ain’t gonna be no year.’ But I didn’t think it was going to be one month, either,” Tara admits.
Tara says her daughter Adara is God’s child, a blessing and a gift given to her to be a steward here on Earth.
“I’m blessed that he allowed me to have her and to be a part of her life, and I’m always asking him to please teach me and guide me in guiding her. Even when I feel like I’m going to lose my mind. I always know from where my blessings come, and I’m really strong in that.”
Adara’s faith is strong, too, and their faith has carried them through some hard times together. When Adara was less than a year old, Tara separated from her husband due to verbal and emotional abuse.
Faith sustained them when Tara and Adara became homeless and spent several years living at different transitional shelters and residential centers in Houston. Tara recalls having to sleep on a shelter floor with her 18-month-old baby after moving to Houston with just a few possessions and her car. Adara remembers a mean boy at one of the shelters who chased her around and threw wood chips at her.
In early 2010, after months of desperately job searching, Tara interviewed at Thomas Street Health Center, a clinic exclusively serving HIV positive patients. She was offered a job in the psych ward. The combination of HIV and mental illness was far outside Tara’s comfort zone of cardiology, but she decided to give it a shot and fell in love with the work and the patient population.
“I’d only had my hands in cardiology, so to go to infectious disease – and psych on top of that – was just a little off-putting,” she says. “But then when I got there, I was just amazed, and once I was educated about HIV psych patients, it just blew me away.
“It took me right here,” she says, pointing to her heart. “And I loved it. That experience was one that I always cherish, and I always go back to it and remember how much I learned.”
Though she had the support of a professional mentor, Tara struggled as she worked full time at the Thomas Street Health Center and went to school part time in the evenings and on weekends. She had some financial support for her tuition and textbooks through a nonprofit called Capital Idea, but she still wasn’t able to make ends meet. That’s when she was referred to Buckner Family Place and met Cari Latimer.
[caption id="attachment_10024" align="alignright" width="300"] Cari Latimer, director for Houston/Conroe Family Place, chats with Tara.[/caption]
“Tara came to us with high recommendations from the staff at Capital Idea, and when I first met her, I understood why,” Cari said. “Tara struck me as a very bright and determined woman. She was clear about her goals for herself and her daughter, which always impresses me when interviewing potential clients. As she told her story about struggling through abuse and homelessness, I also quickly realized how resilient and strong she was. For me, choosing Tara as a Buckner Family Place resident was an easy choice; I had no doubts she would be successful if given the opportunity.”
“I was biting my nails wondering if I had gotten selected,” Tara says. “Cari finally called me and said, ‘Yeah, you’ve been selected to come in to Buckner’s program.’ I was like, ‘This is just like the blessing that I need.’”
Living at Family Place has made all the difference. Even at 8 years old, Adara can feel it. “A lot has changed,” she says quietly and matter-of-factly.
At Family Place, Tara is able to focus on parenting and studying. She started her Licensed Vocational Nurse program in January 2013 and finished within a year. She passed her boards in March on the first try. In May, she participated in her graduation ceremony. She didn’t want to attend at first, but Adara insisted.
“I told her to do it because you’re not going to get to do it again,” Adara says. “You’re going to want your degree.”
“When I got pinned for my LVN, Adara was so happy and so proud, and I hadn’t even realized how happy and proud she was until I saw her at the end of the pinning ceremony,” Tara says. “She was just all over the place.”
Being at Buckner Family Place has changed her outlook.
“I don’t feel like there are limits on me. It’s amazing to me. I see a different me. There are things that I tolerated in a broken marriage that I no longer tolerate,” Tara says. “It’s given me strength.” It’s given me the tools that I need to concentrate on what’s best for me and my child, to achieve what I want to achieve for me and my child. It’s a comfort. It’s a family.”
To learn more about Buckner programs in the Houston area, click here.