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 in Lufkin. Then she became “involved in a bad relationship.” Shortly after, her daughter, Kalista, was born.
School would have to wait. Her daughter was what was most important. Tiffany started working full-time, driving 100 miles round-trip to make a living. As if Tiffany didn’t have enough to balance, Kalista suffered through health issues. It required numerous doctor visits, forcing Tiffany to miss work one too many times. She was fired. 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 Tiffany 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,” Tiffany said.
Family Pathways in Lufkin Director Holly Valentine is blown away by Tiffany's ability and determination.
“She is a very smart young woman,” Holly 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.”
Tiffany had some unexpected help one day when she was contemplating quitting school. She was walking through the social work building as she’d done hundreds of times when she noticed a plaque she hadn’t before.
“This name just jumped out at me,” she said. “It was my mom’s name. It was her signature from the honor society in 1993 when she had graduated. To me, it was God telling me, ‘Your mom sees you and is proud of you. Keep going.’”
Tiffany finished an associate degree and went on to work on her bachelor’s degree in social work at Stephen F. Austin State University, which she finished 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, Holly admitted she was struggling to come up with words to express adequately how she feels about Tiffany. Holly has become like a second mother to her.
“She’s such a dynamo,” Holly said, unsuccessfully fighting back tears. “She’s such a smart lady. I’m so proud of all she’s accomplished.”