Back on Track: Family Place Graduate Engineers Success
Story and photography by Lauren Hollon Sturdy
People told her to get an abortion. When she refused, they told her open adoption was her best bet.
But at 17 years old, Mackenzie Calcote made the decision to become a parent. From that moment on, every choice she made, every step she took and every freedom she sacrificed was determined by her unshakable love for her son.
Many teen moms look at an unplanned pregnancy as a crisis – Mackenzie and her family did, at first. According to a report cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22. It’s easy for a pregnant teenager faced with those odds to believe her life is over.
Mackenzie said her son gave her a reason to defy the statistics. His little life gave her the motivation she needed to not only get her high school diploma, but earn a bachelor’s degree and land a job at Fidelity Investments before she turned 22.
Rebellion and motherhood
Today at 23, Mackenzie is the first to admit she wasn’t the easiest teenager to raise. She was rebellious, angry and still dealing with the deep emotional wounds she felt from her parents’ divorce years earlier. She found out she was pregnant between her junior and senior years of high school.
She moved in with her then-boyfriend, finished her senior year of high school a semester early and had her son in March 2007. The day she brought “Deuce” home from the hospital, things started to fall apart.
“Deuce’s father and I were fighting every day,” she said. “It didn’t take long for the relationship to get physical.”
She moved out to West Texas with her dad for a month that summer to get away. As soon as she came home to Mesquite, Texas, she and Deuce’s dad got back together. Things quickly spiraled out of control again. She feared for her baby’s safety and decided to leave for good. Her mother and stepfather let her move in with them in November 2007 under the condition that she find somewhere else to live as soon as possible.
Getting away, growing up
She knew she wanted an education in finance – a passion sparked at age 15 when her government teacher used a Monopoly game to teach the principles of economics.
Mackenzie looked into several residential programs for single parents and fell in love with Buckner Family Place in Lufkin because of the beautiful campus, the focus on education, the on-campus child care and the individual apartments.
She moved to Family Place in January 2008 when Deuce was just 9 months old, and began attending classes at Angelina College. She transferred to Stephen F. Austin University in August 2009 and graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance.
“I was 18 when I moved in,” she said. “I was still a child; I was young and naïve and I was coming out of the worst thing that I’ve ever been through, so I was a little shell-shocked.
“Once I moved there, I had tunnel vision toward my degree,” she said. “That was the fuel to my fire that kept me going.”
Taking care of a baby while going to school full-time wasn’t easy. Deuce would sit on her lap when she took online classes. When she worked on homework, take-home tests or projects, he was right there next to her. It was hard, she said, but the sacrifice was worth it if she could build a better life for Deuce.
“It was a juggling act, but I learned great time-management skills,” she said. “It was a sink-or-swim situation. It got stressful at times, but I never thought of quitting. I just would get stressed out, take a break and get back to it after I decompressed.”
She excelled in her degree program and graduated with honors. Her professors advised her to work for a few years and then start applying to top-tier business schools to earn a master’s degree. She found her job with Fidelity three months after graduation.
“The day I left Family Place, I cried like a baby in my exit interview because that was my home,” she said. “And that was really the home that my son knew because he was a baby when we lived there. He took his first steps there, he got potty trained there and all kinds of sweet, sentimental things like that.
“It wasn’t just a place I was living while I was going through this phase; it was my home for so long. It was kind of the place where I really grew up and became a mother and a student and a young woman. So it holds a lot of sentimental value to me. It was very hard for me to leave, very bittersweet.”
Defying the odds
In August 2011 they moved to Grapevine, Texas. Deuce went to daycare while Mackenzie went to work as a fund accounting analyst. She was promoted last summer to senior fund accounting analyst, and promoted again in February to lead senior fund accounting analyst.
“I went from being the question-asker to the question-answerer,” she explained. “I review other people’s work, work on issues that arise and coordinate tasks and projects. It’s a leadership role, even though I’m not supervising people.”
She and Deuce have their own little kingdom in their cozy, two-bedroom apartment. Their balcony overlooks a central courtyard where the neighbor kids love to run around and play together. It’s a short drive from Mackenzie’s office, close to Mackenzie’s parents and a couple of blocks from Deuce’s school.
“He’s at the top of the reading levels for his age, which I’m really proud of,” Mackenzie said. “I think he’s seen the value of education in our lives. He’s going to know how important education is, and hard work and the fulfillment it brings to be able to support yourself and live your life the way you want to live it. My grandma always told me that your education is the only thing no one can ever take from you, so you always have that to fall back on.
“My life today is a miracle,” she said. “I can’t even put it into words, really. If I hadn’t had the opportunities I did at Family Place, I don’t think I’d be self-sufficient. It’s almost unimaginable to me now.”
Would you like to join us in the transformational ministry of Buckner Family Place? You can help by donating online now to support single parents like Mackenzie as they work toward getting an education and achieving self-sufficiency. (Feel free to designate your gift by writing in the comments box on the donation form.) You can also contact Buckner Foundation to learn about more ways to give by calling 214-758-8000.