“I’m teaching my kids that no matter where you come from, you can succeed at anything. You can be anything that you want to. But you have to work hard for it, and you can’t give up.”
A single mom to two girls, Ebony is no stranger to sacrifice.

She once went two days without eating so that her daughters, ages 12 and four, could see a movie at the theater with their friends. She’s worked at the same company for nine years, but as the only source of income, prioritizing childcare, groceries, gas, rent and doctor’s bills was—and often still is—a struggle.

“With childcare, sometimes the bill is my whole paycheck. What am I working for if I’m having to give over my whole check?” she says.

Ebony began to meet with a counselor at the Nashville Financial Empowerment Center, a partnership between United Way of Greater Nashville and the Mayor’s Office, to tackle her finances. She says that weekly free counseling gave her the confidence to plan, to budget and to understand her spending habits.

“My counselor is really for me and wants to see me succeed. She’s giving me that extra boost of confidence, even giving me homework so that I can actually further what I want to do. She’s really helping me work with what I’ve got and understand where I’m spending. So that I won’t be so stressed out and will have more money for groceries and I know we’re not just eating junk food because the junk food is cheaper. She helped me get a hold of my budget and make different choices.”

Ebony started out meeting with her counselor weekly, but eventually transitioned to once every few months. If a big change pops up in her life, her counselor is the first person she calls to get back on track. Ebony’s counselor even told her about a first-time home-buyers’ program.

“It really makes me feel good because I know things can turn around. And the great life that I want, I can still have it with a little budgeting. I want to start looking into buying a house for my babies so that they can actually have something to grow up in.”

But even with a firm grip on her finances, Ebony still has to balance that time between putting in hours to keep the lights on and finding the time to be there emotionally for her kids.

“It can be tough trying to balance the quality time to spend with them, to still nurture and give them that guidance and let them know that, ‘Hey, mom is here, and she loves you,’ ” she says. “Sometimes we may not get home until 7 at night and we leave at 6:50 in the morning. When we get home, we’re scrambling to do dinner and to get ready for bed. There’s really no time in the afternoon for them to do anything at home, so I’m happy that they have a little bit of activity after school to still have that time with their friends. And still develop their mind because they need that time to develop and grow outside of the books.”

With her first daughter, she had some support from her grandmother to help with childcare. But as her children got older, it was important to her that they were in a program, learning and socializing with kids their age. And getting ready for Kindergarten.

“But programs are expensive. You want them to be somewhere nice that has the different languages and the tutors but when they are $400 a week, you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not going to be able to afford rent. They’re not going to have clothes. What am I going to do?’ ”

Her oldest is now in middle school and attends an after-school program. She’s grateful that her youngest daughter is in an at-home program where she’s thriving, learning Spanish and playing with other children her age.

“I’ve been blessed with having good people and good places in my life to help me grow … to be able to stay at my job for nine years. I’m grateful that I was able to keep my job and continue my growth within the company. And also knowing that my kids are being cared for, it releases the worry because you know that they’re in good hands while you’re doing what you’re doing to provide for them. I’m teaching my kids that no matter where you come from, you can succeed at anything. You can be anything that you want to. But you have to work hard for it, and you can’t give up.”

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