In the face of multiple challenges, Heather Cardenas struggled yet ultimately persevered and excelled. She ran away from home at 17 years old without earning her high school diploma. She endured and eventually escaped an abusive relationship, became a teen mother and faced barriers to earning a livable income and finding stable housing. Today, she works as the administrative assistant for Nurse-Family Partnership Northeast Region.
“I used my background as a reason, not an excuse,” Heather said. “I refused to let myself become a victim, even though I had every reason to. I share my story so others can see that they can use their backgrounds or challenges to propel themselves.”
After making it through those difficulties, in early 2013, Heather was a married, stay-at-home mom of three. She started seeing flyers about a new school for adults coming to Anderson. She was curious, and her husband encouraged her to check it out. The barrier for Heather at that time was child care — she didn’t want to leave her children in someone else’s care.
“When I found out The Excel Center has a free drop-in center, I was sold,” Heather says. “What kept me going through it all was knowing the academic terms were only 32 days and the support of the staff and life coaches.”
In five months, Heather had completed the needed credit hours to graduate, doing so with technical honors, a certification in early childhood education and as valedictorian. She hadn’t necessarily planned on continuing her education, but the valedictorian scholarship prompted her to give it a try. She started at Ivy Tech Community College a few weeks later and will soon earn an associate degree in human services. Last August, she needed an internship and secured one as a life coach at the Excel Center Anderson.
“Having been an Excel student, I can relate to what students are facing,” Heather said. “What I didn’t expect was how much I’d care and get attached to those I’m helping. My internship was valuable because it showed me that the best way I can contribute is to help those who are directly helping others.”
While completing her internship, Heather met the newly formed NFP Northeast Region Team, which is co-located at The Excel Center Anderson. Heather went on a home visit with one of the nurses and the experience solidified her desire to work with NFP.
“I was that mom needing assistance and support and not sure where to go or who to trust,” Heather said. “I wish I’d had NFP then. Now I get to help people who are in the same situation I was in.”
Long-term, Heather wants to earn a bachelor’s degree and continue helping others and teaching her children that there are no limits to what they can do, regardless of some of life’s circumstances.
“The storm passes,” Heather said. “I try to remember that, and it’s what I want Excel students, NFP moms and others facing problems to remember. There are days when you want to give up and quit. But it gets better. When it’s over you get the rainbow and sun and people who are proud of you. You get your kids smiling and looking up to you.”