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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2013

Latoria Payton

Latoria Payton understands the value of self-reliance. As a single mother with six children, Payton is accustomed to caring for her family on her own. But even the most self-sufficient people need a hand sometimes. Payton knows, though, that help often is hard to find. “It is not easy to get support when others know that the support you need is greater than great,” says Payton, an accountant with Creative Financial Staffing in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. “If the weight on your shoulders gets too heavy to carry, you have to find the strength within yourself to stand and continue.”

Just a few years ago Payton confronted such a weight herself. Back then, Payton was living in Illinois. But her home was condemned, leaving Payton and her children homeless. As an only child, Payton had no siblings or other family members nearby to help her. Her children’s father, meanwhile, was incarcerated and could not support the children either.

Payton turned to charitable organizations and social services for help, but they told her that her needs were “too great,” she says. In desperation, she called the Illinois governor’s office for assistance only to receive an apologetic call stating that the office could not help her. “We had no where to go and no one offering to help,” she says. “I felt like I was in the middle of a fire looking for a way out.”

Payton and her children spent a night at a shelter and a friend offered her home to the family briefly too, Payton says. But for most of that year, the family lived in Payton’s van. “I begged for people to let my children stay with them, but everyone has their own problems,” she says. “What changed it all for me was when my youngest son cried the night we drove past the house we were living in just days before. He said that he was tired and wanted to go home. It took all I had not to let them see me cry. That day made me see that what I was doing was not enough.”

Desperate and determined to change her life, Payton relocated to Wisconsin where she and her children stayed with her mother until she secured a new place to live. She found a job at a grocery store, but still wanted something more for her family, she says. Payton always wanted to earn a college degree, but she had postponed her goal to raise her children. With no other options, Payton decided she no longer could afford to defer her education.

“I knew if I did not go out and better myself my family would suffer,” says Payton. “By not having my degree I couldn’t get anything. I couldn’t support my family. I have children who depend on me and it is my job to provide a life for them.” Payton enrolled in the accelerated bachelor’s program at Herzing College in Madison, Wisconsin. The school’s small size appealed to her, she says, and she valued the personal attention she received from her instructors. Juggling the demands of school, family, and two part-time jobs wasn’t easy, she says. Fortunately, Herzing offered an array of student support services that encouraged Payton to finish her education, she says.

Flexible class options let Payton complete her coursework on campus and online, which helped her balance her multiple responsibilities. She also found support through the college’s counseling service and received referrals for childcare and other community services.

In 2008 Payton realized her goal and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in accounting and in March she received CCA’s GREAT Award. The GREAT (Graduate Recognition for Excellence, Achievement, and Talent) Award recognizes recent career college graduates who have overcome extraordinary difficulties and circumstances. Now Payton hopes to pursue a career in either forensic accounting or law and has applied to the online program at Concord Law School of Kaplan University. She also is studying to become a Certified Public Accountant.

“I have a strong desire to show my kids that hard work pays off. I want them to see that they need to work for everything they want and not to depend on anyone,” says Payton. “I kept going because I had something to prove to myself as well. I needed to know I could make it despite all the bad things that held me down. I’m not done yet, though. There is more of me to come.”

Latoria Payton
bachelor’s degree in accounting

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