Circle of Women 2012: YWCA Parent Gains Support at the Right Time
Abigail Wahl has always put her daughters’ needs and well-being ahead of her own. So when faced with the decision to pursue her own goals or provide the very best care and early education for her daughters, Abigail struggled, but found a way to make both happen. Her determination and belief that education has the power to transform has created a bright future for herself and her daughters. She made these remarks at the 2012 Circle of Women luncheon.
I am a law student, and the mother of two girls. I was raised in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, in a middle-class family, where I grew up with amazing role models. My grandma Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Minnesota, has always been Grandma Posy to me — a true optimist, and my mother Carol, one of the hardest-working people I know.
After high school, I studied International Relations in Mexico, where I lived for two years. When I returned, I went to the University of Minnesota and got a degree in political science. During college I was very busy. I worked on political campaigns, as an English as a second language instructor, and a waitress. I also got married and managed to graduate in three and a half years. Nine days after graduation, my first daughter, Alina, was born.
In 2005, when Alina was 11 months old, I started working as a paralegal at an immigration law firm. That’s when our relationship with the YWCA Early Childhood Education program started. At the YWCA, I found an incredible child care program with a diverse group of educators, children and families. Most important, I found peace of mind in leaving my baby with loving teachers who, over the years, have become my community too.
In 2008, my second daughter, Rosalie, joined her sister at the YWCA when she was four months old. The YWCA was expensive for my family, even with two full-time salaries, but I never dreaded paying this bill because the education and care my daughters received was invaluable.
After four years as an immigration paralegal, I decided to go to law school with the hope of offering our family a better future. After an intense testing and application process, I was accepted into William Mitchell Law School with an 85% merit scholarship.
Then everything changed. My husband and I separated. Having already given notice at my job, and not wanting to lose my scholarship, I decided to move forward with my plan to attend law school despite so many unknowns.
Two weeks before law school started and after I had quit my full-time job, my ex-husband lost his job. As a result, my daughters lost their health insurance coverage. My daughters have pre-existing conditions, making private health insurance an impossibility for us.
Attending law school is a privilege, but it is also very challenging. During my first year of law school, I did my best to stay on top of academics while going through a divorce, child support court, and spending a lot of time trying to get health insurance for my kids. Because law schools accredited by the American Bar Association do not permit first-year full-time law students to work, I had no extra income. As a newly single mother, I found myself for the first time in my life carefully clipping grocery store coupons and trying to make a $30 food budget last all week. I was paying for my daughters’ medical costs, not receiving child support, and trying to save my home from foreclosure.
I considered dropping out of law school because of my financial situation. Because I earned a full-time salary before going to law school, I did not qualify for a child-care subsidy. Even if I did, the wait list in Hennepin County for a child-care subsidy was more than two years.
Then I learned that I could apply for a scholarship at the YWCA. I applied and was granted a scholarship that made my daughters’ care affordable. Without the YWCA scholarship, I would likely have been forced to drop out of law school and work full time. Beyond the financial help, the teachers at the YWCA supported my daughters and me through some challenging times.
Today my daughters and I are in a good place. Alina is in second grade, loves studying tornados and hurricanes and is half way through the fifth book in the Harry Potter series. Rosie is four years old — going on 40 — and loves being in the Starfish classroom and going to swim class and the musical trolley program.
In this country, Early Childhood Education is not a right, it is a privilege that only some children have. I have also learned that higher education is a privilege that very few women in the world have. When life became difficult for me, I could have dropped out of law school and gotten a full-time job. The YWCA empowered me to make the choice to stay in law school while giving my daughters the best start in life. I pursued my dreams and now my daughters have been able to see me achieve my full potential. It is my hope I will soon join all of you as a donor so I can help women like me achieve their dreams too.
Show your support of YWCA of Minneapolis programs by making a donation today!