Becoming a single parent wasn’t in the plan for Kiara Garrett.
After graduating from Tattnall County High School, she went straight into the Navy. The Glennville native went through a deployment and was headed toward a career. But when she found out she was pregnant, she determined that it was time to get out, knowing that future deployments would keep her from her child.
Daughter Mia Garrett, now 6, was born three months early. Garrett had intended to come back home and go to school, but the difficult pregnancy and being a mom to a preemie was much harder than she had anticipated, so she put her own plans on the back burner. Garrett was staying with her dad at the time.
She later moved to Jacksonville with her daughter, and began working a full-time job. During her time there, she became pregnant with her son, Shawn Newberry, who is now 4. Due to her difficult first pregnancy, doctors put Garrett on bed rest at 15 weeks. Because she couldn’t work, she lost her job and home.
Garrett came back to Georgia, and moved in with her mom, and soon gave birth to her son. She decided to go back to school, and enrolled at East Georgia State College. She was receiving VA benefits, but without a job, it just wasn’t enough to support her small family.
“Asking other people for help and trying to do a budget when you don’t really have a budget didn’t really add up,” she said. After disagreements with her mother escalated, Garrett said she had to move out. She ended up homeless, with her small children.
Garrett said she had no idea where to go or what to do. A friend told her about Open Hearts Community Mission in Statesboro, and she found her way there. She arrived after hours, and had to return the next day. A minister friend set her and her children up with a hotel room for the night, and Garrett returned to OHCM the very next day. She moved in during the first part of November 2018, and is still there.
“It’s an amazing place,” she said. “They just want you to be able to take care of yourself, and get a better relationship with God. I’ve been praying for about a year for God to take everything away that wasn’t for me. Everything else that got taken away, all the people that got taken away, my situation, completely changed. But it was for me to better my life.”
Garrett said being at OHCM was meant to be for her and her children.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go to school. I wouldn’t have been able to get my full-time job at Belk’s. I was looking for a job for a year and kept getting part-time work,” she said. She was hired at Belk within days of settling in at OHCM.
“I was astonished at how fast everything was happening,” she said. She started attending Ogeechee Technical College in January, and plans to graduate as a medical assistant.
Garrett says that everyone at Open Hearts is “so awesome, and they just encourage you to come in and be yourself.”
“There are very simple things they ask you to do,” she added. “Even if you’re not there, you should apply them to your life, because it makes your life better. It helps you as a person. It’s just, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Garrett has found that while at OHCM, she doesn’t have to worry about her children, even when she is away from them. She says there are wonderful people there who will love and care for her children if she has to study or work.
“I’m not afraid that my kids are there. They make it so safe. I don’t worry about people who don’t need to be there, because I have my babies there. I don’t have to worry about anything. Miss Delia and Miss Lisa literally look after my kids. If I’m not there or trying to do something, they’ll call them over and it lets me get what I need to get done. I’m so thankful to be there. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have it,” she said.
Thirty-year-old Garrett is thrilled to finally be in school, and preparing for her future.
“I’ve been trying to get back into school for three years, and it was like, every time I tried, something just got in the way of it,” she said. But doors opened for her when she got into OHCM.
With encouragement from her caseworker, she was accepted at Ogeechee Tech, and her caseworker, who is an Army veteran, helped her with her VA benefits. Garrett says she is on track for her future and to take care of her family.
“I want to have a career. I want to be able to give my kids something. I want to one day buy them a house. I want them to know what stability is, because growing up, I didn’t know what that was. It’s always been my dream to have a house that my kids can come back to,” she said.
So for now, Garrett attends school, works full-time, and is saving for moving out on her own. She sees this time as a time when she has to do what she needs to do to make life better for her kids.
One of the requirements to stay at OHCM is that residents save money. Garrett says they teach residents how to save and create a budget, so that they don’t ever have to be homeless or return to OHCM again.
“I plan to have my own apartment, and I have to get a car. The saving that I’m doing, I should be able to do that in a few months,” she said. “The fact that they help you budget; a lot of people don’t know how to budget. You need to pay for the stuff you need, not the stuff you want. They teach you that if you take care of your needs, your wants will come later. That’s what I’m learning. Take care of you, take care of the kids. Everybody else is not important. You and your kids, that’s what’s important.”
Garrett hopes to be ready to move into an apartment by the time she starts her summer semester at Ogeechee Tech, with a cushion of savings to boot.
“I never thought I would end up being a single parent. I don’t think anyone ever plans on being a single parent. It is very tough. I didn’t realize how hard it was, trying to balance being a good parent, working, trying to make sure you cover all the bases, and not feel like you’re taking away from your child or your job,” she said.
Even though she has two children, which can make it extra hard, Garrett said she is fortunate, because she has amazing kids. She says Mia is not selfish and is so helpful with Shawn. Still, it’s been tough.
“It’s a lot harder than people expect. It’s a full-time job on top of having a full-time job. It’s never ending, but the reward is amazing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said, adding that her children are the reason she gets up in the morning and her inspiration.
“They’re the reason I don’t feel sad with myself, because I have them. I don’t want to teach them to feel sad for yourself if things don’t go right. Just pick yourself up and keep moving. I definitely have to do that. I don’t want them to be like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to sit down and not do anything,’“ she said.
Garrett says, yes, she and her children were homeless. But now they are on track for a much better life because she picked herself up.
“I want my kids to say, ‘We were homeless, but Mommy got up and she just kept going until we were out.’ I want them to see that and remember. I want them to always have that drive to strive for something better.”