At the age of 25 Natasha Cauley hit rock bottom. She sat in the Emergency Support Shelter with her two boys and no money. She said to herself, “I won’t accept this, it’s not good enough.”
After struggling through life for many years Natasha is using education to improve the lives of her two boys and herself. She made up her mind she won’t stop going to school until her standard of life is “good enough” to break the cycle of family uncertainty and poverty.
Natasha’s story highlights how important it is to graduate from high school.
Natasha’s troubles started with an uncertain home life. After attending multiple middle and high schools in Longview and outside the area Natasha was having trouble fitting into yet another new school.
Natasha earned good grades throughout school, but problems at home made life unbearable. “I’ll just drop out of high school, get my GED, and everything will be fine,” she thought.
With her mother’s written permission (she was told her father had passed away) Natasha dropped out of high school. Over the course of 12 months Natasha went from living with her mother and being a high school student to being a dropout pregnant with her first child.
Living with her boyfriend’s parents, and with no plans to go back to school, trouble arrived quickly. Complications with her pregnancy caused the baby to be born about 6 weeks prematurely. Her new baby boy Tristan weighed a little over 3 pounds at birth. The medical complications caused problems for Natasha too, she spent several weeks recovering while Tristan fought for life in the neonatal unit.
For two years after Tristan was born Natasha worked low level, low paying jobs. She didn’t qualify for better jobs without a high school diploma. She and her boyfriend broke up around Tristan’s third birthday.
Natasha started living with friends in Longview, and at about the same time noticed something wasn’t quite right with Tristan. Doctors said Tristan was fine. Being born prematurely had set Tristan back, but he would catch up over time the doctor said.
It wasn’t until after enrolling Tristan at Kessler Elementary that she received confirmation something else might be wrong. School personnel asked Natasha to take Tristan to a specialist – where she found out Tristan has autism.
Life was tough. Natasha, now 22 years old with an autistic son, was working at the Kelso Red Lion making coffee and waiting tables in the restaurant. Then she became pregnant with her second child. Nine months later William was born.
With a second child Natasha’s life became miserable. She stayed in the house for days at a time taking care of William, while Tristan was often agitated or crying. She suffered from post-partum depression, and felt cut off from the community.
And just when Natasha felt at her wits end, she and her boyfriend split up after a domestic dispute. Natasha took her two boys and a duffle bag of clothes to the Emergency Support Shelter (ESS) in Longview.
“Friends will only help for so long, then you need to help yourself,” Natasha recounted.
A counselor at the ESS gave Natasha a piece of paper and asked her to write some basic, achievable goals. Imagine trying to write goals when you don’t know where your next meal will come from.
With no driver’s license, no car, no job, no high school diploma and two boys to raise Natasha hit rock bottom. She thought something had to drastically change or she’d be forced to accept a life of hardship.
“I needed to fix things,” she said – it was her defining moment.
The counselor started Natasha working on short-term goals with a promise that once the goals were achieved a new list of goals would be written down.
She wrote down basic needs – get a driver’s license, find a job and get an apartment. At the bottom of the list was education, she wanted to get her high school diploma.
Natasha completed almost all the goals in 90 days.
With her initial goals mostly done Natasha’s focus came back to education. She went to Lower Columbia College and earned her high school diploma in three months – but that wasn’t enough.
She signed up for more classes at LCC with a goal of getting her associate of arts (AA) degree. With one quarter remaining she needed to pass a math class to get her AA degree – and flunked the course.
Instead of quitting she re-took the class and received an “A”, and earned her AA degree. But she wanted a better life for her family, so she enrolled at WSU – Vancouver.
Natasha Cauley will graduate from WSU – Vancouver with a bachelor’s degree in English in the spring of 2019. She reunited with her past boyfriend, William’s father, and life is good. She will be pursuing her master’s degree come next fall.
About her education Natasha said, “Before going back to school I was sleep walking through life. Education has set me free.”