Teresa Allensworth's internship at NATASHA House while at Thomas Nelson has turned into a full-fledged career.
Teresa Allensworth, who soon turns 60, is on track to graduate next summer with a degree in sociology from Saint Leo University thanks to starting her higher education journey at Thomas Nelson Community College. She was “kind of” nervous going back to school when she was in her 50s.
“I had really instilled education into my children when they were growing up … so I should do the same thing myself,” she said of the reason she finally stopped putting off her pursuit of a General Education Development (GED) degree. “I preached education to them.”
Allensworth, a single mom, moved to Hampton Roads from Evansville, Ind. in 1988 with her four children and her sister. She thought about getting her GED over the years but kept procrastinating after passing all but the math portion. She eventually earned it from Hampton High School in 2014, but didn’t stop there. She earned an associate degree from Thomas Nelson in 2017 at age 58, and is now taking classes at Saint Leo University.
There was a simple reason for not stopping with her associate degree.
“I want to be more beneficial to NATASHA House,” Allensworth said of her employer.
She’s as dedicated to NATASHA (New Alternative Toward A Secure Home Atmosphere) House as she is to her education. She became aware of the non-profit organization located in Yorktown while in college. NATASHA House bills itself as “a transitional home for homeless women and their children that empowers them to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency.” Allensworth had to do an internship as part of her work toward an associate degree in Human Services at Thomas Nelson and selected NATASHA House from the list of options.
“Once I was there, I felt like that was my passion, to give back to homeless single moms because I was a single mom,” she said.
Allensworth was a nurse’s aide for more than a decade when she was younger and initially took nursing classes at Thomas Nelson. However, she decided she wanted something else and tried computer science.
“I said that’s not going to work, either, so I chose human services,” she said.
Karen Brown, the executive director at NATASHA House, is glad she did. The two have worked together for about two years, beginning when Allensworth was an intern. Allensworth turned that internship into a part-time job and then a full-time job as the office manager/administrator.
“She’s extremely valuable,” Brown said. “What does an administrator do? They run the organization.”
Allensworth does so much more. Brown said Allensworth’s experiences as a single mom help her connect to those who come to NATASHA House, many of whom think there are too many obstacles to overcome.
“She too has been there, and experienced it without having access to a NATASHA House,” Brown said of Allensworth. “She can really zero in on that fact, and they can see if she can do it without a NATASHA House, they really don’t have any excuse.”
Allensworth stresses to the mothers that it’s all about their children.
“The children, when they’re born, they look for us (the parents) to take care of them,” she said. “We’re supposed to be their safety net.”
And, she noted, the children often have been through just as much as the mothers: homelessness, going from place to place with very little stability.
“They have some challenges they have to overcome as well,” she said.
However, watching those young women succeed makes it all worthwhile.
“I feel like I am paying it forward and helping some of the young ladies that are going through stuff that I’ve already been through,” Allensworth said.
Allensworth, whose kids are now 40, 39, 36 and 34, is not sure she would be at NATASHA House if she hadn’t gone to Thomas Nelson.
“I’m glad that I made the choice to go back to school and get my education,” she said.
Said Brown of Allensworth’s effect on the women at NATASHA House: “She’s an inspiration to them, especially in the fact that they have a living example of it’s never too late.”