Single mothers discuss joys, struggles

DOVER — Like most mothers, Pristina Melton just wants the best for her 7-year-old daughter.

When she found out that she was pregnant, though, she wasn’t even sure how she could take care of her.

“I was in a homeless situation. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” she said.

When she took one last look at her daughter Paris at an ultrasound, Ms. Melton said she decided she was going to do

Glennda Benson is one of the participants in the Delaware Single Mother’s Pageant. “Everything that I do in life has to be strategically planned because it’s not just about me but I now have to do things in life that will impact her as well,” she said.  (Submitted photo)

Glennda Benson is one of the participants in the Delaware Single Mother’s Pageant. “Everything that I do in life has to be strategically planned because it’s not just about me but I now have to do things in life that will impact her as well,” she said. (Submitted photo)

whatever it took to care for her daughter.

“It has made me want more. It has made me desire more. Not just for my child, but the things that I went through, I don’t want her to go through,” Ms. Melton said.

“I’m glad that I went through it so that she doesn’t have to go through it.”

She found a place to live and she got a job at a daycare center. She started studying to be a certified nursing assistant. Now she’s working three jobs and finishing up a degree.

Ms. Melton will be one of the participants in the Delaware Single Mother’s Pageant on Sunday, May 17. At the pageant in Dover, women will be judged by their character and accomplishments — its purpose is to recognize single mothers and their day-to-day sacrifices.

Ms. Melton, who lives in the Dover area, knows those sacrifices firsthand. But she said motherhood has strengthened her. With the responsibilities came a newfound maturity.

“It teaches you not to be selfish because now you have to share. It teaches you to be compassionate and loving,” she said.

“I look at (the pageant) as an opportunity to tell someone else… ‘You can do it,’” Ms. Melton said.
Meeting destiny

Organizer Candice Jackson, who lives in Townsend, said the pageant had been a longtime dream of hers.

On May 17 at Dover Downs, women will take to the stage in glitzy gowns, show off a talent and answer questions about motherhood. Miss Delaware USA will crown the winner.

“We just really want them to enjoy this experience and know that people love them for who they are want them to be successful,” Ms. Jackson said.

IF YOU GO Delaware Single Mother’s Pageant  May 17, 4 to 7 p.m.  Ballroom C, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, 1131 North Dupont Highway, Dover Entertainment includes artists Sonya Lachelle, from Denoted Poetry Ministries, based in Florida, and Michael Mahaffey from Georgia.  Vendors are Traci Lynn, To God Be the Glory Jewelry, Iosa Tea and Almadi Makeup. There will be tickets available at the door $25 adults $15 children 12 and under.

IF YOU GO
Delaware Single Mother’s Pageant
May 17, 4 to 7 p.m.
Ballroom C, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, 1131 North Dupont Highway, Dover
Entertainment includes artists Sonya Lachelle, from Denoted Poetry Ministries, based in Florida, and Michael Mahaffey from Georgia.
Vendors are Traci Lynn, To God Be the Glory Jewelry, Iosa Tea and Almadi Makeup.
There will be tickets available at the door $25 adults $15 children 12 and under.

She said she finally decided to pursue her dream after her father’s death in October. He always fought for the things that were important to him, she said. “He didn’t take no for an answer, ever.”

Now, she said, the 10 contestants have formed a sisterhood.

“We began to encourage each other and just find inspiration through this project,” she said.

It hasn’t always been easy. Ms. Jackson is paying for most of the pageant herself. Lifting up single mothers fits in with the mission of the organization she started, Destined2Be.

But along with running the organization, Ms. Jackson is also juggling a job, studying for her master’s, and parenting 8-year-old twin daughters.

“My girls have become my purpose for living,” she said.

“I live every day hoping I can be their role model and their superhero and show them that it doesn’t matter what their circumstances are or what their odds are. You can win.”

But when she was pregnant, Ms. Jackson was exhausted and overwhelmed.

She was a freshman in college, she said, and she was in an abusive relationship. She was depressed and suicidal. The pregnancy made her so sick that she lost 90 pounds, and the doctors said she had to choose between herself and the babies.

Although she sometimes modeled, she was forced to quit when she got pregnant.

Helen Jackson sits with her daughter Christina, and Christina’s twins Kendra and Kiara.

Helen Jackson sits with her daughter Christina, and Christina’s twins Kendra and Kiara.

“It really broke my heart. It made me feel so unworthy, so unpretty. It made me feel so many different things,” she said.

But Ms. Jackson said she knew she was destined. When the twins were delivered prematurely in an emergency C-section, she almost died in the operating room.

Coincidentally, she gave her daughter Kendra the middle name “Destiny.”

With Destined2Be, Ms. Jackson seeks to inspire people of all ages. She said she wants to guide people financially, intellectually and spiritually. The ultimate goal is to help people achieve their own personal destiny.

“Her idea behind the pageant is that she wanted to inspire, motivate, support, create a different image for and just lift up the spirits of other young women who find themselves in similar circumstances, no matter what put them in those circumstances,” said Helen Jackson, Ms. Jackson’s mother, who has helped with the pageant.

A family that sticks together

Ms. Jackson credits her mother, a teacher at Lake Forest High School, the most with her success.

When Candice was pregnant, Mrs. Jackson took a leave of absence from her own job to take care of her.

And after the twins were born, she retired from her job as a Verizon executive so that she could watch them.

“I wanted (Candice) to go back to school and finish her degree and start her life,” she said.

“Now more than ever she needed to be there for those two little girls.”

And Candice was inspired by her mother’s tenacity.

Mrs. Jackson also had her first son at a young age — she was 16 — but she went on to finish high school on time and graduate from Howard University with honors.

She said took her son with her to Howard so that he could stay at the early learning center. He rode on the bus with her from her home in Maryland every day.

“By the he was 3 years old he could tell you the name of the Rayburn building and the Capitol and the Washington

Pristina Melton with her daughter, Paris.

Pristina Melton with her daughter, Paris.

Monument,” she said.

When she graduated, she took a job at a telephone company; she wanted a steady career to support her family. Ten years later, she got married and had three more children.

“I made a full career for myself and made a decent life for my kids,” she said. “That’s what I wanted Candice to do for her children and that’s what she’s doing.”

Mrs. Jackson said she would not let her circumstances define her; instead, her son motivated her to keep going, to be “the exception to the rule.”

“Despite whatever negative circumstances or challenges or obstacles are placed in front of you, you need to own your circumstances, but you don’t need to stay in them,” she said.

And as she has always tried to do, she was quick to champion her daughter’s dream for the pageant.

“It just made sense to me that if she was going to succeed and be this great model for her kids, why not be an inspiration for other young mothers in the same circumstances that she was in, or that I was in?” Mrs. Jackson said.

After she retired, Mrs. Jackson started substitute teaching at Lake Forest High School and now works there as a teacher.

She’s my pride and joy

One of the students Mrs. Jackson met at Lake Forest is participating in the pageant next weekend. Jaielyn Belong, a senior, said that when she gave birth to her son Adrian, her life instantly changed.

“The most amazing moment had to be the first time I saw him, because it was so strange. I didn’t have any thoughts at all. Everything was just blank,” Jaielyn said.

“I was just looking at him and he was looking at me.”

Her voice catches when she remembers the first time she heard his voice, two years ago.

But it wasn’t until her third trimester, Jaielyn said, that she started to realize the responsibility she had accepted.

“I wasn’t most responsible person. I didn’t always make the best choices. When I learned I was pregnant, I immediately started trying to figure out what was the right thing to do,” she said. “Now that I had this baby, I had to think in terms of reality.”

When Adrien was born, it hit her like a ton of bricks.

“I have to take care of him,” she said. “I have to show him what’s right and wrong, I have to guide him. That’s a lot of responsibility. Any action that I do, he’s going to see. It’s going to rub off.”

One of the hardest parts was leaving him at home with his grandmother — “My mother has been amazing,” Jaielyn said — six weeks later when it was time to go back to school.

“That was a challenge because I knew I had to keep going even though he wanted me,” Jaielyn said.

Now, Adrien is an active, happy 2-year-old, who runs, jumps, climbs “all over the place.” Jaielyn is planning to study entrepreneurship at Delaware Technical Community College. In two years, she hopes to transfer to York College of Pennsylvania.

“From the very first day, (there was) so much responsibility,” Jaielyn said. “But it’s great. Having a child is the most amazing feeling. I can’t explain it. It’s just this amazing person you have in your life now who’s never going away.”

All the women in pageant said that they wouldn’t trade the challenges they’ve met as mothers for anything.

“We hope this is just the beginning for the pageant and for the things that Candice and Destined2Be, her company, can do to bring some real attention to the role that the single mom plays and how important it is,” Mrs. Jackson said.

“I want them to leave Sunday night and wake up Monday morning feeling brand new,” Ms. Jackson said.

One of the participants is Glennda Benson, 32, whose 7-year-old daughter, Kenya, is the “light of her life.” Ms. Benson said Kenya, a bubbly tom girl with a huge personality, is her best friend.

When she thought that she was pregnant, Ms. Benson, who lives in Sussex County, took five tests just to be sure.

“When I found out, my life changed for the better,” she said.

Ms. Benson was “going through some tough challenges from within and challenges within my marriage and when she came, she was a reason to live,” she said.

“She’s my pride and joy, literally,” Ms. Benson said. “There are days when I could not have gotten out of bed but, because of her, I knew I had to.”

And when she was laid off May 1, she knew she had to pound the pavement to make it happen — she had another mouth to feed. When she was offered a job a few days ago, the first words out of her daughter’s mouth were, “I’m so proud of you.”

“I know the ups and downs of being a single mother, but we can’t give up, because there are little people who depend on us,” Ms. Benson said.

Then there is Christina Johnson, 26, who lives near Middletown with her sons, ages 4 and 2.

“I am completely excited just to be able to do something different and to be able to share the experience with my children. I think it is radical,” she said of the pageant.

Because her parents weren’t always around when she was growing up, she said she was determined to give her sons a family.

“I’m going to keep my boys,” she said. “I’m not going to let anything happen to them. I’m going to teach them love and patience and kindness.”

“I would just say for all the single moms out there, happy Mother’s Day,” Ms. Johnson said.

“Keep your heads up. Don’t let anyone discourage you. You’re a mother and at the end of the day, your children need you and you can never let them down.”

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