Story and Photo by Stephanie Stevens, The Lufkin News
Mommy in the morning, student by day, solider at heart, Heather Shipley does it all.
“She was kicked out of her home at 14 and pregnant at 18, but now thanks to Buckner Family Place, a self-sufficiency program for single parents seeking higher education, Shipley finally has people fighting on her side for a better future,” Lauri Hanson, senior media relations coordinator for Buckner, said in an email.
Living at Buckner Family Place in Lufkin, Shipley is a single parent and takes classes at Stephen F. Austin State University to acquire a bachelor’s degree in forest and wildlife management with a minor in wildlife biology, while maintaining the position of E5 sergeant in the Texas National Guard.
A typical school day begins at 4 a.m. with morning exercises until 6 a.m. Shipley then gets herself and her daughter, Marlee, ready for school. Most of her classes have three-hour labs attached, which takes up the majority of the day. Breezing by a private school in Nacogdoches, Shipley picks up Marlee, and the rest of the day consists of homework, another fitness workout and bedtime. She also juggles monthly drills at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base in Houston and summer classes. Despite all the responsibilities, she has a 3.1 GPA at SFA.
When asked what drives her, Shipley said, “my daughter.”
“I didn’t have any direction in life until I had her,” she said. “But once I had my daughter, I realized I should start making a future for us … Without her, I would not be any of the things I am now.”
Shipley said she did not have the best childhood. “My parents were the example of what not to be,” she said. “That really helped me to be a better parent. It goes to show that you can’t use a bad upbringing as an excuse.”
She said it is because of her daughter that she chose to be a soldier. “I wanted to show my daughter it is important to be a part of the picture and go out and to try. Even if you are one grain of sand on the beach, it is important to try to help in any way that you can, be selfless and serve. I wanted to show her it is important to think about more than yourself and be a part of something bigger when you can.”
Shipley said she is thankful for Buckner’s support.
“Without them, there would be no way for me to work and support us and pay for everything that they have been able to provide us,” Shipley said. “They have helped me pursue my passion.”
Holly Valentine, program coordinator of Buckner Family Place, said she is amazed by Heather’s actions. ““She’s smart, a great mother, and very supportive of her country,” Valentine said. “She stresses a lot, but you would never know because she keeps everything together. I’m very proud of her. There are not a lot of people who could run on about an hour of sleep and then go in and take a test and ace it.”
Valentine said Shipley has proven that she deserves this. “To see her commitment and long hours and studying is great,” Valentine said. “I am lucky to be a mentor to her and am very proud of her accomplishments.”
“I joined the National Guard because I dreamt of a college degree and wanted my daughter to have a positive role model like I never did,” Shipley said. “Without support from the military and from Buckner, I wouldn’t be able to set the example for her that I am. Thanks to them I am now a junior at SFA. I have so much to fight for; it’s reassuring knowing that people at home now have my back.”
This story was originally published in the July 4, 2015, edition of the Lufkin Daily News.