Keith and Polly Reynolds share an everlasting bond. photos by Keith Borgmeyer Polly Reynolds met Keith when she was 14 years old. He was...
photo by Sadie Thibodeaux
Charline Johns, 28, is the mother of three boys: Jashawn, 13; Kainan, 11; and Khyngston, 5. And in 2013, she did the strongest thing possible for herself and her children — she left a violent relationship. Leaving her mother, grandmother, friends, and more family behind, she took a risk and moved to Columbia.
“My oldest son, now that he’s 13, I hear him say that he’s proud of me,” Charline says with a smile.
Charline moved to Mid-Missouri from Poplar Bluff and connected with Love INC. in Columbia. From there, she was set up with a life coach, Karen Stone, who introduced her to The Caring People, a nonprofit that supports single moms. Charline began attending meetings at Community United Methodist Church every Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m.
“The Caring People really opened my eyes because they accepted me for who I was,” Charline says. “I never felt uncomfortable with them. I never couldn’t tell them anything. They helped me through my roughest times.”
GROWING UP A GROWN UP
“I had to grow up fast,” Charline says. She had her first son, Jashawn, at the age of 15. The following year, on the day after Christmas, Jashawn’s father was murdered in front of her house. “That was traumatic,” Charline says. “Death is not good for anyone, and seeing it at that young of an age . . .” Charline pauses. “I felt like I was partly to blame, and I thought what I could have done to change it. I felt guilty and angry and mad. I didn’t know how to cope, but I knew my son needed me.”
From then on, Charline became a workaholic. MERS Missouri Goodwill Industries, a nonprofit that helps connect people to jobs, offered a program that provided teenagers with assistance to develop job goals, work experience, and more. Charline applied, saying she wanted to be a pharmacist. Shortly after, a local pharmacy hired her, and MERS Goodwill paid for the training. By the time she was 17, Charline received her pharmacy tech license.
With the help of her family, Charline was able to finish school and work without paying for child care. Between the time when she had her first son and when she graduated high school, she had one more boy, Kainan, and she had her last son, Khyngston, at age 23. As time went on, Charline entered into a relationship with a man who abused her. Leaving the situation was not going to be easy, but Charline knew that she and her kids deserved better. “My grandmother was the one who really pushed me to move,” Charline says. “We were sitting at her house and she said, ‘You remind me of a bear. You walk around making these tracks, but you’re not going anywhere.’”
With her grandma’s words resonating in her head, Charline packed up her things, put the kids in the car, and moved to Columbia that May.
A RADIANT FUTURE
Although Charline moved away from most family and friends, she was able to live with an aunt until she found a place to live. She started working at Subway, but it wasn’t easy. Without the comfort of her family watching the kids while she worked, she was ready to go back by October. “I was ready to give up,” she says. The reason she didn’t? She told herself that there was a reason she’s here, and that her kids needed her.
With the help of Karen and The Caring People, Charline began to open up and deal with some of her problems head-on. She realized how she suppressed her feelings so deep that she never dealt with them. Now that she has confronted those memories, she’s in a much happier and healthier place, she says.
This summer, Charline got a new job that will help build her career. Thanks to a woman from The Caring People, she heard about the job opening. Karen and another volunteer helped to update her resume and cover letter and coached her on interview skills. Next thing she knew, Charline was hired. She also entered a healthy relationship with a man who loves her and her kids, Charline says.
SET ASIDE YOUR PRIDE
Charline has advice for anyone who is a teen mom or went through similar experiences. “A lot of people count teen moms out,” Charline says. “Just because I’m a teen mom doesn’t mean I’m less relevant than someone older. I struggle with that shame, but you shouldn’t feel shame. Things happen. It’s what you choose to do with your circumstances — either give up or keep going.”
Through Charline’s experiences, she found that it doesn’t hurt to ask for help. There are genuine individuals out there who want to see single moms succeed. “Don’t give up on finding some,” Charline says. Although getting into the dating world can be a scary and vulnerable thing for single moms, Charline believes there is someone out there willing to love the whole package.
After it’s all said and done, Charline is proud that she never gave up, no matter the adversity. “I never forget about my babies,” she says. “They are mine, and I’m going to take care of them.”
Last year, The Caring People took the group’s members and their kids to Silver Dollar City. There was no fee, just a day full of glee. “Being a single mom, it’s hard to have extra money and extra time,” Charline says. “But it was free. I don’t know when I would have been able to take my kids there on my budget.”
Ten years from now, Charline hopes to get married and go to college for her pharmaceutical degree. She also plans to watch her kids graduate high school and college. For now, she enjoys reading and taking care of her kids. “Everything I do is for my kids,” Charline says. “It will get better.