Meet an Alumni: Twyla Rownak
What are your children’s names and how old are they?
Meriel – 25; Benjamin – 23; Harrison – 21; Kara – 18 (& we are expecting a new daughter soon – Harrison recently proposed to his long-time Girlfriend, Grace)
If married, who and when did you marry? How did you meet?
I married Brian Rownak on July 18, 2014. We met through a lady who introduced me to her friend (Brian) to make up for a series of unfortunate events. The first date was awkward – per usual – but he was easy to talk to, and we became friends and eventually more. When he planned to propose, he got approval from all 4 kids and had them help him with the surprise.
When did you graduate and are you currently employed?
I have 3 degrees – AA at NWACC 2010; BA in Management at John Brown University Dec 2011; and MS in Marriage and Family Therapy May 2015. After graduation, I applied for my therapy licenses and worked with developmentally delayed preschoolers and their families in a daycare, and as a marriage therapist in a couple private practice clinics. In July 2017 I got my dream job of launching the counseling program at Single Parent Scholarship Fund. I’m most proud of being able to walk beside other single parents in our program and give them the comfort, hope, guidance, and help that I once received from this program.
What has been the most rewarding thing about having a degree?
My view of myself and the world has shifted in unexpectedly positive ways – I see myself as both more and less worthy than when I first started NWACC Jan 2009. I am valuable, capable, and believe that I have a lot to offer. Growing up, I wanted to stay small and invisible, so I’d be “safe.” But there is much more to the world than safety and danger. Through the process of earning my degree, I rebuilt my self-respect and have confidence that I can Help others feel “safe” and empowered in their lives too.
What or who kept you motivated during your time as an SPSF scholarship recipient? How did SPSFNWA contribute to that motivation?
Marjorie (co-founder of SPSF) – along with the staff, alumni, and my desire not to live in poverty anymore. I was tired of having to buy the kids shoes that were 2 sizes too big so their feet could grow into them. I was tired of having to keep track of every single penny at the grocery store. I was tired of making one pot of pinto beans last for 3+ meals each week. I was tired of feeling ashamed for using air-conditioning in the summer or turning on the heater too early in the winter. And while I appreciated all the generosity of the community, I was tired of feeling less-than or pitied by others. No one at SPSF made me feel pitied. They not only saw me as capable, but they also needed me to share my story to help others and work to change the stigma of being a single parent.
How did your pursuit of a college education influence your children or other family members?
In 2019, My older daughter earned her BA in English, and the 2 boys are currently pursuing college degrees. My mom completed her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas in Dec 2014. And while I’m not 100% certain, I like to think that my pursuit of a college education influenced them a little.
What has changed most for you and your family now that you are no longer in school?
It’s difficult pinpoint one substantial change. I was in school for over 6 years – so most of my children’s childhood memories include me attending some class or another. In the 18 months around my graduation, I also got married, lost my grandfather and my first father-in-law, changed jobs 3 times, moved, and sent my oldest to college. Life is too complex for me to put all the changes on just completing a degree. I continue to have deadlines, classes, reports, and due dates. The rhythm changes a little, but it keeps going.
What was the most beneficial part of being a SPSF scholarship recipient?
Knowing that people were seeing me as me – and the financial aid, the workshops, the fundraiser dinners, the opportunities for public speaking, the random surprises, and the opportunities to see other single parents who were more like me – all of it motivated towards something better. It made my hopes seem achievable.
What do your kids want to be when they grow up? If already grown, please tell us what they’ve been up to.
My oldest is a photographer for Impressions Online boutique and has her own wedding photography business too. She is completely creative, inspirational, and inspired (as well as successful and self-supportive). The rest are still figuring out who they are and what they want out of life. Benjamin is living with friends, working intern jobs, and taking classes for a business management degree. Harrison is almost ready to start Grad school to be a therapist, works at a game place, advocates for the differently abled, and just proposed to his High School girlfriend. Kara is a High School Senior at a local art school and focusses on self-expression, social justice, and rights for women and minority groups.
What is your favorite SPSF memory or activity (events, socials, fundraisers, etc.)?
There are so many – I always felt honored to be included in the socials and fundraisers. One of my very favorite memories is when Marjorie secretly had all my Bible Study ladies attend the Student Benefit (now Spark of Hope) to support me when I was the featured speaker. She seated them in direct line of sight from the stage so when I nervously stood in front of the room, I looked directly into their sweet faces. Another great one is when we had fall festival and it started snowing so Jack (the ED then) moved everyone and all the activities (including the petting zoo) into the education room. I was particularly depressed and miserable that year, but his spontaneity shifted my perspective.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment since completing your degree?
I was fully licensed in 2 years. There’s a little backstory here – once someone earns a master’s in counseling, there are licensing exams and 3,000 hours of therapy before being fully licensed. Most of the time it takes 3+ years, so I was immensely proud of myself (and worn out).
Building the counseling program at SPSFNWA will be my next greatest career accomplishment, but it’s still a work in progress.
Looking back, was there one skill that you learned that was particularly useful, either in college or in the professional world?
One skill that’s been priceless in the professional world is curiosity – I had a supervisor who said “approach everyone with curiosity. If they don’t make sense to you, then you haven’t learned their story – get curious and learn.”
What advice would you give someone desiring to go back to school/current recipient (think general advice or a quote you live by)?
It’s something Marjorie told me several times: “You don’t think you are worthy yet, but you will.”
You are not disposable, and your history is not your destiny. You CAN
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
I grew up in Madison County and graduated valedictorian from St. Paul High School with a full ride to the UofAR, but the only thing I wanted in life was to be a mother and wife. I dropped out of college at 19 when I was pregnant with Meriel. I felt inferior when my friends graduated college, but I loved my little family and ignored my longings. As terrible as it was when my husband died, his death sparked my emotional, personal, and professional growth. I took very good care of him and the kids, and he always showed his appreciation. But after he died, I was empty. People like Marjorie and programs like SPSF, not only said I “cannot fill from an empty cup,” they expected me to fill it and keep moving forward. If we don’t care for ourselves well, eventually we cannot care for others at all. It is my privilege to help other single parents learn to see themselves with compassion too.