Jade Johnson is ambitious and is not ashamed to say that she had her life mapped out at age 19 when she moved to Charlotte from a town in Virginia.
She started by enrolling in Queens University of Charlotte in 2010 to pursue a degree in human services with minors in sociology and elementary education. Then, in her spare time, she began working at a daycare.
Her dream was to eventually join a nonprofit, perhaps helping Charlotte’s growing population of homeless and at-risk children.
But then came a morning last fall when Johnson woke up feeling odd in that way only women can understand. She was pregnant, despite being on birth control, and the father was another college student who couldn’t afford to support a child.
Johnson, 21, decided to stay in college and raise the baby on her own, even if that meant swallowing a little pride to get help with luxuries like Christmas gifts.
For that, she recently turned to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which is providing free gifts this Christmas to 12,200 children from struggling families.
Her 5-month-old son, Jayceon Jordan, is among 1,550 infants age 1 or younger registered this year.
“My first reaction to the home pregnancy test was denial,” says Johnson. “But once the doctor told me it was real, I never considered not having the baby. And I did not want to move back home. I came to Charlotte for school, and I was going to finish what I started.”
And so she has continued with her plan, though there are times when the college loans, rent, utilities, gas and food bills feel like they’re closing in around her.
Her mother, Fontaine Howard, admits thinking Jade might quit college and move home. But she made a point of telling her daughter that giving up on herself was the same as giving up on her son.
Howard was also a single mom but, instead of college, she worked a full-time and a part-time job to provide for her only child. Jade’s father is in prison, Howard says.
“So many kids give up on dreams when they have a baby, but Jade told me she came there for college and intended to graduate so she could raise her son the best she could,” recalls Howard.
“I told her to repeat that to herself and remember it as a promise. I also asked her to imagine what she would say if her son came home one day and said he was giving up on college.”
Johnson is currently taking 12 credit hours at Queens and expects to graduate next year. She’s also still working 20 hours a week at the day care, which is where her son stays when she’s in class.
Jayceon’s dream is to get a red wagon and books from Santa … or rather, that’s her dream for him.
A baby has little idea what Christmas is about, she says, let alone the concept of getting gifts from a guy who slides down a chimney.
The same could be said of all the babies registered with the Christmas Bureau this year. In many cases, the parents ask for necessities such as diapers, wipes, clothing and strollers.
Johnson says the desire to get gifts for newborns has less to do with the gift and more to do with the pressure new moms feel to be perfect in every way.
Or maybe it’s about setting a standard and vowing to stick with it, no matter how much it messes up the plan we had mapped out.
“My mom made it her focus to provide me with everything I wanted and needed,” Johnson says, “and I will do that for my boy. He’s just like me. He never cries.”
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