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From Homeless To Goodwill To Full-Time College Student: The Amazing Journey Of A Single Mom Of Five

For more than 15 years, Manika Ringo devoted her life to supporting her family. But she kept one dream for herself alive: Someday, she would graduate from high school.

Manika, who is now a single mother of five, first became pregnant when she was 14 and living in Arizona. At the time, her parents were going through a divorce, and her siblings also were struggling. She dropped out of the ninth-grade to have her baby. 

By 16, she was living on her own. She took classes here and there, working toward a general equivalency diploma, but her progress was slow.

“Ever since I had my first child, I was trying to be a young mom and go back to school,” she recalled. “But I was dealing with so many relationships and not making good decisions. I was trying to be a grown-up, but I was a child. It was a big roller-coaster.”

When Manika’s father became seriously ill, she served as his caregiver for a year before his death, giving him regular at-home dialysis. She developed an interest in nursing.

Though Manika worked as a night manager at a fast-food restaurant, family members’ demands on her and her own poor choices eventually drove her to homelessness. By then, she had several children, with whom she moved from one friends’ home to another. When that was no longer an option, they stayed in hotels until she ran out of money. 

In the spring of 2015, Manika decided to break from her past and seek a new start. She moved, with her children and only a few suitcases, to Cookeville, Tenn., where her best friend lived. Manika knew that Goodwill provided employment assistance, and while searching online she found a paid retail training program with an opening at the Goodwill store in Cookeville.

Manika applied and was hired. Soon, she was stocking shelves and garment racks with merchandise. 

Assistant Manager Tommie Murphy, one of the management team who Manika refers to as her “role models,” marveled at Manika’s ability and attitude.

“I have to take my hat off to her,” Tommie said. “She has worked real hard since starting here. How in the world you manage a full-time job with that many kids is beyond me, but she is always happy and full of energy. She falls into anything you need her to do with no reservations, and she is always ready to meet the next challenge.”

When an opening became available to be the store’s office administrator, Manika received the promotion.

In 2019, she was selected for the inaugural class of GoodPaths, a 16-week training and development program designed to help promising Goodwill employees identify their strengths, develop their leadership skills and achieve their career goals, whether with Goodwill or another company. Manika was assigned a career navigator who motivated her to seek her high school equivalency diploma and helped her explore college resources and potential careers.

“My career navigator said, ‘What are you waiting for? Don’t you want to pursue your main goal in life?’ and I said, ‘Yes, but this is going on and that is going on.’ She said that was just me making excuses,” Manika explained. “She was right. GoodPaths was so meaningful for me.”

Manika took a practice equivalency exam and passed. She began studying hard to pass her actual exam — especially the math portion, which she knew would be a barrier. Despite her efforts, she failed the math segment twice. She would only be allowed one more try that year. 

“I studied so hard. When I took the final, I felt like I did good. My stomach was in knots, I wanted it so bad,” she recalled. “When I found out I passed, I was crying, laughing, wishing my dad was here so I could tell him. My kids were jumping up and down, saying ‘Mommy, you did it!’”

After learning she would be receiving her diploma, Manika began considering colleges. Thanks to the GoodPaths program, she knew where to look for financing, childcare options and other needs. 

“I felt prepped,” she said.”My confidence level was really high, and it’s still high.”

In January, Manika left Goodwill to become a full-time student at Volunteer State Community College. Manika’s goal is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing administrative management, a field in which the average earnings are estimated at about $65,000 per year. She hopes that such a career will one day enable her to earn a good living for her children, get off all forms of government assistance and maybe even take an occasional vacation. 

Like other students across the country, Manika is now taking her classes online because of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but her studies are going well, and she is still hoping to walk across the stage and receive her high school equivalency diploma in May.

“I am so thankful for Goodwill,” Manika said. “Not only did Goodwill give me an opportunity when I was down, they helped me to complete one of the biggest goals in my life and led me to where I am now.”

Manika is already thinking about seeking a master’s degree. 

“I want to go far. I’m ready,” she said. “I want my kids to see that anything is possible.”

Goodwill Classes & Training


  • Beth Alexander
    Posted at 14:52h, 10 April Reply

    We all feel that way, Lauren! And we’re all hanging in there, hoping to reopen our stores as soon as we can.

  • Lauren Coffman
    Posted at 13:45h, 07 April Reply

    I will def miss seeing her smiling face at the Cookeville Goodwill! Wish her all the best in pursuing her education!

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