Struggling to cater to the needs of her baby girl... spending what little time she had conversing with her husband. It was August 23, 2006. Frustrated over a broken video chat, she was unable to see his face, only hear his voice.
Little did she know, she would never see him again.
College of Western Idaho (CWI) student, Yulonda King, has spent a lifetime learning to stand on her own two feet.
Growing up in Idaho, Yulonda was raised solely by her mother.
“My mother was a single parent who worked hard to care for my younger sister and me,” she recalled. “It was not easy for her all the time.”
Her mother battled with addictions and toxic kinships, crippling the relationship between Yulonda her younger sister, Brittany. Life at home was difficult and diminishing rapidly. At 14, Yulonda was failing classes in school and often contemplated dropping out.
“Instead of fighting for us, my mom told a judge she wasn’t ready to be a mother again… and this was heart crushing,” Yulonda recollected. “After that, I didn’t want to see her or let her hurt me anymore. It remained this way until I was 17.”
Ultimately placed in foster care, Yulonda was taken in by her Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Greg. They frequently challenged her to do better, giving Yulonda the motivation to improve her grades and eventually graduate from high school.
“It took a little bit, but I soon found myself wanting more. I wanted them to be proud of me,” she stated. “I learned at a young age that nothing was going to be handed to me.”
Yulonda met her husband, Jeremy, in high school. They were married in December of 2002, shortly after Jeremy enlisted in the army.
During his second tour in Iraq, Jeremy was able to come home for the birth of their daughter, Kaidyn. Because the hospital camera was out of order, they decided to have family pictures taken... which later became a treasure memory they would not have had otherwise. Jeremy returned to duty a week after their daughter was born.
Three months later, Yulonda was in her room taking care of Kaidyn when she was told two soldiers were at the door.
“Halfway down the hallway, it clicked,” she recalled. “I knew why they were there.”
After being told her husband had been killed in action, Yulonda was in disbelief.
“I told them they were lying, they had the wrong person,” she recalled. “I don’t remember the moments after… just holding my baby.”
“I wasn’t supposed to be a single parent,” she said. “After my mom… that wasn’t supposed to happen. My husband was my rock. We had plans. The life we had… the life we were working for. We were supposed to grow old together in a house with a white picket fence and two rocking chairs.”
Ten years following Jeremy’s death, utilizing the 9/11 G.I. Bill Chapter 33 fund, Yulonda came to CWI after being out school for 15 years.
“You can do anything when you put your mind to it,” she said.
The decision to go back to school, something she did not take lightly, was influenced by her two daughters and her love for welding.
“Welding is something that sparked an interest in me when I was a young girl,” she shared. “When I started checking into schooling, the Welding Program offered at CWI was a perfect fit. Being just down the road from my home made it convenient.”
Yulonda was a 2017/18 scholarship recipient of the Idaho Opportunity Scholarship and the Nampa Industrial Corporation Scholarship, which she said allowed her purchase the tools necessary for her first year in the Welding Program.
“This was an unexpected blessing in my life and has helped me tremendously through this part of my journey,” she said.
Yulonda indicated college has been a challenge, yet a rewarding experience for her.
“When I graduate from CWI, I plan to use my skills to find meaningful, lifelong employment. I am super excited for that day!”
A strained relationship with her mother and unexpected death of her husband forced Yulonda’s life to be rerouted, coercing her to stand on her own two feet. In the midst of hardships and pain, she is now standing strong.
Mendez is a 2015 CWI Alumna and interned for CWI's Communications and Marketing Department during the Fall 2017 semester.