‘She is resilient’: Former teen mom shares how she became an entrepreneur who helps others

It’s no secret that life can be challenging for single parents—especially for single, teenage moms who are still in high school.

LaQueisha Brown, 35, of Fort Wayne recalls a lot of sleepless, worrisome nights as a young mom, full of tears and hopelessness.

“There was a lot of that and still some days now there are,” Brown says.

Portrait of LaQueisha Brown.Even so, she is quick to add that even when times were tough, she experienced bright spots of hope, encouragement, and support in Fort Wayne that allowed her to move forward. These people and programs who supported her, along with her personal drive to succeed, have allowed her to not only raise her three children but also to pursue her dreams as a culinary entrepreneur and to give back to her community, helping other single moms and families. 

When you ask Brown how her story has come full circle and who helped her get to where she is today, one of the first names you’ll hear is Kela Guy. The two met when Brown was a pregnant junior at Snider High School. Guy was working at Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which had a partnership with Fort Wayne Community Schools. She was assigned to be Brown’s case manager in a school-based program called ECHO (Education Creates Hope and Opportunity). ECHO has a mission to “help pregnant teens stay in high school and complete their diploma, all while still raising their children.”

Kela Guy
Brown describes Guy as a mentor and encourager who was instrumental in her daily life.

“When I didn’t want to get up and do anything, she was always there to motivate me and to help me move forward,” says Brown. “She was like my life coach. She helped me realize there was no obstacle too big to climb. There is no bump in the road you can’t jump over, and no matter what happened in my life, she would say to me all the time, ‘Okay. Alright. So, what are we going to do about it?’”

Guy also connected Brown to another source of support and hope in Fort Wayne, community advocacy programs from Brightpoint social services. Brightpoint helps communities, families, and individuals remove the causes and conditions of poverty by providing 12 regional counties with various community service programs from childcare to small business loans.

Brown secured a high school internship through Brightpoint, which eventually turned into an eight-year career as a Teacher’s Assistant in Brightpoint’s Headstart program. Headstart provides free preschool to children ages three to five, offering comprehensive educational, health, nutritional, and other developmental social services. Brown has been involved in the program as both a client and an employee.

“Running parallel to my career path, I was a teen mom,” says Brown, “They helped me navigate through childcare while I was also working in the Headstart sector of their program.”

LaQueisha Brown takes work notes in her home.After getting plugged into Brightpoint, Brown was also able to utilize other services, like their Energy Assistance program, which provided a one-time payment to her heating and electric company to offset some of the high costs of winter heating bills. These resources and connections allowed her to maintain a safe, accessible lifestyle for her young family.

“I could go to work every day and work for a company, but also, if I fell short financially, the same company was able to help me not let the barriers become obstacles, where I couldn’t survive and live day-to-day,” says Brown.

While fundamental support made difference in her life, friends and mentors say her determined spirit has also played a key role in her success. Brown’s friend (who happens to have the same last name), Khalif Brown, has known her since they shared a history class at Snider High School. He describes her as, “kind-hearted, selfless, ambitious, growth-oriented, genuine.”

Her former case manager, Guy, also recognized these qualities in Brown and nurtured her potential and tenacity even in times of hardship, encouraging her to cry and express her pain, but also keep moving forward. Guy says she wants all the young parents she has worked with to know that there’s more to life—“to think beyond just staying in school and having the baby, that this wasn’t going to be the end of their story.”

For Brown, self-determination and the investment others have made in her potential has paid off. And her story is still unfolding.
 
“She’s not done yet," Guy says.
 
After spending eight years at Brightpoint, Brown resigned from her role with Headstart to pursue her dreams of a culinary career. At age 35, she owns her own business, Pure & Divine Catering LLC, and is the full-time Operations Manager of Patient Services at Parkview Health, where she works closely with an executive chef to build and create patient menus.

LaQueisha Brown cooking in her home kitchen.She is also a mom to her three children: Elijah, Anijah, and Emmanuel. Brown describes Elijah, her oldest child and a senior in high school, as a “blessing in disguise.” She says he taught her to overcome many obstacles. Her daughter, Anijah, is also a senior in high school.

“She’s my workhorse,” says Brown. “She takes after me in that capacity, where nothing’s too hard, nothing’s too big.”

Brown’s youngest, Emmanuel, is a fifth grader. He went through Early Headstart and brought her back to Brightpoint.

“My involvement with Headstart came full circle, where I was now a parent of a Headstart and an Early Headstart child,” says Brown.

LaQueisha Brown holds up a family sign in her home in Fort Wayne, IN.As part of this journey, Brown joined Headstart’s parent committee, called the Policy Council, and she eventually became the Policy Council President. This led her to Washington, D.C., to speak on Capitol Hill and discuss why Headstart is essential to parents and communities. She shared how the program has helped her not only to get on her feet as a young, single parent, but also to pursue her dreams as an entrepreneur.

Speaking on Capitol Hill gave rise to another opportunity for Brown. She was selected to attend the National Headstart conference in Puerto Rico, and in 2020, she became a Board Member for Brighpoint. She is now the Board Representative for the Policy Council.

Along with her Brightpoint connections, Brown uses her skills as a chef to give back to teen parents in Fort Wayne, too. In her spare time, she volunteers with Young Life, a religious organization serving local teen moms and their children. She prepares a meal for the teens to enjoy family-style at their monthly meetings before they head into their activities for the night.

Myla RogersMyla Rogers, Brown’s former supervisor at Brightpoint, also volunteers with teen parents at Young Life. She says Brown pours her heart into each meal she provides, giving young parents a highly thoughtful and caring experience.

“She beautifies the table,” Rogers says. “The way she sets it up, it’s like food art.”

Brown is still chipping away at her educational goals, too. She is currently earning her Master’s degree at Ivy Tech with plans to enroll at Indiana Tech for a dual Master’s in Organizational Leadership and an MBA.

“My drive is what keeps me going,” Brown says.

LaQueisha Brown, right, and Myla Rogers, left, catch up with one another at Lakeside Park.She is also motivated to give back to others so they can succeed and pour into someone else’s cup as a way to keep paying the hope and encouragement forward.

As Rogers has seen in Brown’s life, it’s vital to let young, single parents in Fort Wayne know they’re not alone and that they can have a positive future. 

“So many young, single parents think that life is done—that they cannot go and do their hearts’ desires or live out their dreams that they have because they’re a single mom or a single parent,” says Rogers.

LaQueisha Brown, right, and Myla Rogers, left, catch up with one another at Lakeside Park.Brown’s story is a testament to the hope and support that exists. 

“It might be work, and it might be a little harder than somebody else might have it,” Rogers says. “But if you have the drive to succeed, and if you have the drive to move forward and do it, you can do anything you put your mind to. (Brown) happened to be one of those people who has the drive to do it. She is resilient.”

This story is part of a series on solutions developing to meet people's needs in Northeast Indiana, underwritten by Brightpoint.