Katherine Massena learned the challenges of being a single mother the first time she took her sons fishing. Skilled in a sport she had practiced as a child, she hooked a fish and hit it on the head quickly to kill it.
“Mommy,” her younger son screeched in shock. “You killed that fish! I loved that fish.”
“He was horrified at what I had done,” Katherine recalls. “I realized that killing a fish was not a mom thing to do and that it was important to be mom. I knew then I couldn’t be both mom and dad.”
Katherine faced a second challenge: raising children of a different race. She and her ex-husband adopted two Korean siblings when they were just toddlers. “Over the years, the boys have encountered some prejudice and stereotypes about Asians,” she says. “They don’t talk about it much, but I know it has hurt their hearts.”
As a kindergarten teacher for a Montessori school, Katherine never thought she could afford to send her sons to a private college. But a conversation with Westmont parents who attend her church opened her eyes.
“They told me not to be afraid of a Christian college because financial aid was available,” Katherine recalls. “They encouraged me at just the right time.”
Thanks to merit and diversity scholarships from Westmont and a Cal Grant from the state, Katherine’s son, Casey ’06, finished his first year of college debt-free. A small loan helped him get through the next year. His brother, Andrew ’08, enrolls at Westmont this fall and also relies on generous financial aid.
Due to budget cuts in California, students learned this spring they would likely receive smaller Cal Grants. While government officials deliberated over the budget, Katherine and Andrew went on a media fast. Turning off the television helped them spend more time in prayer. “We have faith that the Cal Grant will increase, and not watching TV has really added to my quality of life,” Katherine reports.
“My boys are hard-working and have always had jobs,” she says. “They do their part to help pay for college.”
When Katherine took Casey to Westmont for orientation in 2002, she discovered another downside of single parenthood. No one shared the experience of saying an emotional good-bye and driving home without her son.
But Katherine has found support from other Westmont parents. For two years, she has served on the Parents Council, which meets twice a year with college officials to present parents’ perspectives. The group also serves as a resource for other parents.
Dependence on God is the deepest lesson Katherine has learned from single parenthood. “Thankfully, he took me by the hand and led me through the college process,” she says.
While Katherine grew up in a Christian home, she did a lot of spiritual searching after her teenage brother died. “Losing a member of my family made me seek answers to the deep questions of life,” she says. “I wandered away from my faith for awhile, but finally came back and found answers there. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long.”
The Massenas attend Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, Calif., near their Santa Cruz home. “Our church has been the primary way God has worked in our lives,” Katherine says. “He has shown his love to us through our church family and has given us a place to develop our gifts.”
Casey, a serious student committed to his studies, has participated in ministry programs at Westmont, such as Potter’s Clay and the outreach to Juvenile Hall. He goes to Japan with an Emmaus Road team from Westmont for a short-term mission in July.
With both her sons in college this fall, Katherine looks forward to new adventures in her life. “I’m open to whatever God has in store for me,” she says.