Single mom determined to turn family's life around
Move from Milwaukee to West Allis highlights a 'blessed' year
West Allis — It would have been more than convenient for Lina Pezanoski to follow the crowd.
She could have kept receiving government assistance like she had for the previous 13 years. She could have abused the system in the same way as her neighbors on Milwaukee's northwest side.
She could have turned a blind eye to the people her children were hanging out with and the problems they were having in school.
Though it left her depressed, angry and fearful for her kids, she could have simply stayed the course.
But Pezanoski wanted something better for herself and her family. No matter how long it took her, she was determined to change the direction her life was taking.
"Some people may feel like this is it for them and this is where they're going to be. This is their life," Pezanoski explained. "For us, I knew it wasn't going to be."
Employer takes a chance
Managers at Heat Treating Engineers, a small Milwaukee-based company, saw that determination. They were willing to not only take a chance on Pezanoski, but go out of their way to help her family get into a better situation.
On June 1, after three years and a few pay raises, Pezanoski and her two children moved into a cozy apartment near 92nd Street and National Avenue.
Pezanoski's face lights up when asked to describe that day. Her smile is all one needs to know about the past she left behind and the outlook she has for the future.
"I have been truly blessed and fortunate to be where I am now," she said.
In search of a career
Pezanoski, 36, is a single mother of two. Javasi, 15, is a freshman at Central while Kenyatta, 13, is in the eighth grade at Frank Lloyd Wright Intermediate School.
The family lived on Milwaukee's north side for years while Pezanoski worked many jobs - driving Milwaukee County buses, working at a Family Dollar store and McDonald's.
She considered none of them a career. Through employment services and networking, she found the job opening at Heat Training Engineers.
The interview landed her a temporary position. After working a probationary period, she was brought on full time as a quality assurance technician.
The 15-employee, 62-year-old company near 54th and State streets heat treats aluminum, metal and steel for many area foundries and does some government work as well.
Unlike many people who are faced dealt with layoffs, furloughs, wage freezes, salary cuts or a combination of all four, Pezanoski has found stability in her job despite of the recession.
Her bosses knew of her situation on Milwaukee's northwest side, as well as her desire to improve it. She received a few raises, including one this year, and eventually built up enough money to look for a new place to live.
Apartment a dream come true
Government aid doesn't look good on an apartment application, or so Pezanoski thought. While she desperately wanted the place she found in West Allis, she bit her nails for about 24 hours, afraid that where she came from would deny her family the opportunity to move up.
The next day, her landlord presented her with a lease to sign. She made a tearful phone call to her mother to bring her the good news and almost immediately began packing the van.
But while June 1, 2009, is a day Pezanoski won't soon forget, the move was far from easy because she knows her children's friends don't have that same chance.
The former Pezanoski house was a refuge of sorts for them. They looked up to Javasi and Kenyatta. After spending time with the Pezanoski crew, they would have to return to their households.
"A lot of the kids weren't so good to hang around with," Javasi said. "It was kind of troublesome."
Pezanoski weeps as she thinks about those children. Her own, while arguably better off in the long run, also had to abandon friends and attend schools in which they knew no one.
But it was a move that simply had to be made. Pezanoski had worked too hard not to put her and her children in the best situation possible.
Impressed with the schools
After just four months, the children's time at Central and Frank Lloyd Wright schools is already the best of their life, at least in their mother's eyes.
Unlike prior experiences, Pezanoski saw teachers in the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District who genuinely care about her kids. This fall's parent-teacher conferences were the best ever.
"The teachers are amazing," Pezanoski said. "The care and concern that they have, that I have seen (for) my kids, makes it all worth it."
Sure, there have been speed bumps along the way, and undoubtedly there will be more to come.
But even though her family finds their lives in an upswing, Pezanoski is determined to advance in her career and wants to go back to school and take management classes.
While she's thankful on how things have gone so far, she wants to do even better.
"There's so many years I did what I had to do to get by," Pezanoski said. "Now I have to pick up the pieces and make up for all that time."
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