Meet BADASSMOM OF THE MONTH Stephanie Baptist
I was born in Jacksonville, FL, & I'm the middle child of 5 children. My parents divorced when I was young, and both remarried. When I was about 8, my mom's husband at the time had started sexually abusing me. This went on for months until I finally told someone. What had happened to me had changed me, so I wasn't a very outgoing child. My family didn't have a lot of money either. As I got older, not having a good personality, & my family not having a lot of money, I was chosen as the target for severe harassment & bullying by my peers. It started in the 4th grade, & it didn't stop until I reached high school. I hated my life & myself. I became very angry & started fighting my bullies, and I was winning. It was a great feeling, but becoming toxic. My dad decided to take me out of high school at the beginning of my Junior year, & I went from working for him part-time, to full-time, doing lawn-care. I had started working for him when I was 14. I moved out as an adult when I was 17, moved in with roommates, & I received my GED.
I moved around a lot, including Hawaii, which was beautiful. I worked my butt off, & partied just as hard. I had no self-esteem, no self-love, no self-anything. I was just empty, not knowing who I was, or who I was supposed to be. Right before my 26th birthday, I found out I was pregnant with my son. I worked 2 jobs throughout my entire pregnancy with him, knowing I was going to be raising him on my own. During my pregnancy with my son, I started dating someone and moved in with him. Then, when my son was 6 weeks old (2005), he told me that he wasn't ready to be a "dad." I was devastated, and I had to find places to live with my infant son until he was about 3 months old, & I was able to get into a low-income, 2 - bedroom apartment. I just kept working my butt off, 2 & 3 jobs, but I was still the same, insecure, no self-anything, me. When my son was 11 months old, I became pregnant with my daughter. I worked 2 jobs during my pregnancy with her too. When my daughter was 3 months old, I received a phone call at work 1 night & I was told that her dad had been found dead. He had gone to a party, went to sleep & didn't wake up. So, even though we weren't together, devastation #2 happened.
I moved to Atlantic Beach in June of 2009. My son was 4, & my daughter was 2. I rented a little house on Main St. I was working full-time for the U.S. Postal Service, & I had started a small housekeeping business. I was also going to college at night. I'd always been paying for childcare since both of my kids were 3 weeks old, but now I was paying even more because I had moved far away from my mom, who had been helping me by watching the kids when I was working my 2nd job. I had also met the man that I ended up marrying. He was a severe drug addict, so he was never around. He had 2 children, and I helped raise them as well. I loved them very much, and I would just hold onto the hope that one day he would get better, & we would be 1 big happy family. But, it just stayed a living Hell, & things got even worse. I was raising 4 kids PLUS a mentally ill husband . . . for 7 1/2 years.
I still worked my butt off the entire time through my marriage, & eventually, I left the Post Office, & started cleaning houses full-time. I had a lot of clients, but I was still struggling because of childcare, & all of the other bills I had to pay by myself for so many years. Some of my clients saw what I was going through, & without me even asking, they would just do random acts of kindness. I was always so grateful, & I never forgot what any of them did for me. I had a couple of family members who also did nice things to help out once in a while too. I was never good at asking for help, or accepting help if it was offered, so they would just have to do it without me knowing pretty much.
A New Me:
Once my marriage ended, & I was in a better place, I decided it was time to start giving back what I could when I could. I had already started by helping my neighbor who was disabled. One Christmas, the kids & I decided to decorate the outside of his house. He loved it! I also helped one of the neighborhood kids who wasn't going to have a Christmas tree by giving his dad my artificial tree, & buying them decorations. I started buying my kids & I a real tree that year, & I haven't stopped. In 2018, I decided to go viral, so I made a post on the Atlantic Beach Facebook pg, as well as a couple of the other groups, & I asked for donations of gently used Christmas trees & decorations. I went around & picked up all of the donations. I called it "Operation Christmas Tree," and I was able to help local families who couldn’t afford to buy Christmas trees. I was also able to give the families gift-cards that locals had donated. Then, on Easter 2019, I did "Operation Easter Basket," Where I collected donations at the Atlantic Beach Police Department & Atlantic Beach Elementary School. With the help of volunteers, & the use of the Community Center on Francis St. in Atl. Beach, we put together over 120 Easter baskets to donate to local kids in the community, as well as food baskets to local families. Easter 2020 was much smaller because of COVID, but I was able to donate to a few families. And, in January 2019, I started the Facebook group Mayport & Beaches Neighbors helping Neighbors (facebook.com/groups/MBNHN). I felt like our community needed something like this. The community really comes together when you ask it to! Today, the group has over 1,000 members, & I feel like it's been a great success. Dozens of people have been helped through the group, either by people helping financially, donating items or by people just pointing them in the right direction as to where to go for help. People can also post about local events happening in our area. This year, I had my 2nd annual Yard Sale/Charity Drive, & with the help of volunteers, we raised $2,000. This money will be going towards helping even more people in our community, especially during the holidays.
About my Business:
While I was cleaning houses, in 2018, I started watching some of my clients' pets on the side for extra money. I loved it so much that I started finding more clients for pet sitting, and eventually, I turned it into a business. It's called Stephanie's Pet Sitting (facebook.com/petsittingusa). I love it! Yes, it's a lot of hard work, but I get to work with adorable pets, & I get to be around my kids so much more now, & they help me! Today my pet sitting business is what I do full-time, 24/7. And, honestly, I can't even tell you how many clients I have because almost every week I get new clients. I've worked my butt off to get to where I'm at, & I'm ready to move forward. I thought COVID was going to drown me, but somehow, I made it through the current, & I'm back on top, riding this wave. My current goal is to grow my business by hiring employees, as well as offer other services, so that’s my next step. And, of course, I'm so grateful & thankful for all of my amazing clients who have stuck with me, and who I continue to receive :)
Finally, My Kids:
My kids are my #1 priority, my Life, my heart & my soul. They've been with me through thick & thin, good & bad, happy & sad . . . all of the above. I've made PLENTY of mistakes along the long, hard path of being a single mother, but they know that I'm doing the absolute best that I can, & that no matter what, I love THEM most. I've taught both of them how to do everything. The only thing that I haven't been able to do with them, is to take them on a vacation, which hopefully, one day that will happen. Today my son is a Sophomore at Fletcher High, standing over 6 feet tall, & he can cook & surf better than me. He will be 16 in March, & I've been working on his driving skills, keeping up with his grades & trying to find him a job. He has a big heart, & he loves to joke around. My daughter will be 14 in November. She's in the 8th grade, tall & beautiful, & tough like me. She loves to surf, & she's very outgoing, & I'm so happy about that. I didn't want her, or my son, to have to endure the bullying that I went through as a child. Jada's on the Volleyball team, so in between working & charity work, I show my support, & my lung capacity at her games. I'm so proud of her! I am very proud of both of my kids, & who they are becoming. I always let them know that they can come to me about anything, & that I am always here for THEM, first & foremost.