The ‘Positive path’ — Mary Burridge balances children, work, graduate degree
Mary Burridge balances two young children, a full-time job and earning a graduate degree from UNC-W
By Susan Shinn Turner for The Salisbury Post
Do you think it’s silly that a 31-year-old woman wants to attend her graduation ceremony to receive her master’s degree?
No. Of course not.
For the past two years, Mary Burridge has been working on an online program through UNC-W. In May, she’ll receive her master’s in educational leadership, policy and advocacy, with a specialization in early childhood education. She has accomplished all this while working full-time as family program manager for Smart Start Rowan. She also had her second child last year.
Mary, a single mom to Greenleigh, who turns 6 in April, and Gunner, who turns 1 in April, doesn’t have extra money to go to Wilmington to receive her degree.
“I grew up in a family where education did not matter,” Mary says. “But it opens doors and provides opportunities. I didn’t want to be stuck in a rut. I truly love early childhood education. I just love children. They’re magical creatures.”
Mary received a TEACH scholarship which covers 100 percent of her tuition. She also received a $500 scholarship from Altrusa for books in the 2017-2018 program year.
She admits that juggling a family, a full-time job, and school is not easy.
It truly is a balancing act,” she says. “Some days I fall into bed. There are times I’ve had very little sleep because I had to get a paper done. But I didn’t want to put my kids on the back burner, either. I’m a completely single mom. I’m 100 percent responsible for my children’s well-being.”
Mary works hard, but lives paycheck to paycheck. She rents a house in China Grove and would love to own her own home one day. Since January, she’s been working out with David Freeze in a partnership between Gold’s Gym and the Hurley Y to help her get healthier. Freeze reports on her progress each month in the Post, and the program is free to Mary and the other two participants.
Here’s what he had to say about Mary: “Mary is following a strenuous wellness program and I have been impressed by her determination during the nine weeks that we have worked together. She is always positive, never misses a workout and she works hard whether in front of me or doing it on her own. Mary goes all out. She kept doing her exercise even when she had shin splints. On top of that, I love her personality. Mary is always fun to be around.
“Mary is very sharp, usually thinking ahead and researching certain aspects such as nutrition above and beyond what we have discussed. She is going to be a success at whatever she does.”
Mary changed her work hours slightly to allow for morning workouts. Through her TEACH scholarship, she’s allowed three hours of work time per week to study, for which she is grateful to her employer.
“Mary has worked so hard to complete her master’s degree, while raising two children and working a busy and full work schedule,” says Amy Brown, Smart Start Rowan’s executive director. “She has a true passion for her work, she has a giving and caring heart, and she is deeply invested in and committed to the children and families that Smart Start Rowan serves. We are extremely proud of all that she has achieved, and we know it would mean the world to her if she were able to make the trip to Wilmington.”
Although Smart Start Rowan serves families of all children in Rowan County ages birth to 5, Mary has a special place in her heart for families in need.
“I did not grow up with a lot of resources,” she says. “My mom did finish high school, but her income potential was limited. She was a single mom. We were without power and without water sometimes, so yeah, it was rough. So I can relate to our families.”
The memory of seeing her own mom struggle is what drives her, she says. “I want my children to see that education matters. With hard work, you get results.”
And walking across that stage — and seeing those results — is something she really wants to do.
“I haven’t planned for it,” she admits. “It’s doable to go to Wilmington and back in one day, but I want to take my children and I want my daughter to see this.”
Mary says she’s looked online at some hotels, and has been shocked at the rates. Her dream, however, is to make a long weekend of it, arriving in Wilmington the day before graduation on May 4, and then spending time there with her children and her mom.
“I’d just like to have some time away and enjoy it,” she says of graduation. “I want to savor the accomplishment, and say, ‘You did it!’”
In keeping with her healthy lifestyle goals, she’d even like to run a 5K that Saturday morning, to benefit a local school.
“I thought David would be proud if I did that,” she notes.
Her dream weekend, she figures, would cost about $1,000.
At present, Mary has a 3.88 GPA, and she doesn’t know what her next career move will be.
“If God opens a door for me, I have to follow,” she says. “I’m not scared to leave Smart Start Rowan, but it would have to be the right thing, because I love my job.”
Growing up, Mary was abused by a family member, which was one reason she did her master’s internship with Prevent Child Abuse Rowan.
“I loved every minute of it,” she says.
“Mary has overcome so many obstacles to get to where she is today, and she is certainly an inspiration to so many,” says Beth McKeithan, the organization’s executive director. “She gives true meaning to the saying, ‘She believed she could and she did!’ Mary turns her cant’s into can’s and her dreams into plans. We are proud of her!”
If you ever see Mary, she’s always smiling.
“People cope in different ways,” she explains. “My coping mechanism has always been to help others. It just comes naturally to me. I do love what I do and I love being happy.”
At the encouragement of the late Shirley Ritchie, Mary received her undergraduate degree from Catawba College.
“For me,” she says, “I chose the positive path. It’s just how I cope.”
If you’d like to help Mary with her graduation trip, you may drop off donations to her at Smart Start Rowan, 1329 S. Jake Alexander Blvd. If you have any questions, call her at 704-639-9085.