Soon after Denise Smith graduated from high school in 1999, she fell in love. She married two years later, instantly becoming a mom to her husband's 3-year-old daughter, Madison.
They decided Denise would stay home and care for her stepdaughter. Soon she was pregnant with their daughter, Jacklyn. Two years later they had a son, Gage.
But a decade of marriage unraveled in 2011, and Denise found herself a single mother with three kids, including a stepdaughter who had become like her own. While her husband was supportive, nothing had prepared her for what lay ahead.
A high-school education and 10 years' experience as a homemaker didn't qualify Denise for a job that would support three kids, now 15, 10 and 8. Her first job, in a fast-food restaurant, earned her only $60 a week.
In September 2011, Denise made a life-changing decision to enroll in Pat Wilson’s Beauty College in Henderson, 30 miles from her home in Owensboro. At first, she was shy and insecure. Samantha Buckman, an instructor, remembers when Denise did her first roller set and ran to the bathroom in tears. Since then, though, Denise has experienced her own makeover, inside and out.
Denise has blossomed into a secure, confident woman with help from her second family at the beauty college.
And she has learned skills that any community needs — and that can't be outsourced to another country.
With support from her ex-husband, Stephen Smith, and family, Denise said she is well on her way to being
able to support her family.
"I'm proud of her," daughter Jacklyn said of her mother. "Really proud."