Jennifer’s ex-husband was a meth addict. When she was 15, she watched his friends make meth. “I laugh when I think about how many thousands of dollars of meth I flushed down the toilet,” she said. “I wanted him to think I was cool, so I said I would do lines in the bathroom, but I was actually flushing it down the toilet.”
She has never put an illegal drug in her body. And she doesn’t give up easily. On anything. Life was difficult, but Jennifer wasn't ready to quit. “I continued with school through the fall of my second year,” she said. “After that I knew I couldn't do it anymore. I got divorced, moved home, and got a job.”
“I was lost,” Jennifer said. “I felt that I had let my parents down. I felt ashamed of myself, felt as though I had ruined my life by my own poor choices.”
Hefner looked at her baby, Katie, born on Valentine’s Day, and knew she wouldn’t be able to give her daughter the life she deserved without the education to get a good job.
“That's when I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to start taking some night classes,” Jennifer said. She worked a full-time job, a part-time job and went to school part-time at night. Her counselor, Dick Henry at North Arkansas Community College (NACC), now called Northark, who had also been her high school counselor, encouraged her to apply for a Single Parent Scholarship.
“He had faith in me, which in turn gave me faith in myself,” Hefner said. “I was awarded a scholarship and it made me feel good about myself, as though I could do this, I could be a college graduate. I remember having my picture taken for the newspaper. I was so proud of myself. It was like a great accomplishment for me.”
Jennifer took small steps and eventually obtained her Associate of Applied Science Degree in Criminal Justice in May, 1999. Because she worked two jobs and went to school part-time, it took her eight years to get her Associate’s degree from Arkansas State University in Mountain Home (ASUMH).
“Although I finished up my degree at ASU,” she said, “the majority of my classes were taken at NACC, and the Single Parent Scholarship is truly what I believe put me on the path of obtaining an education, something I thought was never going to be possible.”
Jennifer had been a single parent for six years when she met and married Jerl Hefner, Special Agent with the Arkansas State Police. They have been married for almost 9 years.
“Jerl knew that I really wanted to continue my education,” she said, “so he encouraged me to do so. He was very supportive. I enrolled in ASUMH again and started working toward a Bachelor of Arts degree. I worked full-time while going to school. Luckily, I had a very gracious employer, Samuel J. Pasthing, Attorney at Law, who worked with me as far as taking classes during my lunch hour or leaving early to get to class. My last semester of school, I carried 24 hours in order to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in the spring of 2003.”
The next fall, she started all over again.
“I was a first-year student at the University of Arkansas William H. Bowen School of Law, and I was 30 years old! I blame David Ethredge, Attorney at Law, for causing that lapse in sanity,” Jennifer said. “I have a great deal of respect for David, both professionally and as a friend. The greatest thing he taught me was to not settle for anything less than what I truly wanted to achieve. So, for the next four years, I lived in Conway during the week, commuted to Little Rock daily for class, and came home to see my husband and daughter on the weekends. I graduated in May, 2007 with a Juris Doctor Degree.
“If I hadn't received the Single Parent Scholarship, I'm not sure that I would have attempted the challenge of returning to college. First, money was definitely an issue. Second, I didn't have the confidence in myself. And, third, I didn't really think that it was possible as a single parent. The Single Parent Scholarship helped financially. It gave me the confidence to believe in myself, and it helped me to overcome the mindset that it wasn't possible for single parents to receive a college education. As I recall, I used the scholarship money to pay household bills such as my electric bill and water bill.”
Today she is giving back by serving as chairman of the 12th Annual Holiday Tour of Homes sponsored by the Marion County Christian Women’s Club. All proceeds go to the Single Parent Scholarship Fund.
“The Single Parent Scholarship is truly what I believe put me on the path of obtaining an education, something I thought was never going to be possible,” said Hefner, who now wants to help single parents who have a dream but don't know exactly where or how to start turning it into reality.
“I call it a dream rather than a goal,” Jennifer said, “because, as a single parent, sometimes things that others take for granted, like a college education, seem impossible, not real.”