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AVON PARK, Fla. –Dec. 2, 2021 – As a child, Madeline (“Maddie”) Charles wanted to become a doctor — specifically, a pediatrician, because she loved children. As she grew up and spent time researching the field, she decided that, as a nurse, she could build stronger relationships with patients.
Years later, Charles graduates with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from South Florida State College (SFSC) and will be the student speaker at the College’s Commencement on Thursday, Dec. 16 at 6:45 p.m. at the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts on the Highlands Campus in Avon Park.
All through her school years, Charles was studious and attentive. While attending Avon Park High School, she was enrolled in SFSC’s dual enrollment program, which allowed her to take college-level courses. She graduated in the top 10% of her high school class and qualified for a Bright Futures scholarship to college.
However, obstacles came her way in her young life. Growing up, her mother had Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation throughout the body. And her father was a missionary, a job that took him away to Haiti frequently and for long periods of time. When she was 15 years old, the family moved from Homestead, Fla. to Avon Park. Shortly before the move, Charles discovered that she was pregnant.
“At Avon Park High School, people were supportive,” Charles said. “I even had two teachers who threw my baby shower for me, and I got many supplies to help me during my first year of being a mother.”
Although Charles was preparing to have a child, she was determined to continue her education. “When I told my school counselor, Mrs. Griffin, that I wanted to graduate that school year, she didn’t look at me and say, ‘You don’t want that much on your plate. You’re pregnant, and you’re going to have your baby in the middle of the school year.’ Instead, she said, ‘I’m going to show you how you can get it done.’ And she did. She helped me graduate and made sure that I met all my requirements and graduate with a Bright Futures scholarship.” Charles’ daughter, Arabella or “Bella,” was born during Thanksgiving break in Charles’ senior year in high school.
In the meantime, the pastor at Charles’ church — Avon Park Lakes Baptist Church — had recommended that she attend parenting classes at Choices Family Resources Center in Avon Park, a family planning center. At the center, she could earn “Baby Bucks” to use in its store for diapers, clothing, a car seat, a crib, and more.
“Although I don’t attend parenting classes anymore, the counselors from that program are still in our lives today,” Charles said. “Now, I volunteer there as much as I can. As a volunteer, I restock the store, watch children of clients while they take parenting classes, and answer phone calls.”
“Bella was 2 or 3 years old when I started the Nursing program at SFSC,” Charles said. “I was able to take her to the RCMA Avon Park Child Development Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., which fit amazingly into my class schedule — we had classes 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.” On days when she had Nursing clinicals or labs in the afternoon, Charles could rely on a married couple from church to pick Bella up from RCMA.
Charles was inspired to go into nursing because of her mother. “My mother got her master’s degree in criminal justice while having lupus,” she said. “She never got to use her degree, because she passed away. But seeing how she had an illness and still worked toward a degree, drove me. My mother had many episodes where her systems would flare up so much she needed acute care at the hospital. Seeing how the nurses, who worked 12 hours at a time, provided care to her really touched me. They made a connection with me, everyone in my family, and my mother. That’s the kind of connection I wanted to make with other people.”
Charles was accepted into SFSC’s Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program and graduated in 2020. While a student, she was a member of the Student Nurses Association and was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She also participated in the Work-Study program, tutoring other students in SFSC’s Tutoring and Learning Center Math Lab.
After graduation, she began working on the Progressive Care Unit at AdventHealth Sebring. “On that floor, we usually take care of post-surgical patients and those with a cardiac issue or patients who need close monitoring, but not Intensive Care Unit-level of care. However, from August 2020 until about April 2021, the floor was primarily patients being treated for COVID-19.”
Charles now works as a nurse in the Labor and Delivery Unit at the hospital. She plans to give herself a year off from studies after earning her bachelor’s degree. “In 2023, I’ll be starting a master’s program to become a certified nurse midwife,” she said. “During my year off, I want to use that time to get experience in a health care office — perhaps, shadowing the doctors or a nurse practitioner that has their own practice. I’d like to learn the business side of health care — dealing with insurance, scheduling patients, how to protect healthcare records. I’d like to couple all that with my master’s education to be able to open a practice here in the community in the future.”
Charles’ advice to single parents considering college is this: “This community is good at lifting up the elderly and single mothers. And Highlands County is pro-family. Research is your best friend. When it comes to resources in the community, you could miss out on what they provide for you. Everyone goes at their own pace. Even if it takes you longer, college shouldn’t be seen as a stressor permanently. You may need to take one class at a time. Once you see how demanding one class is, you may then be ready to take more during a semester.”