Life Lessons

Polk County Itemizer-Observer
Jolene Guzman
June 04, 2013

DALLAS — Just three years ago, Dallas resident Amy Ringering felt trapped.

She was in a relationship with a controlling and abusive man. Without a high school education and two young boys to support, Ringering believed she had no option but to stay.

That is until she decided to go back to school. The decision brought a change in perspective that, in the end, led her to change her life.

“I thought, `If I don’t get an education, I will be in this situation 10 years from now,'” said Ringering, 29, now studying gerontology at Western Oregon University. “It was really hard because he (her ex-boyfriend) pretty much did all that he could to make it difficult for me to go.”

But she did go. And within a year she had earned her GED — in impressive fashion given that she hadn’t attended school regularly since the age of 10, when her parents pulled her and her siblings out of school.

The children were taken out of school due to a difficult family situation and Ringering was self-taught after that. Thus, earning a GED was a significant step for her.

“It was pretty awesome because I scored in the top 1 percent in the nation,” she said. “I was shocked. I was actually a little bit upset because I had waited all this time to get it and I thought it would be really horrible and it wasn’t. It actually made me feel really good.”

From there Ringering was on a roll. In another year she completed Chemeketa Community College’s social services program, maintaining a 4.0 GPA throughout.

Two years ago, she also summoned the courage to leave her ex-boyfriend and father of her youngest son — with the help of family — and move out on her own for the first time.

“I suffered from really low self-esteem,” Ringering said. “I didn’t have any confidence, and with no education I didn’t feel like I had any options. I was in relationships and that was how I got through life.”

Ringering’s life is very much her own these days. She and her sons, Kason, 10, and Xzander, 6, live in Dallas.

Her successes — already personally rewarding — have begun to bear fruit in her academic career at WOU.

Ringering recently found out she has been awarded the Ford Family Foundation’s Opportunity Program scholarship, which is awarded to single parents. It will pay for 90 percent of her unmet school-related costs next year, up to $25,000.

WOU has also offered her two $1,000 merit scholarships, one general and the other through the gerontology department.

Amy Ringering, Ford Family Foundation Opportunity Program scholarship recipient
Amy Ringering, Ford Family Foundation Opportunity Program scholarship recipient.
Photo by Pete Strong

Ringering will use the scholarships to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in gerontology at WOU. She then hopes to transfer to Portland State University to earn a master’s degree in social work. The Opportunity Scholarship will also cover part of her master’s degree study.

Her career goal is to become a social worker advocating for older adults.

“I prefer to work with older people,” she said. “I just always loved older people. My family would go and visit shut-ins often and it just brought us lots of joy.”

Margaret Manoogian, a professor of gerontology at WOU, said Ringering’s recent honors are well deserved.

This year, Ringering’s first at WOU, Manoogian assigned her to a gerontology research team and through that project was able to get a sense of what kind of social worker Ringering will become.

“I think she will be excellent,” Manoogian said. “She’s a good listener. She’s compassionate and she will be very conscientious. She will really follow through with what needs to be done.”

Manoogian said just in the last year she has seen Ringering gradually become more expressive in class and take on leadership positions in the school’s gerontology student association and honor society chapter.

She added that the single mother’s dogged pursuit of her education and career will benefit more than her future clients.

“She’s creating a legacy for her children,” Manoogian said. “I bet they will be more successful because of what she is doing now.”

Though Ringering admits to having “bit off more than I can chew this year” when she transferred to WOU, she has managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA. She believes those marks will be needed for admission to PSU’s competitive program.

Ringering has one more year at WOU before she can transfer to the program, but in the meantime she and her sons still are adjusting to living life on their own.

That has been yet another challenge, but a positive one.

“They are both in better places now I think,” she said, smiling. “They are both doing well in school.”

Unlike many, Ringering refuses to look at her past as a detriment; in fact, she sees it as the source of her determination and ability to feel empathy for others.

“I can’t say I would change anything because it’s made me who I am,” she said. “And I like who I am.

“Even being able to say that has taken a long time.”

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