Twins help tackle family's financial hardship
JANESVILLE Alyssa and Kayzia Whiteaker were born two months premature. Parents Jerad and Tammy were told they would never excel in life.
“So I think my mom’s goal was to prove the doctors wrong,” Alyssa said.
“School was always our top priority. It came before work,” Kayzia added.
That’s quite the statement coming from these twins, who have held down jobs, working 20 to 30 hours a week during their high school years.
But they worked hard at school, as well. Alyssa finished 12th in her class, Kayzia 33rd out of about 330 graduates.
The 18-year-olds graduated Friday with the rest of the Parker High School Class of 2013.
The twins’ accomplishments came as their family struggled through the Great Recession.
Jerad worked at General Motors but took a buyout when the plant closed so as not to uproot the family. He spent time on unemployment, and Tammy worked. The twins were in middle school.
“We had no money,” Alyssa recalled.
Their parents told the twins that if they wanted a car, cellphone or to go out to the movies with friends, they would have to pay for it.
“We knew we needed to get jobs as soon a we could,” Kayzia said.
“If we wanted to live the way we preferred,” Alyssa said.
“It was also a life lesson (their parents believed), that you have to work for everything you want,” Kayzia said.
And to learn to manage money, Alyssa said.
“We’re thrifty,” Alyssa said.
“Very thrifty,” Kayzia agreed.
The girls took advantage of sales and clearance racks and shopped at Goodwill. They made enough money that they could loan their parents money for daily necessities.
“But as soon as that next check comes in, they always pay us back,” Alyssa said.
The girls learned about sacrifice. The Friday night football or basketball games were not something they could count on. They had to work it out with their bosses to take the time off.
Kayzia nearly missed her junior prom because she could not buy a dress. She was saved by the Parker Prom Turn-Around, which recycles used prom dresses.
Both twins held a variety of jobs. They both do office work now—Alyssa at the Frank Boucher auto dealership, where her mother works, and Kayzia at Douglas and Mork chiropractic office.
Work and academics were not enough for the twins.
Both were in student council, Key Club, Book Club, and National and Spanish honor societies. Both also competed in cross country.
Kayzia competed in volleyball and debate. She performed in musicals and was a class officer.
Alyssa was in basketball her freshman year and DECA for three years, two of those as president.
DECA coach and marketing teacher John Zimmerman had the biggest impact on her at Parker, Alyssa said.
“DECA has been my life,” she said. “Critical and creative thinking, that’s what I like.”
Zimmerman called Alyssa driven, responsible and a leader. She wrote a 30-page marketing research paper each of the past two years, something few DECA competitors do, he said.
Her latest project was an analysis of how to improve the website of a local business. As DECA president, she got others to buy into the idea that they should take on community service projects, he said.
Zimmerman said he is lucky to have had Alyssa as a student, that she inspired him to make sure he is doing his job to the best of his ability.
Debate was Kayzia’s passion.
Teacher and debate coach Brian Devine said Kayzia almost always had a smile on her face. He said others on the debate team were more talented, but Kayzia persevered.
“She was always a hard worker, and she was always willing to see everything through. It was a struggle for her at times,” he said. “She rose above what she thought she was capable of doing, and it’s always neat to see that.”
“He made me feel I was part of something,” Kayzia said of Devine. “We learned teamwork and how to rely on each other—like how high school works—rely on others to reach your goals.”
The twins will continue their educations at UW-Platteville. Kayzia will be a biology major. Alyssa will major in mechanical engineering and business.
They plan to get jobs in college and take out loans. It’s an investment that will pay off with better jobs, they said.
“We’re not going to let anything get in our way,” Kayzia said.
That drive to succeed, she said, comes from their parents.
The twins said family—including their younger brother—is everything to them. Their dad was always their coach, their mom sometimes coach, sometimes cheerleader.
“We may not always get along with them, but they’re always there when we need them,” Kayzia said.
Kayzia said she and Alyssa were raised to work for what they wanted but not to focus on the material.
“Money is not the main priority in life,” Kayzia said. “Happiness is.”