“For the first time in my life, I feel like I have the tools to open doors that I never thought were possible.”

“I now have a profitable business!  I couldn’t have done it without Ascend.”

Women of Ascend

The Women of Ascend are resilient and strong.  They are creative and ingenious.  They are diligent and triumphant.

These are the Women of Ascend.  We are proud of their accomplishments and even prouder of their journeys.

Stephanie Leichtle-Chalklen, founder of Kuluntu Bakery in Dallas, embodies the spirit of
community and entrepreneurship. Her journey with Ascend Dallas began when she
sought to refine her business strategy and operations after relocating from South Africa,
where she had run a successful bakery. Enrolling in the Women’s Enterprise Center at
Ascend Dallas, Stephanie found herself among a diverse group of entrepreneurs. The
program’s coaches tailored their guidance to fit her specific needs, helping her optimize
Kuluntu Bakery’s operations for the Dallas community.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges, but with support from Ascend
Dallas, Stephanie innovated by introducing virtual baking classes and a contactless
delivery system, keeping her community-centric business thriving. Her commitment to
her bakery and community did not go unnoticed, as she received a James Beard Award
nomination in 2023, recognizing her as a leading figure in the culinary world.

Looking to the future, Stephanie plans to evolve Kuluntu Bakery into a nonprofit model,
establishing a brick-and-mortar location that serves as both a bakery and a training
facility for women. Her journey highlights the impact of Ascend Dallas’ support, enabling
her to merge her passion for baking with her commitment to community building.

Markeitia Jackson, known as Marty, embodies resilience and determination. A decade
ago, as a mother of five navigating postpartum depression and financial uncertainty,
Marty turned to Ascend Dallas’ Economic Advancement program. Living in Section 8
housing and relying on food stamps, she was determined to break the cycle of poverty
for her five children.

Marty’s engagement with the YWCA’s financial education classes, led by volunteers
with financial backgrounds, was transformative. These sessions, held in the evenings,
sparked her interest and led her to master essential financial skills like saving, reducing
debt, and building credit. Her financial coach’s guidance was crucial in turning these
new skills into stepping stones toward further achievements.

Empowered by her newfound knowledge, Marty pursued higher education relentlessly,
earning both an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in business. Amidst academic
successes, she also courageously battled and overcame breast cancer twice. Her
career advanced as she took on a pivotal role at Coca-Cola and founded her consulting
firm, all while studying for a master’s degree in business at the University of Texas at

Marty’s contributions extend beyond her professional achievements; she gives back to
the community by leading financial education classes at Ascend Dallas, sharing her
knowledge and inspiring others. Her journey from financial hardship to professional
success and community leadership illustrates the transformative power of education,
support, and determination.

In 2019, Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Green’s life changed when she discovered a small card at a local WIC office advertising the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) at Ascend Dallas. As a first-time mother 16 weeks into her pregnancy, Jackie was seeking guidance and support, which she found in abundance after joining NFP. This program not only offered her critical health and wellness advice but also provided emotional and practical support through some of her most challenging times, including the loss of her mother-in-law.

Jackie’s journey through motherhood was further complicated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the devastating effects of Winter Storm Uri, which displaced her family. However, with steadfast support from her NFP nurse, Jackie navigated these challenges, receiving a grant to cover moving expenses and mitigate the storm’s impact. Her resilience during these times was remarkable, showcasing the strength and perseverance that NFP helped cultivate.

Beyond addressing immediate challenges, NFP also supported Jackie in achieving her long-term goals. She improved her credit score, secured a part-time warehouse job, and made significant strides toward homeownership. Jackie also pursued further education, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in 2022 and working toward a Master’s degree in Community Health Education.

Today, Jackie serves as a Parent Ambassador for the NFP National Service Office, using her platform to advocate for the program’s benefits and support other families. Her story is a powerful example of how targeted support and community involvement can empower individuals to transform their lives and those around them, making a lasting impact on the community.

In June 2018, Calenthia Cheatham, known affectionately as Cece, found herself at a crossroads. Recently unemployed and living off her savings, Cece was not only pursuing her master’s degree online but also preparing for the arrival of her twin boys. It was during this time of significant change that she joined the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) at Ascend Dallas, a decision that would profoundly influence her journey through motherhood and beyond.

The birth of her sons, Nolan and Langston, on September 17, 2018, brought immense joy and new challenges to Cece’s life. As a single mother, balancing the demands of caring for twins and continuing her education tested her resolve. Yet, with the support of NFP, Cece navigated these challenges with grace and determination. She ensured her sons attended all their well-child visits and milestones and utilized early childhood intervention services when needed, demonstrating her commitment to their health and development.

Amid the joys and demands of motherhood, Cece’s academic journey culminated in earning her master’s degree, marking a significant personal achievement and paving the way for her professional future. Transitioning from an unemployed student to a working mom, Cece joined Head Start of Greater Dallas, where she contributed significantly to the community, drawing from her own experiences.

Her journey took another remarkable turn when she stepped into a managerial role at Educational First Steps. Here, her leadership qualities shone as she worked to create a stable and nurturing environment for children in her community. Her story is a powerful testament to the resilience, determination, and transformative impact of supportive programs like NFP, which provided her with the foundational support necessary to achieve her goals.

Before discovering Ascend Dallas’ Economic Advancement program, MaCara Santiago, a single mother living in Section 8 housing, faced daunting challenges. Despite these obstacles, her determination to achieve financial independence and provide a better life for her children was unyielding. Her journey began when a list of resources from her caseworker at the Dallas Housing Authority led her to Ascend Dallas’ Financial Literacy program. Reflecting on her hardships, MaCara recalls the tough times living in a shelter during her daughter’s early years and her resolve never to face such hardship again.

Enrolled in 2014, MaCara immediately showed a strong commitment to her financial education. She participated in the IDA Savings Program, which matched her savings and helped her set significant life goals. Initially, MaCara aimed to use these funds to start a business but soon shifted her focus to homeownership. Through diligent saving and the program’s guidance, she met her $3,000 savings goal and, by 2016, had purchased her first home, stepping off government assistance and marking a significant milestone in her journey.

What set the EA program apart for MaCara was not just the financial education but the community of women with similar goals, fostering a supportive environment that was crucial to her participation. Her coach, Maria Rivera, played an instrumental role in her success, providing continuous encouragement and celebrating each milestone, from repaying a title loan to purchasing her home.

Today, MaCara is a Senior Tax Accountant, specializing in services for expatriates and small businesses. She credits the Ascend Dallas program for pivotal financial lessons that allowed her to achieve homeownership in a challenging market and build a stable, prosperous future for her family.

Wendy Mosely’s story is a remarkable tale of resilience and empowerment that began with her migration from Belize to the United States in 2012. Facing significant challenges, including unrecognized nursing credentials and a new pregnancy, Wendy found herself in a vulnerable position. However, her journey took a positive turn when she joined the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) at Ascend Dallas, a pivotal move that shaped her future.

Through NFP, Wendy met Nurse Ashley, who visited her home twice a month. These sessions were not only about prenatal care but also became a source of personal growth and professional inspiration. Nurse Ashley provided a safe space for Wendy to learn and grow, discussing everything from health concerns to personal aspirations without judgment. This empowering relationship inspired Wendy to pursue her dream of becoming a registered nurse in the United States.

With Nurse Ashley’s guidance, Wendy set and achieved SMART goals, which led to obtaining her nursing license in Texas. Her journey continued as she joined the NFP team as a Nurse Home Visitor, furthering her education and eventually becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. In 2022, Wendy was promoted to Nurse Manager at NFP, where she now leads and mentors a team of nurses, exemplifying the profound impact that NFP can have on individuals and their communities.