Local nonprofit leader, former teen mom reflects on success
March 11--CHEYENNE -- Lisa Pena speaks with confidence and warmth as she waits outside of Climb Wyoming's office on 17th Street with a mobile phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
It's clear she's someone who knows herself well; her words flow freely with humility.
She apologizes for interrupting the conversation, giving verbal authorizations on her phone as part of her role as crew leader for Wyoming Weatherization Services.
The organization is a nonprofit charity that works with the Weatherization Assistance Program to reduce energy costs for low-income families, particularly the elderly and disabled.
Pena takes pride in what she does, and makes an honest living doing it.
"I'm really making a difference in people's lives," she said. "I'm changing the world in my own way."
The south Cheyenne native said her father raised her to be strong and handy; the two were always building, repairing and hunting together.
She was always a nontraditional student, taking more pleasure from hands-on, physical endeavors than in classic textbook curriculum.
"I'm too loud to work inside," she said.
Pena learned she was pregnant the day before she graduated from Cheyenne High School III in 2000.
Unsure of what her next step was, the single mother joined Climb Wyoming's young parent program, seeking a better life for her children. By the time she was 20 years old, she was a mother to two young sons, Cole and Kade.
Climb Wyoming is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides job training, life skills and career placement to single mothers in Wyoming. It was developed in the late 1980s to help young mothers out of poverty, but has since evolved into a program encouraging mothers of all ages to achieve upward mobility.
It trains women for occupations in construction and energy, health care, truck driving and clerical work.
Pena was originally placed in a construction program, framing houses and rebuilding foundations, often up to 70 hours per week. She said the benefits were rewarding, but "I realized I was never going to spend time with my family if I kept this up," she said.
Working in a male-dominated field, Pena learned early how to handle herself around co-workers, especially ones who put her in a difficult position as a blue-collar woman.
"You have to address it head on, because those things will just fester," she said.
Her time working construction taught her invaluable skills, but establishing balance was, at times, overwhelming.
Pena said she vividly remembers, though, when she knew the commitment was worth it.
"My boys came with me to work, and they were so excited and impressed that I knew how to climb a ladder," she said. Such a simple moment taught her the significance of being a strong role model in her sons' lives, emphasizing hard work at a young age.
Pena said it was divine intervention when she was approached by Climb Wyoming with another opportunity.
The Weatherization Program director reached out in hopes of diversifying his crew, interested in hiring female members. Pena's experience lent itself nicely to the position.
Now, she provides daily energy audits, home inspections and infrastructure changes to save Wyoming's most vulnerable money.
"I'll go in and change out doors and windows, clean furnaces, tube furnaces, insulate walls, attics, crawl spaces, heating systems," she said. "For every dollar we spend, we are required to save $1.60 for the homeowner."
Now a 35-year-old mother of three, Pena and her husband, Steve, are living in the home Pena grew up in.
She believes all the adversity she's faced in her life was preparing her for the success she now enjoys as a leader of the organization.
"Just know that you are powerful," she said. "There were times when I wanted to just give up, and I have had to work hard and sacrifice and, honestly, do a lot wrong to get to this point."
When she reflects on her past, she's realized it's most important to let the little things go. Her faith in a higher power helps her on this journey.
"I'm trying to let go of my ego," she said.