Lashaunda began EMPath’s flagship program, Career Family Opportunity (CFO), in 2016 after hearing about it from her sister. She began working with a mentor to set and achieve goals that would bring her closer to economic independence. Since then, she has made huge strides in many areas of her life. In 2021, Lashaunda graduated from CFO.

Lashaunda currently works as a client outreach and engagement specialist at Compass Working Capital, where she completed the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program and helped start the organization’s first-ever Client Advisory Board. In her previous role at a health care company supporting MassHealth members, her success resulted in the company expanding the program out west. Lashaunda also owns a small business and is currently in school for business communications.

In 2018, Lashaunda and her four daughters went on a cruise to the Caribbean, their first time leaving the country. “I am so blessed to be able to travel,” she reflects. “It was an epic adventure and the most memorable experience. It was such an amazing thing as a single mom to be able to expose my children to something better. I truly believe that exposure is everything in terms of upward mobility.”

Lashaunda has also built a strong support system for herself and her daughters. “I always have someone to help me dissect an issue or to bounce ideas off of,” she says. “It’s such a wonderful village. I am surrounded by people who truly care about the wellbeing of me, my family, and other women in the program. The EMPath staff is so dedicated and that shines through in the way they work and interact with us.”

Reflecting on her well-being pillar, Lashaunda says she has come to understand the importance of self-care. “I have always worn myself out trying to work and hold up the household. I didn’t realize how important self-care is in the maintenance of my lifestyle as a single parent. There were negative health implications, so I was forced to look more closely at my lifestyle and make a change. If I go down, everything comes crashing down – I get that now. Self-care is more than just a luxury spa day. It’s taking time to honor health both physically and emotionally, to ask for help when I need it, learning to be kind to myself, to forgive myself for mistakes I may have made for lack of financial literacy that led to struggle, to slow down to play a bit, to honor my needs first, and give from a full cup.

Lashaunda has built up her financial stability too. “I’m making excellent strides with my credit. It’s a work in progress, but there was a time where I was completely locked out of the financial system altogether,” she says.” I was forced to rely on check cashing services, could not get a bank account, and had no credit cards. I’m happy to say I have access to all of those things now and I continue to strive for an increased score to grant me better options in life.”

Lashaunda’s ambition shines through in all that she does to give back to her community. In addition to being a founding member of Compass’ Client Advisory Board, she works with EMPath to advocate for critical policy change in Massachusetts — including increasing rental vouchers and a successful campaign to lift Massachusetts’ “Cap on Kids,” which denied benefits to 8,700 children who were conceived while or soon after their family began receiving benefits. In 2018, Lashaunda and her friend started a project called Strong Women In Action (SWIA), which does community service in local neighborhoods around Boston and highlights others doing positive work in the community.

“We volunteered on MLK Day cleaning up the shelter that my friend and cofounder once lived in,” Lashaunda says of SWIA. “We believe that everyone has the ability to make a difference in someone else’s life and that we all have valuable skills to share with someone in need. It’s not always about money.”

“I channel all of the pain, embarrassment, and suffering I’ve felt living in poverty and use it as fuel to keep the conversation going,” Lashaunda explains. “Even if I never get the direct benefits, it feels good knowing that something I said made a difference and can prevent another woman from going through what I have experienced.”

Lashaunda says she has gained valuable life skills from working with her mentor. “I’ve learned to be proactive instead of reactive and to plan for the events in my life,” she explains. “While living in poverty so much of my life was spent trying to survive or to just get by. With planning, I can finally begin to thrive and enjoy life on life’s terms. Disasters are unavoidable, but having a solid plan in place softens the blows when they do come. I know that I am in the driver’s seat of my life. I can move it forward despite my tough starting point.”

“I feel like I can accomplish anything! Nothing in this world is outside my reach. With good planning and a little determination, we can move mountains.”

Toneva smiling next to Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Both women are wearing navy blue blazers.

Toneva's Story

In October 2019, Toneva got a call asking if she wanted to meet with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.