Mom's House of Toledo didn't exist when Lisha Washington gave birth to her son in 1983.
At 23, she had flunked out of college, was single, aimless, and suddenly pregnant.
"It was devastating to me," admitted Ms. Washington, who will be honored tomorrow at the annual gala and auction for Mom's House, a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 that helps low-income, young single mothers finish their educations and become good parents. It provides free child care among other services.
In her case, Ms. Washington, now 50, said family support and a sense of responsibility enabled her to have her baby and earn an associate's degree at the University of Toledo. "That was a major accomplishment, but I did it because I wanted him to do that," she said.
"Him" is her only son, Nate Washington, an NFL wide receiver who twice went to the Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He clearly is her pride and joy.
"Nate was a blessing to me. I didn't see it at the time because I was so overwhelmed, but I never regretted having him," she said. "From the time he was born to the time he went into the NFL, he has been my life.
"He has taught me to grow. He has taught me to love unconditionally. He has taught me how to live unselfishly."
Nate, a Scott High School graduate who spent four years at Tiffin University, played four seasons with the Steelers before he signed with the Tennessee Titans last year.
His mother said he was enthusiastic - and competitive - about all sports from a young age.
She said she supported that, but she always made it clear that academics came first.
"If you didn't perform in the classroom, you didn't play sports," she said.
Nate is to be at his mother's side tomorrow when she is recognized by Mom's House at the gala, set for 7 p.m. at the Pinnacle in Maumee.
Tickets, which are $100, are still available by going to MomsHouseToledo.org or calling 419-241-5554.
Christina Rodriguez, executive director of Mom's House, said the group annually chooses a "celebrity" parent or parents to honor. She said Ms. Washington exemplified what the mothers at Mom's House are striving toward.
"Our moms can identify with her in a huge way," Ms. Rodriguez said. "They realize there's hope for them. She raised a successful young man who's not only a successful athlete in the NFL, but he's a good kid."
Ms. Washington, a secretary at the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, has a straightforward message for the young women at Mom's House: Take responsibility.
"It's a situation. It's part of life. We have ups and downs, but the bottom line is, it's how you deal with the situation," she said. "I tell my son all the time, 'You either overtake your situation or your situation will overtake you.'•"
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