Soldotna residents Kiowa Richardson and her mother, Betsy Laws, are no strangers to adversity.
Despite years of hardship that included an abusive relationship, a life-threatening accident and poverty, the two are currently enjoying considerable success. Richardson currently attends the United States Air Force Academy while Laws works as a nurse at the oncology unit at the Central Peninsula Hospital. Laws also donates her time to local charities.
In 2008, wanting to escape an abusive relationship, Laws took her daughter and moved from Pennsylvania to a 252-square-foot cabin on small piece of land that she had purchased near Sport Lake Road in Soldotna.
Laws said that at the time, she had about $200 to her name and had to get food from the food bank. Additionally, the property she had purchased was in disarray and lacked many modern comforts.
“When we moved back to Alaska, life was a little challenging, because we moved into a little one-room cabin without plumbing and it was pretty rough looking,” Laws said. “It was a place to come to as a refuge. It might have looked ugly, but it was our home.”
Even though the family didn’t have a lot of money, TV or running water, Laws and Richardson said that they had each other. The two cleaned up the property and were proud of their modest home.
In May of 2011, Laws was hospitalized after a propane leak in their shower house caused an explosion, leaving her with burns on 17 percent of her body.
Laws said that after the accident, people around the community were eager to help her build a new and improved house. At 832 square feet, she said the new house is like a mansion compared to the previous one.
“I call it the house that God built, because there were all sorts of people that God put in my life that helped,” Laws said.
After recovering, Laws went back to work at the hospital. With her free time, she said she wanted to give back to the community, so she volunteered at several charitable organizations, including The Way Cafe, where she helped provide meals to the needy. She said that after living in harsh conditions, she could relate to a lot of the people she helped.
“People are in need of being valued,” Laws said. “It’s unfortunate that they were living in a situation that was something similar to what we have experienced ourselves.”
As for Richardson, she graduated as the valedictorian from River City Academy in May 2014 and started attending the Air Force Academy last fall.
While Richardson said she isn’t particularly fast or strong, she has other skills that will make her successful in the Air Force.
“On one hand, while you do need leaders that are macho, tough and gung-ho, you also need leaders who can communicate their ideas,” Richardson said.
Richardson said that her humble upbringing has taught her how to be strong in the face of adversity and will help her succeed in the Air Force.
“It definitely gave me a ‘this is what I’m going to do and I’m not going to give up until it’s done’ sort of attitude,” Richardson said. “Looking at me, I’m obviously not the buffest. I’m not very fast, so training sessions are a little bit difficult for me. … But I don’t give up.”
While Laws and Richardson are still unsure about what their future holds, they said they are confident that they will be successful and aren’t afraid of challenges.
“Our family likes to turn trials into triumphs,” Laws said.
Reach Ian Foley at Ian.firstname.lastname@example.org