From Minimum Wage to CEO: How Solo Mom Denise Wiggins Blazed a Path of Success
Image credit: In God’s Image by Tanesha Walker
The CEO of the Solo Moms Foundation shares why she travels the country to help single mothers
Denise Wiggins is a makeover maven. With a team of experts and a gleam in her eye, Wiggins is helping Solo Moms reinvent themselves—body, mind, and spirit.
It’s something she has firsthand experience with as a onetime Solo Mom who raised three children on her own while struggling to find her place in the world.
“I didn’t go to school, I didn’t have a degree, so every job that I ever had was minimum wage,” Wiggins said. “And I said, ‘Lord what am I supposed to do?’”
Wiggins, a Raleigh, North Carolina–based CEO, philanthropist, and author, drew inspiration from everything around her—mentors, her children, stories of successful female entrepreneurs, and a devout faith in God.
Now married with three grown children, two stepchildren, and three grandchildren, Wiggins is the CEO of two behavioral-health companies that provide mental-health and addiction-recovery services, and she is the CEO of the makeup company LipSynk Cosmetics.
But it’s her work as CEO and founder of the Solo Moms Foundation that is changing lives for single mothers across the country. Wiggins and her team of volunteer stylists, makeup and hair professionals, counselors, and financial experts have given free makeovers and counseling sessions to about 75 Solo Moms, most living in shelters, since the foundation launched in January 2015.
“I had to do a self-reflection of my own life,” Wiggins said, “and look at myself in the mirror every day and see who I am.”
Wiggins spoke with ESME about her path to success and what she wants other solo mothers to know about themselves.
Q: How did single motherhood change your life?
A: I always had a desire to be great or to be successful. I’ve had a lot of struggles in my life, made a lot of bad decisions, choosing men that God didn’t send. I had my first child at 19. Then I ended up getting married and having two more children.
Through that relationship there was a lot of infidelity, a lot of verbal abuse—it was just bad. We struggled financially, mentally, and spiritually, moving from place to place, couldn’t afford to pay our bills. When I decided to leave him, my younger children were about three or four years old.
Wiggins left her husband and moved to be near her mother in Washington, DC, where she worked two jobs to support her children. She worked during the day at a company that offered credit counseling to homebuyers, and at night she worked at a seafood restaurant.
I tried to really make ends meet there, but the cost of living is just so expensive. Every time I found a place and was able to pay my rent one month, the next month I couldn’t pay my rent. I was like, Lord, when is my break? When is my time? When am I going to see the light?
I started making some money, started being able to take care of my kids, and was able to really start seeing the light. When you’ve got no money, you can’t even think straight. I ended up telling my mom, “Mom, I think we’re going to move down South because there I can really afford to take care of the kids better. I want to buy a house.” She wasn’t against it; she thought it was a great idea. That’s how I ended up in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wiggins built a new life for herself and her kids in North Carolina, earning a good living working on real estate loans from home. But the market crash and recession of 2008 left her without a job and she was, once again, forced to start over.
Q: How did you reinvent yourself as an entrepreneur?
A: Thank God I had some money put aside. I was like OK now, I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do next. So I started going to different meetings where I met these amazing women and thought, Wow, these ladies are really on the ball! They were entrepreneurship meetings with women talking about what kind of work they were doing and how they were soaring.
These ladies had gotten into this business called behavioral health. I didn’t know anything about it. They didn’t give me a lot of information, but they gave me enough to want to read and figure out how to do it. I said, “OK, Lord, I’ve never been an entrepreneur, but I know I’m destined to be an entrepreneur.” I knew that I had the ability to do it.
The more I read, the more I understood it and wanted to have this. I read and read, and figured out how to do my policies and procedures, figured out what the requirements were for the state and the kind of staff I needed to hire. I didn’t have a degree, and I didn’t let that stop me.
I got approval from the state, and I was able to open up. I had a licensed therapist, a doctor, some social workers. They go out in the community and provide services to clients who are suffering with any type of behavior problem or substance-abuse issue.
Q: You started LipSynk Cosmetics in 2014. How did you get into doing makeovers for other Solo Moms?
A: I have a passion for giving back to women, empowering and inspiring single moms because I was a single mother, and I knew what it took.
So many women had reached out to me on Facebook, asking me so many different questions, so I said, You know what? I’m going to pull a couple of women together, and we’re going to do makeovers. And it was just simple. It was nothing big. I was doing makeovers throughout 2014. I was using my brand, and the women were having such an amazing time.
I was invited to be on the news. I began to speak about the makeovers I was doing and how I had the vision to just empower women, and when I tell you I was inundated with e-mails—oh my God!
Wiggins began the Solo Moms Foundation shortly after, wanting to not only give the women new clothes, makeup, and hair but also talk to them about money and saving, about how to find jobs and support themselves and their kids, and how to find the power to succeed within themselves. She pulled together a team of experts and got to work.
I printed off some of the messages that came to me, and I asked the ladies if they would come meet me and all of them came out. And I gave them the messages.
Everybody’s sitting there crying—literally—because the messages were so heartfelt.
Q: What happens during these makeovers? How do the moms react when they see themselves for the first time?
A: They are women from shelters, women that call in from literally all over. My assistant will call and get the sizes of all the women; I’ll go out and buy everything brand new: jewelry, dresses, pants, shoes, whatever. And the whole team—there are eight of us—we’ll go to wherever those moms are. And we do a complete makeover—body, soul, and spirit. We do vision boards, we do financial, we do counseling, we do everything. It takes us anywhere from three to four hours that we are there.
A lot of them cry when they see themselves. A lot of them cry before we even get started because we help them to address the issues that have them where they are. You don’t just end up in a shelter; some things have to happen in order for you to be there. So we want to help them address those issues and concerns so we can help them move to the next level. We’ve gone to New York, we’ve gone to California, we’ve gone to DC—we’ve gone a little bit of everywhere.
Q: How did being a Solo Mom affect your relationship with your children?
A: When I left my kids’ dad, I’m looking at these children thinking, OK, now I’ve got to do this all by myself. How can I do this? You learn by trial and error.
I learned I had to give my children more love. Then I can do anything. My kids and I are so close today because of the relationship and the bond that I built, even though we didn’t have a lot when they were younger. A lot of times money and stuff can break people up. You can get angry, you can get vicious. That just brought us that much closer. My kids have seen how hard I struggled, and they’ve seen how hard I worked to become successful.
Sometimes when they sit and talk it just makes me cry because, wow, I didn’t know they were watching so much. They said, “Mom, we’ve seen how you stayed up day and night and how you prayed and how you cried out to God because you wanted to be successful. And that’s the thing we’ve taken from you because we know that if you can do it, we can do it, too.”
Q: What would you tell the Solo Moms on ESME who are trying to find their own path to success?
A: I would tell them you’ve got everything you need inside of you to be an amazing mom. We don’t know the power that we have within. We don’t even realize. We have to tap into that power. That’s the best advice I could give any single mother: you’ve got the power within.
Even in my darkest days, I had to really get into and understand the importance of worship. That’s what got me through.
You’ve got to keep pushing. And you’ve got to speak positive affirmations to yourself and to your children no matter what situation you find yourself in. No matter where you are in life, you’ve got to speak positive affirmations. We don’t understand that our words have power. The wiser you become, you start learning these things.
Bravo, Denise Wiggins! Thank you for your wonderful work on behalf of Solo Moms.
Do you know a Solo Mom or an organization that works on behalf of Solo Moms? Please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we can spread the word.
Sarah Netter, ESME’s Adoption Resource Guide, is a single mother by choice to a fabulous little boy and two neurotic Italian Greyhounds. She is a full-time journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and ABC News.