Lia Pierse is on a mission to help single mothers find success through educational enrichment, a struggle she herself once overcame.
Pierse is the self-sufficiency director for Interfaith Community Services, and leads the dedicated team behind the Single Mothers Scholar Program, which supports single mothers in their educational pursuits. While she’s found plenty of professional success, she’s also a proud mother to two teenagers, a lifelong soccer player and a member of the Angel Charity and Wings for Women.
Her passion for the community and desire to give back inspired her to become socially involved in different initiatives such as Girl Scouts Hacienda Clean up and “Over the Edge” and the Ronald McDonald House.
Pierse said a sense of community and family values inspires her to always look for the best in life. She lives to make her mother’s wish come true, to live a better life than she did, and become self -sufficient.
A native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Pierse was raised in a religious family, and her upbringing instilled in her a sense of community, a desire to volunteer and a deep interest in helping people. By the time she was 12, Pierse was already working as a storyteller, babysitter and mowing lawns—and was looking for other ways to become for involved in the local community.
As a high school senior, she was also involved in Youth Tutoring Youth Program, where leaders in her school were matched with local elementary schools to provide tutoring in the classroom. Pierse later interned with the City of Las Cruces Communications Department through the Mayfield Business Academy.
As a “soccer family,” Pierse said her father was her first coach. After high school, she was awarded a full athletic scholarship to play for Pima Community College, and moved to Tucson in 1997.
Tucson was life changing for her. Not only did it mean starting a new chapter in soccer and as a college student, but life tested her with “the bad boy.”
About two years after moving to Tucson, she met her partner. In the midst of romance, she had her first child at 21.
“It was very hard,” Pierse said.
While she strived to balance her academic and love life during seven years, she ended up breaking free from an abusive and toxic relationship, bringing along with two kids.
Moving on was never part of the plan.
“Preparing for the life of a single mom wasn’t part of my culture, because it wasn’t the expectation,” Pierse said. She was set to lead a successful academic life, establish a good career, and eventually, rebuild a family.
Amidst her struggle, Pierse knew she was never alone. When she finally separated with her partner, her family supported her, alongside friends and colleagues.
As a single mom, Pierse “always had this image” in her mind about what she could one day do with her life.
“If I ever get on the other side of [this relationship], I would be able to help other women that have gone through what I’ve gone through,” she said.
The values of family and community always resonated with her: she knew she needed to work on helping herself to be able to help others.
Piers continued with soccer. With her family’s support, she kept coaching different groups of soccer teams, for about 10 years.
Thanks to discipline and hard work, Pierse continued on with soccer, began coaching and ended up leading a team in the Pima Community College Junior Soccer League. She eventually transferred to Northern Arizona University to complete her bachelor’s degree in public management.
Pierse began her career with the Jewish Community Foundation in 2000, and met Carol Karsch, then executive director.
“My mentor, at the time, was probably my only support system,” Pierse said. “Carol was instrumental in me becoming the woman I am.”
Karsch inspired Pierse to consider a future career in nonprofit work. What started off with a suggestion turned out to be a successful business impacting the lives of countless women.
Pierse earned her degree from NAU, and later ran Helping Hands for Single Moms for more than two years in Tucson. The program initially launched in Phoenix, but Pierse knew she wanted to work for an organization that provides “infrastructure, staff and other sources of support” to support her own work.
That’s when she collaborated with Interfaith Community Services in Tucson, and the program changed to the Single Mothers Scholars Program.
“The women who come into the program already decided on their own…that education is their pathway out of poverty,” Pierse said.
The program has since become more than a source of financial support for a degree, but also a support system that helps single mothers through their daily lives.
Pierse doesn’t see herself as a hero, rather as somebody who’s taken their experiences and used them to help others.
According to friends and colleagues, Pierse’s work and deeds speak louder than her self-appraisal.
Krista Brayer, a local realtor and single mother, has known Pierse for three years. The two were introduced through a funding initiative.
Brayer recalled Pierse asking her to join the board of Helping Hands, and Brayer has come to know her friend well over the years. Brayer said Pierse has instilled in her own children the same values of volunteerism, while continuing to lead a successful life.
“She’s an extremely warm giving human being; she’s a fighter,” Brayer said.
Laura Oldaker, a friend and vice chair at Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, has known Pierse for a several years. Oldaker said “Lia lives what she preaches.”
“She’s a role model for other women, whether she mentors them or not,” Oldaker said. “She’s someone people look up to.”
Dalal Radwan is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.