Unstructured past creates stable future

Story and slideshow by LIZ G. ROJAS

You’ve read her story, now meet the woman.


It’s been more than three weeks since Katara Nyberg, office manager for a Utah-based lending company, helped the business relocate from Salt Lake City to its new location in Sandy. Nyberg, who is only 23 years old, not only works as office manager but also as a member of the executive team for the lending company.

Nyberg has been with the company for more than four years. Her responsibilities vary from internally setting up software to directing the client services department.

Her commitment makes her an essential part of the company as she grows, learns and directs its structural organization.

Though Nyberg is in a position where not many young adults find themselves, she credits her success to her unstructured past and how it helped create a strong, secure future.

BEGINNINGS

Nyberg was born in Salt Lake to a 15-year-old girl in the early ’90s. She began her education at Hawthorne Elementary, a school on the outskirts of the city.

There, she remembers, was where everything began.

Nyberg’s first grade teacher had asked her to go outside the classroom with her partner to read a book. Before she went out the teacher started examining her, specifically a scab on her wrist.

She was called to the front office where she saw her 3-year-old brother. Next to him, in handcuffs, sat their mother.

“I went through a lot of court from that time,” Nyberg said.

School administrators were under the impression Nyberg was being neglected and/or abused because of the presumed cigarette burns on her wrist and body. As required by the state of Utah, the school contacted the Department of Child and Family Services.

A police officer escorted the confused and scared little girl from the school. While sitting in the police car she remembers being asked if she was hungry.

“I was so frustrated at the fact that he asked,” Nyberg said.

She didn’t understand why this was happening — why her mother was handcuffed and why she couldn’t be with her.

From what Nyberg remembers, her mother wasn’t guilty of abusing her.

A few weeks before the incident her family had gone camping. While camping, Nyberg said she’d gotten some mosquito bites, including one on her wrist. That bite got infected and that’s what her first grade teacher had seen.

She remembers repeating this to court officials during numerous recorded interviews. This made no difference because in court, her recordings were said to be inaudible.

“One day, they say, if you say yes [your mother abused you], you can see your mom,” Nyberg said.

On her mother’s trial date the judge put Nyberg on the stand and asked if her mother had abused her.

“I looked at my mom and she’s staring right at me and she’s bawling,” said Nyberg. “Because the last thing that I said was ‘yes.’”

She then saw as her mom was handcuffed once again and taken from the courtroom.

Nyberg and her younger brother were also separated and sent to live with different foster parents for two years.

LIFE AFTER COURT

Nyberg was living with foster parents when her paternal grandmother was able to get custody after finding out about the children’s situation.

Once her mother was released, she regained full custody after successfully finishing parenting classes at Valley Mental Health.

Nyberg recalls the transitional period her mother experienced.

“My mother is a great mom, but I think because she went to jail so young that really took a toll on her,” Nyberg said. “She was younger than I am now.”

The family moved to Vernal in 2000 where her environment consisted of addictions and police officers.

Nyberg had to take care of herself and her brother. The adults in her life were in no condition to do so.

At the end of sixth grade Nyberg’s grandmother told the children their father had been released from jail. She offered a trip to Nevada to meet their birth father after many years of not seeing him.

In July 2004, they went to Nevada.

After a few days with him, Nyberg asked when she and her brother would return home. He told her they would remain with him. There was no home to go back to — her mother had been evicted and there was nowhere to go.

Devastated, Nyberg resigned to her fate and lived with her father.

Nevada was her temporary home from 2004 until 2009, when she graduated from Spring Creek High School with a scholarship worth $10,000 for academic achievement. The scholarship was to be used in any university in the state of Nevada.

Nyberg knew she had to move back to Utah to reunite with her mother.

There was nothing in Nevada for her. The only way she could think of getting out of Nevada was to attend school in Utah. She packed her bags and enrolled in Salt Lake City’s Paul Mitchell School of Beauty, beginning her education.

PERSISTENCE AND DEDICATION

Nyberg juggled work and school. She had to commute from Salt Lake City to Draper in order to go to work. Eventually she realized she couldn’t keep on commuting. It was making her late to class every day and she needed a job closer to the school.

She started applying to multiple jobs and came across a small start-up lending company in Salt Lake City. With no previous sales experience, she was hired as a junior funding analyst.

Initially, Jantzen Fugate, the CEO and founder, did not want to hire Nyberg. However, after persistence from the former office manager who saw potential for her development, she was hired.

“I have never been more wrong and more pleased at being wrong,” Fugate said.

Nyberg worked her way up from an entry-level junior sales position to director of client services. As director of client services, she helps ensure the fulfillment of services provided by the company like business plan writing, credit repair, website creation and lender matching.

Describing her experience working in the company Fugate said, “It’s because of her relentlessness to outperform other people.”

Shelby Fielden, a close personal friend and coworker of Nyberg’s, admires her attentiveness in their friendship. When referring to Nyberg’s past, she believes the way she’s overcome her situation has molded her into the person she is now.

“I think it made her a stronger person,” Fielden said.  “She does things on her own, she’s very independent.”

Nyberg is currently in school at Stevens-Henager College working on her business administration degree while simultaneously working as director in the client services department. During the day she works at the company and at night she completes her courses.

“My mom was passionate about me being smart because we were poor, we didn’t have money for college,” Nyberg said. “No one in my family even considered going to college.”

She’s driven by success and motivated by past failure.

“Growing up and being successful is what I was always told to do,” Nyberg said. “’Don’t be like me,’ is what everyone always told me. ‘Be different, be better than me. Make sure you go to school.’”

She sighed when she reflected on how she has dealt with the difficulties in her past.

“What else are you going to do,” Nyberg said. “I love myself, and I love my family, I love it because it’s who I am.”