Kayla Toncik had the world by its tail. She breezed through high school and easily earned an associate’s degree in business administration from Northampton Area Community College, even becoming a bit of a celebrity as she excelled in the traditionally male art of auto refinishing. She earned a sizable scholarship to Moravian College to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a minor in public relations. And then…
She found herself in the eye of a perfect storm. Her beloved grandfather, the man who raised her, died. Simultaneously, a toxic relationship ended and her Moravian scholarship was about to be revoked due to poor grades.
“It was bad,” she recalls. “I was stuck paying every bill—rent, utilities, and insurance. I was working at a restaurant, picking up every shift I could, so my attendance at school dropped. My grades plummeted. It was just a nightmare.”
She eventually woke from that bad dream with the help of BEST co-founders Billy Staples and Judy Tierney. Judy and Kayla had developed a special bond at the Career Institute of Technology, where Judy works and Kayla honed her auto-refinishing skills. Judy later became Kayla’s BEST mentor, and on one notable afternoon at a local diner, Kayla learned just what it means to be part of the BEST family.
“I was ready to throw in the towel,” Kayla says. “But that wasn’t an option as far as Judy was concerned. She and Billy met me over lunch and helped me write to Moravian, begging to keep my scholarship and promising to turn myself around. They set up stipulations like talking with the dean and guidance counselors so I understood my options.”
The letter worked. Kayla continued working at the restaurant, but she dedicated more time to studying and graduated Moravian in two years with a 3.8 cumulative GPA. Today, she is operations manager at a Sherwin-Williams store known for its architectural and commercial coatings.
“If it wasn’t for Judy and Billy, I don’t think I would have tried as hard in college,” she says. “I would’ve let Moravian take my scholarship. But Judy and Billy convinced me that wasn’t an option. I thought ‘if these two people who aren’t even related to me want me to succeed, I guess I could try.’ ”
Today, Kayla owns her own house, is in a healthy relationship and is on a new career path.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the business end of the automotive industry,” she says. “I enjoy the sales and management of my current job and one day want to work in sales and marketing for an auto paint company.”
She still paints cars for friends, almost as a hobby. But her position at Sherwin-Williams has not only helped refine her career goals—she once thought she’d like to own her own business—it can help her with a more pressing goal. “I love school and I want to go back and get an MBA,” she says, and the company has a generous tuition reimbursement program.
It’s a goal she realizes might not have been considered, let alone set, if not for BEST.
“BEST took some financial strain off, plus Judy and Billy were always there to talk to, always willing to help,” Kayla says. “They seemed to be the only ones who cared and were willing to help me succeed in school. Without BEST, I might still be trying to finish college. I wouldn’t have the career I have now, and I wouldn’t be a homeowner if it wasn’t for BEST.”
She attends every event her schedule allows, she donates to fundraisers and routinely puts her marketing skills to use, promoting BEST at all turns. “I plan on becoming a board member of BEST,” she adds. “I know how it is. I was always taught to be strong, so I can appreciate that in people. I also know how to help break down barriers to help people like Judy and Billy helped me. I would do that in a heartbeat.”