Janice Gardner Reach. Then reach some more
By Cybele Weisser

(MONEY Magazine) – When Janice Gardner found out she'd been approved for a $200,000 mortgage last year, she cried. "I never thought I would do this well," she says. As a college dropout and a single mother of two, Gardner, now 45, knew early on that the odds were against her, but she looked for every opportunity to increase her earning power. When her kids were small, she started a home day-care business and braided hair for extra money. "I was one of those people who never wanted to be without money or a job," she says. Once her children were in school, Gardner found permanent work with the federal government. Currently she's a Department of Agriculture computer technician. By volunteering for extra training classes--once even taking a pay cut to do so--she's been promoted several times and has more than doubled her salary. But of all her accomplishments so far, Gardner is perhaps most proud of the fact that she's been able to help finance her daughter's degree from one of the top nursing schools in the Kansas City area. "I think I'm more ambitious because I started at the bottom," she says. "I believe you should always set your goals higher than you think you can reach." --C.W.