Neika Epple

Southeast Reno, 89502

Story by Kara Marken

Neika Epple’s morning starts with her son crawling into her bed, sleepy-eyed and ready to cuddle—her life as a single mother revolves a great deal around her 3-year-old son, Bradley.

“He starts poking at me to get up, and that’s when my day usually starts,” she says with a smile. Her typical morning is consumed with getting herself and her son ready for their day.

“It really depends on the day, but I drop him off at daycare, go to the gym, then go to work at the car dealership. I pick him up from daycare, run errands and cook dinner—oh and the park, we are always at the park,” she says.

As a single mother, Neika’s life is anything but leisurely. She starts the first of her two jobs at the car dealership at 11 in the morning; she is always running around trying to get everything done, so her mornings have her going nonstop.

Then Thursday through Saturday she works her second job as a cocktail waitress at the Grand Sierra Resort, usually from around 6 pm till 2 in the morning.

Neika’s biggest worry is her son and everything that goes along with taking care of him. Keeping his life uncomplicated and making sure his childhood is fun and easy is a huge priority. Neika struggles with this the most, especially when trying to manage her schedule between her two jobs and Bradley’s father Mike. Her goal is to minimize the back and forth Bradley has between homes.

The time away from Bradley is hard, Neika says.

“It’s hard every time; when I drop him off at daycare and watch him go have a snack with his friends, but especially when I drop him off at his dad’s or he picks him up and I know I’m not going to see him for a while,” she sighs.

“It’s hard being a single mom, not being able to see him every day. I miss him. I miss tucking in a little one at night, but it’s a fact so…” she trails off and turns to look at Bradley who is quietly playing.

Neika and her son Bradley, being silly by sticking out their tongues.

Neika has been through quite a few maturing events in her 22 years of life—besides having her son, she chose to leave home at age 14.

“My mom was a severe alcoholic and we constantly fought. I felt like she couldn’t take care of my younger sisters, so I stepped in. Finally I told my mom that if she didn’t change I was gone—she told me to go. I lived with my aunt and grandmother until I graduated.”

Neika grew up in small town in northern California called Paradise, moving to Reno when she turned 18.

“I needed a change. I grew up in a farm town so I just kind of wanted a city life but that small town feel still.”

It was those characteristics along with some family members who resided in Reno that attracted her to the area in the first place. Now it’s a combination of her son and financial stability that keeps her here.

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“I do plan on staying here, just for my son. It’s where he was born so I just want to keep him in his routine—in his circle.”

What keeps Neika’s tiny family stable is her two jobs: a full-time financial assistant at High Sierra Auto Sales and as a cocktail waitress at the Grand Sierra Resort. Besides evenly splitting the cost of raising her son with his father, she has always been financially independent.

“I’m on my own. I’ve been on my own since 18—I support myself.”

She makes a stable income as single mother with two jobs—averaging $35,000 to $48,000 annually as a cocktail waitress and around $36,000 at the car dealership. Her combined annual income ranges from $71,000 to $84,000.

There is a very real struggle of becoming too comfortable or complacent in the steady income of cocktailing, and not being able to leave the well-paying job for more education — a dilemma unique to Nevada given the number of jobs in the casino industry. Click here to find out more about the casino industry in Nevada.

It’s not out of the ordinary to find a cocktail waitress with more than 35 years of service working on the floor of local Reno casinos though few may have intended to stay that long.

Neika doesn’t plan on working as a cocktail waitress for much longer, she says. The money is good though, and that is a high priority as a single mom. She works a great deal now so she can take a more convenient job in the future.

“I plan to transition to a day job so I have more time with Bradley on the weekends and at night and get out of the casino industry for him” she says.

Neika also came to Reno for school—having attended Truckee Meadows Community College before she became pregnant with Bradley. She doesn’t plan to give up her dream of a college education. She has already taken courses for the radiology technologist program and has looked into online classes until Bradley is a bit older and daycare becomes a more reliable option.

The most important part of Neika’s life, even among the daily obstacles she faces, is also her proudest accomplishment—her son.

“I’m most proud of him and how I’m raising him; how much I have changed and matured. I mean, I feel thirty-five sometimes but it’s okay because it is the most rewarding thing ever.”

Neika answers the question—if she is happy—without a single moment of hesitation.

“I’m extremely happy. I have this little nugget right here.” She looks down with that signature, uninhibited smile at her son sitting on her lap. After a few moments she looks back up and continues, “I’m very happy.”

Kara Marken is also employed at the Grand Sierra Resort.

Audio by Zach Alexander
Photos by Kara Marken
Video by Ryan Canaday and Beau Smith

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