Tina Lopez walked into the territory that was her new life with trepidation.

Nothing had prepared her to be a single parent, she said.Now, several years later, she's trying to help single moms and dads. She publishes a newsletter designed to encourage single-parent subscribers with parenting tips and personal stories from readers around the country.

When you read statistics on poverty, it's sometimes easy to draw the conclusion that being in a single-parent home - particularly one headed by a single mother - is a one-way ticket to poverty.

While a lot of children are living in low-income, single-parent families, that's not a fair assumption.

Lopez's organization, Miss Mom/Mister Mom Inc., wants people to know that single-parent families can and do thrive throughout the country. So the national, non-profit organization recently named an "Outstanding Single Mother of the Year" and an "Outstanding Single Father of the Year."

In both cases, the winners were nominated by their children, with help from an adult. The nominees were judged on their accomplishments, the barriers they have overcome to achieve those accomplishments and their positive influence on their children.

"Being a single parent is a difficult task in itself," Lopez said. "But being able to juggle your time between a job, your home and your children - and doing so successfully - is very difficult."

Shelly Tripp, West Valley City, was named outstanding mother. The 33-year-old was nominated by her three children: Brandy, 13; Chris, 11; and Troy, 9. Her mother, Carol Murphey, helped them with the nomination.

"Shelly is always there when needed and is an angel behind her children's needs," Murphey wrote.

Her children offered high praise, indeed. "Our mom is the most qualified, helpful, considerate and beautiful mother/father that any daughter or son would want. She is always there for us, and we are always on her mind. She is truly outstanding as a mother and a friend."

Tripp has had one goal: She wants to raise her children with dignity. So she returned to college and earned a degree. Now she works at FHP and loves it.

Lopez has been impressed with Tripp's "dedication to her children, perseverance and determination."

The outstanding father, Tom Callister, found himself an instant mother as well as father when his wife died three years ago. Callister lives in Grantsville.

This year, his children, who range in age from 19 to 8, surprised him on Father's Day with a tribute in the local newspaper. A friend used that tribute to nominate Callister for the honor.

"He's been amazing! Dad has taken over running everything so well. I guess I would have to say his patience is his best quality," said his oldest daughter, Tina. "He has surprised me with the strength he has shown. I admire him so much."

Callister's other children echo those sentiments. Son Paul wrote: "Dad is definitely the person I admire most in the whole world. He is a great dad and a great mom!"

As a successful single parent, Callister exhibits some of the same traits Tripp has.

He always makes time for his family - including regular one-on-one time.

Before his wife died, he didn't know how to cook and clean or even balance the checkbook. Now he does all of those things. He's also become an expert tailor.

Lopez said her organization received a number of nominations from various states for both awards. The decision, she said, "was very difficult. All of the nominees were exceptional."

Tripp and Callister each received a letter of congratulations from President Bush.

The message here, I think, is that parents come in all shapes, sizes and combinations. Some kids have two parents at home. Others have two parents who don't live together. A parent may be dead or far away.

The composition of the family doesn't determine the quality of a child's life. There are good and bad parents in every imaginable combination.

Being a single parent doesn't mean your children will be poor. Having two parents at home doesn't mean they won't be.

I know "poor" families who are happy and "rich" families who are not. So while statistics may show possible connections between poverty and single-parent households, they can't be taken for more than they are.

They leave out part of the picture. They leave out families with kids who contact a newspaper about a tribute to a deserving dad. They ignore a mother who went back to school to provide for her children.