Stephanie Gave Up Her Land for a Better Life – Now She’s The BeauRam® Babe!

stephanie-on-highwayStephanie Lewis, my favorite yoga teacher here in Bend, Oregon, took a lot of grief along the way, but now she lives a fulfilling life and is on the road to success with her innovative BeauRam® backpack.10923267_624767650984368_6846668314303840610_n

“I grew up in a loving family but with a lot of bullshit,” she confides.

Stephanie grew up on a three-generation family farm that produced deciduous trees in Salem. Her parents both went to North Salem High, the same school she and her younger brother attended. After graduation, her dad left to fight in the Vietnam War, part of his quest to please her unpleasable retired military Grandfather Merriweather (Stephanie’s family are descendants of Merriweather Lewis, as in the explorers, Lewis and Clark). When her father returned to Oregon a former sniper and decorated soldier, her parents were married.

Stephanie admits her upbringing had its high points. She cherishes memories of fishing and hunting trips in Alaska with her dad and him teaching her to shoot. In fact, she won shooting competitions as a kid and thought seriously about joining the U.S. Army Research Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). Still today, Stephanie has a permit to carry concealed weapons (her dad’s idea of keeping her safe is packing), though3oewj7te she hasn’t touched a firearm in years.

 “Growing up hunting and fishing, I’m the most un-yogi yogi … [and] the black sheep of the family,” Stephanie admits and then chuckles. “Or the tie-dyed sheep.”

Stephanie also recalls the sumptuous smells of her mother’s homemade pizza; fresh crust baking in the oven and sauce bubbling on the stove. Her mother happily fed Stephanie’s and her brother’s friends. The Lewis’ never went on family vacations, but her mother made their house the go-to place to hang out and have fun.

The community respected her family. No one knew her “upstanding” grandfather was privately vicious to his sons, or that he molested Stephanie at age five or six.

When she was eight, she walked in on her parents making out and said, “I know what you’re doing because Grandpa showed me.”

Her parents didn’t talk about it after that, but Stephanie noticed they kept Grandpa at a distance, which was tricky as they all lived in houses built on Lewis acreage. (Years later, they discovered the family patriarch sexually assaulted another young girl in the neighborhood but was never charged.)

large_3584131250At age 12, Stephanie received her first of what she calls “All I Hate About You” letters from her dad and was devastated.

“[Dad] was coming from a place of unhappiness… [I think] a lot of it was a ripple effect from how he was treated by his father.”

Many more soul-crushing letters later, after graduating high school, Stephanie left the farm to go to Portland State photo-3University. During the summer, going into her sophomore year, she came home to find her dad’s stuff gone. When she asked what happened, her mother burst into tears explaining he’d moved in with the younger woman down the street. Her dad never talked to Stephanie or her brother about his decision – or even her mother. He grabbed his belongings and took off, leaving her mom to find a half-empty closet.

Every time Stephanie and her mom left the house, they had to pass her dad’s new residence. To cope, Stephanie and her mom sneered and made “Dirty Diana” jokes when they drove by. In the end, Diana left her dad at the altar.

Stephanie worked at Nordstrom in Portland in her ladder years of college. When she graduated with a degree in Graphic Design, she worked at Johnson and Walverton for three years as “the go-to-girl” on amazing marketing accounts such as Coca Cola, World Cup, Miller Genuine Draft, and Amnesty International. There she learned how to deal with corporations domestically as well as internationally, and she got to go to London to help manage a large campaign.

lux_660x280_london_housesofparliamentThat trip to London gave Stephanie the traveling bug, and she wanted to make a difference in the world, so she decided to go to work for the Peace Corps. At age 26, after months of interviews and evaluations, the Peace Corps offered her a position in El Salvador. She spoke a little Spanish and happily accepted.

Stephanie quit her job, moved in with her newly remarried mother and step-father, and sold most of her possessions in preparation to leave the country. Then, two weeks before departure, a representative from the Peace Corps called to tell her they no longer needed her in El Salvador, but they had a position available in China. Stephanie couldn’t make the mental switch to another country, a completely different culture, half-way around the world.

“I didn’t want to go to China…I called my mom at work, crying so hard,” she says. “My mom was a medical assistant, totally compassionate. I’ll never forget how reassuring she was.”

Stephanie needed a job, so that same day, she took a trip to Nordstrom.

“They offered me a management position, and I took it. I had my own place within the week.”

By the time Stephanie turned 29, although her dad still sent occasional “All I Hate About You” letters, he also dangled the carrot of taking over the family farm. He’d already set up her brother in an independent nursery, so he told her if she came home to North Salem, as the oldest child, she would inherit the business. But three years into working long hours and learning all there was to know about raising and selling decorative trees, she got another “All I Hate About You” letter.

Heartbroken, she realized her dad never planned to fulfill his promise to let her run the farm. She left for Portland where Nordstrom gladly gave her another management position. A couple years later, when she was 34, Stephanie’s father asked her to come home to discuss the family business. His tone had been upbeat, almost positive. Thinking her family had come to their senses, she met with her parents and her brother in Salem.

But the meeting was anything but civil.

Her brother had become a chip-off-the-old-block and read aloud a scathing letter of his own: how Stephanie thinks she’s “entitled” and accusing her of lying about whatever she’d said to disagree with him. Silence filled the room after her brother’s recital. No one stood up for Stephanie to mention her hard work or her ideas that had made the farm more efficient and profitable.

“I’ve never felt so alone,” she recalls. “Before or since.”

She sold her house in Salem (right before the market tanked) and went to Puerto Rico for six months. When she turned 35, Stephanie returned r59_s45to Oregon, took classes in viticulture, and moved to Bend to be a wine rep/buyer for Ray’s in Sisters, Oregon.

“Bend is a place where people come to heal their souls,” she says.

13686571_10153920283549353_7170499537494372918_nStephanie started practicing yoga in 2009 and began facing her past. She met life coach and counselor, Susan Weisburger, and Suzina Newcomb, the owner of Namaspa. These two women taught Stephanie to come from a place of abundance, love, and conscious compassion rather than poverty. She also kept in touch with her maternal grandmother, now 96, Jean Barry.

13254232_10153780787604353_5090795811865148452_n

“She’s my hero, the most phenomenal Yogi who has never stepped in a studio. [Grandma’s] mindset is of pure love and compassion, total acceptance. She had a tough childhood and rose above it.”

By 2011, Stephanie decided to become a yoga instructor.

“Yoga teacher training is what saved my life,” Stephanie proudly admits. Part of the 200-hour Baptiste methodology includes “peeling away personal [baggage] to own your authenticity in order to help others reach theirs.” It was here that Stephanie truly began to heal.

10915314_624763030984830_2570214685747802784_nTeaching yoga classes at Namaspa, Athletic Club of Bend (which is where Stephanie and I met), at Brasada Ranch, and in La Pine helped her develop a sense of self as well as lead others to discover their authentic selves. Supporting people in accepting and appreciating their bodies and minds led to Stephanie designing the BeauRam® Yoga Survival Pack.

“As a teacher, I wanted to make it easier for people to live healthier lives because I believe that good health uplifts to happiness and contentment.” Stephanie chuckles. “To grab their ‘Beau’ and go.”

BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs come loaded or unloaded, for beginners to 30-year veterans. If you’re just starting out or your gear is getting worn, the loaded packs include:

  • A yoga mat (travel design patent pending)
  • Removable laundry bag
  • Skin care kit
  • Inspiration piece
  • Carabiners (3)
  • Water Bottle
  • Yoga block
  • Yoga strap
  • Towel
  • and Soothing wipes

Stephanie’s BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs got incredibly positive feedback from yoga teachers and students when she showed people her prototype, so she made the nail-biting decision to invest her savings in producing a few hundred.

And her BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs sold out within a couple weeks!

Scared but determined, armed with nurturing friends and her own yoga practice, she took the plunge and sold her house to use the money to manufacture more BeauRam® Yoga Survival Packs!

You can find more information HERE🙂

Stephanie’s ultimate goal is to one day have her own BeauRam® Yoga Studio that provides classes and anything yogis at any level might need to enhance their practice – and their lives.

You go, Stephanie! I’m sure, not too far into the future, I’ll be writing another post about your product launch and one day about your successful studio!

Thanks so much for sharing your story.

For more information, go to Stephanie’s BeauRam® Facebook page.

Meet Jayne, Whose Son Saved Her Life, and Running Saved Her Marriage

10500351_541207862712808_5131535543680842341_nJayne Rodosevich grew up in Ridgecrest, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert – mostly on her own. Her dad, a chemical engineer for Searles Valley Minerals, worked a lot of hours, and her mom, a registered nurse, spent much of the time at the local hospital. Until Jayne turned 15, she practically raised her younger brother and sister when she wasn’t training on uneven parallel bars, the vault or balance beam, or learning floor routines for the next gymnastics meet.

Then in her sophomore year of high school, her mom decided to go back to college to become a nurse anesthetist – in Los Angeles, about a three-hour drive from Ridgecrest. Her mom took Jayne’s siblings and invited their grandmother to live with them to take care of the little ones. A refugee from Thailand who didn’t speak English became the housekeeper for Jayne and her dad while Jayne finished high school and competed in gymnastics meets.

Gymnastics and homework kept Jayne out of trouble. She brought home trophies and earned straight As until she graduated from high school and went off to the University of California in Davis. Jayne went from little to no contact with her family, and she no longer had time for sports. At age 19, she worked in a clothing store, back-bussed at a local bar, and poured coffee as a barista to pay for tuition, books, food and rent – and Jayne was exhausted.

Her husband, back then her 21-year-old boyfriend, introduced Jayne to crystal methamphetamine to give her the zip she needed to get through the day.

And she got addicted.

So did he.

They were each other’s bad influence in perpetuating the crystal meth roller coaster of manic highs and devastating lows. Jayne managed to downloadget through six years of college classes, working three jobs, using speed to keep her going. Eventually, though, paying for tuition and living expenses became too much of a burden. Sadly, she quit attending UC Davis 30 units short of graduation, and they moved to the San Francisco Bay Area.

In the next 10 years, drug use whittled Jayne’s body down to 90 pounds. Her muscles, once robust from thousands of hours of gymnastics training, atrophied into saggy strands hanging off her bones. One cigarette after the next incinerated between her fingertips. Her teeth became mottled with black rot, a side-effect from crystal meth use, and still she and her boyfriend partied.

“We had one rule,” Jayne says. “You could never [mess] up at work.”

Life had become a cycle of self-induced bipolar disorder. Then three months after Jayne and her boyfriend married, she discovered she was pregnant.

Jayne’s life took a 180 degree turn.

Quitting her drug habits had seemed impossible until fear for her baby’s safety became a factor. For the first time in a decade, she put downWk14_Belly_02 the smokes, turned away the frenzied high she craved, and started eating regular meals that included produce and protein. Soon she plumped into a healthy weight, and eight months later, she delivered a healthy little boy.

(Since their son was born, over the last twelve years, Jayne has spent more than $20,000 to fix her rotten teeth.)

But Jayne continued eating the same after she stopped nursing her baby and gained 80 pounds. Her husband, too, blew past his optimal weight, into jumbo jeans.

“Crystal meth messes up your metabolism,” Jayne explains. “Your body holds onto fat in case you decide to starve it again because you don’t feel like eating when you’re using.”

Her husband cut his drug use way down, but it took a couple years for him to beat his addictions. Jayne focused on being a mom to their son and tried to be patient. After all, her husband never had the urgency of a human life growing inside him to fortify his will power.

Eight years ago, they moved from California to Bend, Oregon, where her husband was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a bi-product of his arrested addiction and current eating habits. He knew if he didn’t do something to improve his health, he would get sicker. Since Bend is known for its mountain trails, and runners populate the bike lanes as often as cyclists, he put on a pair of cross trainers and started logging the miles. His weight began to drop, and he began to feel better.

183122_465327160203974_827085630_nBut Jayne worked graveyard shifts at Village Baker in their son’s early years, so she could be with their little one during the day. Constant sleep deprivation made cat naps more crucial than cardio workouts.

During this time, her mentally ill mother-in-law, estranged from her husband since he was a child, got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and had nowhere to go.

So Jayne and her husband brought his mother home to live with them.

Jayne struggled to be a mom to their son, caregiver to her confused mother-in-law, and co-provider for the household for a nightmarish year-and-a-half before the woman passed away.

Jayne needed an outlet, a way to deal with stress, yet she didn’t know how to squeeze physical exercise into her busy life. Knowing her competitive nature, honed from years of competing in gymnastics meets, her husband teased her for two years, saying she couldn’t run for reasons that had nothing to do with time, alluding to her weight. Then Jayne and her husband both changed jobs, switching schedules, him working nights as head chef at a swanky restaurant, and her working days at Whole Foods Market after their son started school.

“I started running because [my husband] told me I wasn’t capable,” Jayne confesses. “I wasn’t going to let him be right.”

Getting regular sleep and living in daylight allowed Jayne to join a runners’ training group for a half-marathon through FootZone, an apparel 13346501_10208477979963824_4632028197835674607_nstore in downtown Bend that cultivates and nurtures the local running community. She made lasting friendships with people who supported each other in reaching their fitness goals. That first year, she not only became an excellent runner, Jayne lost 60 pounds and has kept them off ever since.

Three years ago, Jayne got a call from Christina Stavro, a training group coordinator at FootZone, who asked if Jayne would be willing to mentor other runners in the half-marathon group training for the race in Silver Falls, Oregon. A free pair of running shoes sweetened the deal, and Jayne has been mentoring groups ever since.

10433144_450950215071907_7800429536368401572_nIn fact, Jayne has been my knowledgeable, patient, supportive running mentor in both the Silver Falls Half-Marathon and Bend Marathon training groups through FootZone. I’ll be forever grateful for her gentle motivation, talking me through sore glutes, hips, and hamstrings, encouraging me to the top of steep roads and trails that seemed would never end.

In the meantime, Jayne’s marriage secretly suffered from her and her husband’s opposite work schedules. Last year, they had drifted so far apart, they became little more that roommates.

“I wasn’t afraid for him to leave,” Jayne recounts. “I’m not dependent on him anymore.”

At the brink of separation, they decided to carve out running time together, and their relationship began to grow again.10394615_10152840328548189_2315796588886067072_n

“We’ve realized we do better together,” Jayne acknowledges. “He’s my best friend.”

They’ve finally become a good influence on each other. Since March, they’ve trained for and competed in two races together, and she sees many others in their future. On July 9, Jayne will run her first ultra-marathon, a 50K (31 miles) at Mount Hood in Oregon. But her husband won’t be participating. He and their son will be cheering for Jayne as she crosses the finish line.

Thanks for sharing your story with our Tenacity to Triumph readers, Jayne!

 

Readers, can you relate to Jayne’s story in some way? We’d love for you to leave a comment.

Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

Trish Wilkinson,

Author, Writing Coach, Freelance Editor

Meet Pauline, a Total Bad Ass Who Doesn’t Realize She’s Awesome

Pauline and her dog, Jack
Pauline and her dog, Jack

I meet amazing people to write about for this blog in the most unlikely places. The funny thing is, heroes think they’re normal. Nothing special. Talking people into letting me tell their stories often takes a bit of convincing that others can benefit from their experiences, particularly the life choices that empowered them to become the successes they are today.

For example, Pauline Kinneman, one of my favorite new running buddies in Central Oregon,

Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group
Pauline and I running in the Silver Falls Half Marathon last November where she placed third for her age group

doesn’t think she’s special at all, but she’s a total bad ass. Due to her peer pressure, I’m training for the Bend Marathon, my first marathon ever, on Sunday, April 24. What kind of crazy people run 26.2 miles, for cryin’ out loud? Apparently, people like me who admire and respect someone like Pauline, a 62-year-old who has won several medals in half and full marathons, a woman nine years my senior who kicks my butt on the roads and trails. She’s also the mother of three amazing adults: Sean Michael Gion, age 32, father, husband, software sales executive; Lauren Elizabeth Frances, M.D., age 30, and Katherine Rose Sylvia, age 26, wife, writer for Human Resources at Columbia University.

A former manager for a Barnes & Noble in Seattle, customer relations officer for Washington Energy, disc jockey back in the day, retail sales person, and model for Frederick and Nelson as a teenager, Pauline now spends much of her time running with her FootZone friends talking, joking, and offering humble encouragement. When she isn’t running, she hits the ski slopes, braves rocky trails on her mountain bike, and takes 200+ mile trips on her road bike with her husband, Michael, of 37 years.

You might guess, with a such a glowing track record (pun intended), she came from a stable, educated family.

You would be wrong.

Pauline’s father, John Kelty, was illiterate. John ran away from home and enlisted in the army in his teens. As a sergeant in World War II, he was one of the last Muleskinners who saved women and children in the Swiss Alps, and he had a fabulous singing voice.

But he could never quiet his inner demons.

220px-Tennis_Racket_and_BallsPauline’s mother, Sylvia Baker, a professional tennis player who competed at the U.S. Open, met John, a soldier 12 years her senior, guarding the tennis courts in Japan where she’d been asked to play in a “Friendlies” match with the Emperor. A whirlwind romance would have the two married several months later.

And her mother would discover her new husband was a mean drunk.

Still, Pauline’s oldest brother Frank came along, Geoffrey followed two years later, and Pauline Sylvia Kelty, named after her English grandmother, arrived a couple years after Geoff. Her mother continued to play tennis, and her dad worked for Boeing as a plumber. They lived in a two-bedroom house in Seattle where little Pauly slept in a crib in the same room with her brothers until she was five years old.

Meanwhile, her alcoholic father had become physically abusive.

By the time Pauly turned six, her parents had split up. Her dad didn’t pay child support, so the family practically starved while her mom struggled to pay the bills on the meager sponsorship from Boeing to play in tennis tournaments and her secretary’s salary.

Pauly didn’t go to preschool or kindergarten. She stayed home with her stuffed animals while her mom went to work and her brothers went to school. When she got hungry, she’d knock at neighbors’ doors, asking for something to eat. In the afternoons, she walked several blocks by herself and waited for her brothers to be let out of class for the day.

Yet when her mom had a tennis match scheduled, Pauly and her brothers bathed and dressed in clean white shirts and behaved as model imageschildren, seen and not heard. At the swanky tennis clubs, servers brought them food and drinks while their mother battled for another tennis trophy.

“People waited on us,” says Pauline. “We were little princes and a princess – until we went home to our hovel.”

Win or lose, Sylvia would take the kids back to their little house to carefully stow their pressed shirts and slacks for the next match. On days when Sylvia didn’t have a match scheduled, she and Pauly would go to the track at the local public high school, where Pauly would watch her mom hit tennis balls against a wall and run laps to stay in shape.

track-shoes-9068173“I’d go to sleep at the side of the track listening to the rhythm of her feet,” Pauline remembers. “[The sound] was comforting.”

In addition to the difficulties of day-to-day living, the family lived in terror knowing her father could appear at any time, wasted and ready to bully them.

“We’d hold our breath hoping Dad wouldn’t show up drunk and violent,” Pauline confides. “Sometimes we had to leave to get away from him, which was fun because the no-tell-motel would have a pool, [but other times] the police would have to come and take him away.”

Single motherhood, a struggling tennis career, and an abusive ex-husband ground Sylvia into deep depression, so she tried to lift her spirits by dating. If Pauly and her brothers came home to hear music playing, they knew to stay out of the house. If the music still played after her date left, they knew their mother’s dark mood would isolate her for the rest of the evening. After such nights, ten-year-old Pauly would coax her mother out of bed, assemble an outfit, and help dress her for work in the morning.

“School was awful,” Pauline admits. “I was always sleepy, and I was super thin because I ate terribly.”

At age 11, Pauly found her mother running around the house with a handful of pills threatening to kill herself. Not knowing what else to do, sheimages (3) called the police. When the cops arrived, she and her brothers hid, and Sylvia told the police there had been a misunderstanding. After the police left, the kids crawled out of their hiding places, and Pauly tucked her mom into bed.

The following morning, Pauly ran late for school, so she awakened her mother, set out Sylvia’s clothes for work, and left the house. That day, Pauly got into trouble with her teacher for falling asleep in class, so she decided to go home for a nap. A priest intercepted her and broke the news that her mom was in the hospital. In a daze, Pauly walked home from school. When she wandered into the bathroom, she found bright red blood splattered on the walls, in the bathtub, and smeared on the floor.

“I can still see it in my mind if I’m not careful,” Pauline confesses. “It was horrible.”

Worse, Frank and Geoff blamed their little sister for their mother’s suicide attempt, saying that calling the police the night before had pushed her over the edge.

images (1)Sylvia was taken to the psych ward at the hospital. At first, people from their church took in the kids, but as days turned to weeks, Pauly and her brothers became wards of the state of Washington. Fifteen-year-old Frank went to live in an orphanage, Geoff spent time at the Griffin Home for Boys, and Pauly lived with the Lazaras family in foster care. The Lazarases had a rifle range in their basement, and they taught Pauly how to shoot. They also generously shared their horses and took her on trail rides. After two weeks, Betty Rae and Bud Gross, the Lazaras’s next-door-neighbors, asked Pauly to live with them.

When Sylvia got out of the hospital, she tried to get her children back, but the neighbors testified that she was an unfit mother, so the state wouldn’t allow Pauly and her brothers to go home. Pauly felt guilty to be relieved because, though the bathroom had been cleaned, whenever she visited the house for her mom’s visitation, vivid flashbacks made her heart race, and she’d have to walk outside.

Her mother felt there was little to live for without her children. Sylvia began to drink heavily and take amphetamines to control her weight, all while playing punishing amounts of tennis. Within months, Sylvia collapsed on the tennis court. Geoffrey, now 14, left the boys’ home to take care of her.

Just before Pauly’s 12th birthday in November, her mother died of liver cancer – and Geoffrey suffered a psychotic break.

“[Geoffrey] was never the same after Mom died,” Pauline concedes. “I think part of it had to do with him having to go to the same psych ward as our mother to recover.”

Pauline remembers her mother treating everyone with kindness. “[Mom] would say, ‘You never know what is going on with people. There is always someone who has had more pain [than we have].’”

Beverly and Vivian, Sylvia’s older sisters from California, came to Washington to attend the funeral. Pauly danced and skipped, excited to see her aunts for the first time, hoping these new-found family members would become part of her and her brothers’ lives. But Aunts Vivian and Beverly left shortly after the memorial service. Pauly didn’t know if she’d ever hear from them again.

A few weeks after the funeral, Aunt Beverly called and explained Frank and Geoff were too old, but 12-year-old Pauly could come to live with her family in California. Pauly’s first time on an airplane, she flew by herself to live with an aunt she scarcely knew as well as an uncle and four cousins she’d never met. Pauly kept up with her aunt’s strict schedule of activities and mealtimes, but she was in pain over the loss of her mother. In her grief, she escaped by burying her nose in books every chance she got.

Two weeks after Pauly arrived, Aunt Beverly sat her down on the bed and said: “This isn’t working out.”

Sylvia’s oldest sister, Aunt Vivian, came to the rescue and offered Pauly a home. Aunt Vivian had a pool, and she set out the funny papers for Pauly to read at the breakfast table. With lots of swimming and reading and easy conversation, her inner-turmoil subsided. Life began to settle into a secure rhythm – until four weeks later when Aunt Vivian said she’d already raised her children and wasn’t prepared to bring up another child.

Pauly was sent back to Washington. She lived in two foster homes before Betty Rae and Bud Gross got licensed to be foster parents and invited her to come live with them again. She was almost 13. For the next four years, Pauly lived with them, but tensions grew in their home after the Gross’s son enlisted in the army and left to fight in Vietnam.

FHSLibrary
Interior Franklin HS Library

In those years, Pauly’s self-esteem steadily declined. Few of her peers knew she was a foster kid. Most

Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington
Franklin High School, Seattle, Washington

people thought of her as the “nice little girl who worked in the school library.”

Then in tenth grade, Philip Quinn, Pauly’s English teacher at Franklin High School, began to tutor her in the library with a group of other struggling kids to help them catch up in their classes. More important, he told Pauly she was smart, praising her for academic and emotional progress. Slowly, her self-image improved.

In her senior year, one fateful afternoon, she got into a shouting match with Betty Rae, and Pauly ran away. Literally. Being on the cross-country team at Franklin High, she ran miles and miles.

Eventually she bumped into a girl from school. Although little more than an acquaintance, the girl took Pauly home, and the girl’s parents let Pauly spend the night. The next day, Pauly went to see the guidance counselor. When Mr. Quinn found out what had happened, he called his pregnant wife, and the couple agreed to take Pauly in for a while. Christopher, the Quinn’s two-and-a-half-year-old son thought his daddy brought Pauly home especially for him as the two of them hit it off the moment she walked into the tiny, two-bedroom house.

Pauly finished her senior year of high school with the Quinn family, and Philip helped her get into the University of Puget Sound. She earned a degree in psychology, met Michael Kinneman through a mutual friend, and began her journey as a successful adult.

To this day, Pauline and the Quinns keep in touch, celebrating accomplishments, sharing in sorrows, or merely catching up. Betty Rae and Pauline have long since made amends, and the Gross family, too, remain precious friends. Sadly, Pauline’s brother Geoffrey died at age 44 struggling with addiction, but Frank lives in Alaska and is the mayor in the small town where he lives with his wife. Frank and Pauline have done their best to heal from the past. They talk on the phone and visit each other whenever possible.

Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family
Pauline (yellow dress), husband Michael (far right), and much of her family at Katharine and Tyler’s wedding

Soon Pauline will hang out with her daughter, Katharine Rose, and her son-in-law, Tyler Bischop when she travels east to run in the New York Marathon on November 6. My guess is that she’ll get another medal, but whether she places in her age group or not, Pauline is a hero in my book.

Pauline, thanks for allowing me to share your story as a notable bad ass on Tenacity to Triumph.

Readers, we’d love to “hear” your comments. Hopefully, Pauline’s story struck a chord to give you that extra something you need to get through your personal challenges.

 

If you have a story of grit and determination to share, leave a comment or email me at writetowinwithtrish@gmail.com, and we’ll make that happen.

                                                                                                Here’s to bad asses everywhere!

                                                                                                Trish Wilkinson

 

Robert D. Maxwell: The Oldest Living Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor

download (2)At age 95, Robert Maxwell is the oldest living recipient of the United States Congressional Medal of Honor, and one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. I had the pleasure to meet him at a Band of Brothers meeting in Bend, Oregon, and he agreed to tell me his story.

Born in Boise, Idaho in 1920, Bob’s parents separated when he was a baby. His mom was a traveling saleswoman, so he was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Quinter, Kansas. His earliest memories are of helping to weed and harvest crops, gather eggs, feeding chickens and pigs, and milking cows.

“My aunts and uncles treated me like a little brother,” he said. “When I was about 10, my uncles found a runnable car. We took off the body, put a bench seat over the gas tank, and rode all over the farm on that thing.” Bob cracks a smile and sits back in his chair at our table in the dining hall at Aspen Ridge Retirement Home.

In seventh grade, Bob had to leave school since his family needed his help on the farm. During the summers, his grandpa kept the farm going while he and his “big brothers” traveled to Willamette and Puget Sound, Oregon where they got paid to pick fruit.

One Sunday in 1937, when Bob was 15, a huge dust cloud blew in from Nebraska through Kansas. Fierce winds blew all day and most of the night. The air was so thick with dust; midday could have been midnight. He and his brothers wore scarves on their faces and held onto a rope to get to the barn to feed the animals. When the ferocious gale finally waned, buildings were buried up to the eaves. All the top soil had gone, leaving bedrock too hard to replant. Along with many Dust Bowl survivors, Bob’s family packed up to find a place where they could make a living.

They decided to go to Oregon, but by the time they made it to Colorado, Bob’s grandpa had fallen ill. The boys worked on a cattle ranch for a year before setting out again for Oregon; however, close to the base of the Rocky Mountains, his grandpa got sick again. They couldn’t continue to travel, so the family found a timber ranch where they supplied railroad ties and support frames for mine shafts, harvested Christmas trees, made fence posts, and bundled scraps to sell as firewood. Then in June of 1941, Bob got a letter telling him to report for service in the United States Army. Raised in the Quaker faith, the army offered Bob “Conscientious Objector” status, but he refused saying it was a privilege to fight for his country.

Used to hard work, Bob underwent 13 weeks of intensive training at Camp Roberts in Central California. He specialized in operating a 30 caliber water-cooled machine gun on three-man crew. From there, he went to Maryland to spend another 14 weeks at Fort Meade to learn advanced infantry tactics.

By February of 1942, Bob had boarded a ship and landed in North Africa at Casablanca, 19 months before D-Day, where he believes World War IIjb_wwii_casablan_2_e actually began. Four months after the Third Infantry seized Casa Blanca from the Germans, Bob joined the advancing company as a wire man. “Because that’s what was needed,” he says. Forget firing big guns the way he’d been trained. Since radios were easily jammed by the Germans, Bob lay wire from the battalion to the switchboard, so the company commander could call in firing orders via telephone.

From Casablanca, the Third Infantry made their way through Italy where they fought under General Patton and took Sicily in 38 days. American divisions and British units fought side-by-side to secure the island. After the victory in Sicily, Bob’s infantry traveled by water and continued to Naples where they fought until the Italians surrendered and joined the Allied forces.

Early 1944, Bob’s infantry landed south of Rome, in Anzio, to establish a beachhead, where Bob would earn his first purple heart. Although the Allies caught the German’s by surprise for another victory, Bob got injured. He was taken to the hospital in Naples on January 29. On June 5, the day before D-Day in Normandy, Bob was released from the hospital to rejoin his battalion when they came back through Naples.

In August of the same year, U.S. troops headed north along the Rhone River, up through southern France to Besançon, where they joined forces with English soldiers who had been traveling south. The night of September 7, 1944, Bob was on a roof, stringing wire from house to house to the battalion commander’s phone line when a German gun crew attacked the Battalion Command Post from a ditch near the railroad track. Bob didn’t bother climbing down; he jumped off the roof to avoid getting shot and frantically continued hooking up phone lines.

He came upon four infantry men and a radio guy crouched below a 4-foot stone wall shooting .45 caliber pistols at the attackers. Bob joined the fray, firing his own gun at the sparks in the dark. A grenade landed near Bob’s feet and rolled. He dropped where he was, hoping to fall on top of it and cushion the blast to save the other five men.

“I must have kicked [the grenade],” remembers Bob, “because it blew a hole in my steel-toed boot and tore up my foot.”

As it happened, the explosion was contained against the wall, and all six men were spared. MOH9Maxwell

Again admitted to the hospital in Naples, doctor’s repaired Bob’s right foot, but shrapnel had hit his temple; he couldn’t see out of his left eye. Hoping doctors in the States could safely remove the shrapnel and restore his eyesight, the U.S. Army sent him home.

Once back in the states, a surgeon removed the metal fragments from Bob’s temple, and his eye regained the ability to see. For his acts of heroism, seven months later, on April 6, 1945, Robert Maxwell  was awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor as well as his second Silver Star and Purple Heart medals in Denver, Colorado. Bob was also awarded the “Legion of Honor” by the French government on a French frigate near Norfolk, VA.

By then, his grandfather had died, and his grandmother had moved to Creswell, Oregon with his two uncles to work another farm.

“I took one look at that farm and turned around and enrolled in vocational school in Eugene,” Bob recalls with a chuckle. “No more farming for me.”

After two years’ training as an auto mechanic, Bob did a two-year apprenticeship for Oldsmobile in Redmond, Oregon. During this time, he met Beatrice who would become his life-long love. After the apprenticeship, he got a full-time job working for Ford, and a year later, on August 12, 1951, he and Beatrice got married at Redmond Christian Church.

While working under a Ford truck, the manager for the new Central Oregon College Mechanics Department (COC) wandered into the shop to offer Bob a teaching position. Bea pushed him to take the job as she thought it would be safer for him to teach than to work on cars. Since Bob’s formal education had ended in the seventh grade, in order to accept the teaching position, he took and passed the test to get his GED. During the winter and spring semesters, he taught, wrote curriculum, collected equipment, and found cars for his students to work on. In the summers, he took classes at Corvallis State College to eventually earn a degree in Industrial Education. Bob also taught auto mechanics classes at Bend High School in the 1950s.

“Bob was my scout leader [in Redmond, 1955],” says Wes Woofhiser, friend and fellow Band of Brothers member. “I damaged a car and Bob fixed it.”

IMG_0630Bob spent nine years at COC and then moved his family to Eugene, Oregon to begin an auto mechanics’ program at Lane Community College. By the time the Maxwells moved to Eugene, Bob and Bea had three daughters, two natural and one adopted. Bea had miscarried their third child, so they fostered Bonnie – and they fell in love with her. They adopted Bonnie in 1968. A year later, they fostered Rosie and decided they couldn’t live without this baby girl either, so at 18 months old, Rosie became the sixth Maxwell family member.

Bob retired from his position at Lane Community College in 1986, but he continued working for two more years until the college could find someone to replace him. Since the girls were grown and on their own, in 1991 he and his wife moved to Boise, Idaho where they established the Medal of Honor Scholarship program at Boise Bible College.

On vacation in Bend, Oregon one summer, they enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to move there in 1995. They lived happily in Bend for almost 20 years. In fact, Bob graduated from Bend Senior High School in 2011 where he is a “Distinguished Alumni”. Sadly, though ten years Bob’s junior, Bea passed away April 10, 2015. She is dearly missed by family and friends – especially Bob. Still he manages to participate in his community.

On October 24 of this year, the day before his 95th birthday, Mr. Robert D. Maxwell, our nation’s oldest living Medal of Honor recipient spoke at the Noon Dedication of the Oregon Medal of Honor Exhibit at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in Mc Minnville, Oregon (where the Spruce Goose is on display). Currently, Bob is also Director for the Bend Heroes Foundation.

Thank God back in 1944 Bob kicked that grenade in the dark rather than of landing on top of it. The world is a better place with the four wonderful daughters he and Bea raised together, the hundreds of kids he taught how to work on cars, and the kindness and humility with which he treats everyone he meets.

To Robert D. Maxwell and every other United States Veteran: Thank you for your service.

Donna’s Tough Road Led Her to 8 Keys For a Great Life

Donna

Donna May grew up in a happy home in Saint Louis, but as an adult, she got mixed up in an abusive relationship. One fateful night, injured, hysterical and crying, Donna ran her car into her abuser while trying to flee. He’d told her if she ever hurt him, she better kill him, so she wheeled around and ran him over.

Except the body on the street turned out to be her violent lover’s friend.

Donna was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On December 19, 1990 she entered the Department of Corrections, and her two daughters went to live with her parents.

While incarcerated, determined to make a better life when she got out, she took classes from Lincoln University to add to the 18 credit hours she’d earned from St. Louis Community College at Forest Parks. In the meantime, her father passed away in July, 1996 and then her mother in January, 1997.  Adding to the crushing grief of losing her parents, she worried for her children who had been in their care, but her family came through. Her oldest daughter, then 17, went to live with Donna’s grandmother, and her younger daughter, 14, moved in with Donna’s cousin.

In 1998 after being denied parole, another offender asked if Donna would share her background with a visitor involved in a law school working on behalf of people who were incarcerated for killing their abuser. Though Donna’s situation was unique, a student and professor took her case, speaking on her behalf at a parole hearing in 2000. The board granted her a two-year release date, and she arrived at Saint Mary’s Honor Center on August 22, 2002.

Donna and her daughters, now ages 23 and 19, eagerly got to know each other again, making family unification quite easy. It became Donna’s habit to go to church with her Aunt Jenny, and one Sunday, a member of the congregation encouraged her to visit a group meeting at a coffee shop. She loves coffee, so she attended and found herself in a “judge-free zone”. There she learned about the Dress for Success.

Dress for Success fitted her for a suit the following week in 2002, a suit that she still has today.DFS_Midwest-web

Though Donna knew the Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) only accepted non-violent offenders, she submitted an application anywaylogo-side-gold3b while still incarcerated. In talking to Barbara Baker at CWIT, Donna explained the steps she’d taken to create a better life; her college classes, becoming an effective computer coder for the Department of Corrections, how she had become reacquainted with her faith in God – and Ms. Baker accepted Donna to the program.

With a criminal record, Donna couldn’t get a job in computers, so she took a position working for a cranky boss at a thrift store making $5.15 an hour. During that time she attended weekly Let’s Start meetings, a letsstart_logosupport group for women, and monthly CWIT gatherings to set goals and work with a mentor. She came to understand she had choices, so Donna walked off the job at the thrift store when she decided her boss had berated her for the last time. That same day, she got hired at McDonald’s for $6.00 an hour – which meant she got a raise.

Donna left Saint Mary’s October 2002 and moved in with Aunt Jenny, and continued to improve her life. As a mentee with CWIT, she got health coverage and a therapist. With the help of her therapist and support from CWIT, through Vocational Rehabilitation she was able to attend Vatterott College for a year where she earned a certificate of competence with Microsoft Office. But it was also during this time, in 2003, that her aunt passed away. CWIT paid for Donna’s deposit and first month’s rent, so she could move into her own apartment.

Donna took a position working for The Women’s Safe House, an emergency shelter for abused women and their children, while she completed classes for her Associate of Arts degree in business at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. By then, she had completed the mentee program at CWIT, but she remained active by attending monthly gatherings.

In 2004, she became a customer service representative earning $10 an hour, the most she’d earned since returning home, where she stayed until the call center closed in March, 2006. In May, she graduated with her AA, but hard as she tried, she couldn’t find a job. Then she got a message on her phone to call CWIT.

“Hello, Donna,” said the director. “We have a job for you if you would like it.”

“God hears and answers prayers,” Donna says. “I could not believe it…as if the path to my future began with becoming a mentee [at CWIT] in 2002.”

The next day, June 7, 2006, Donna went to the CWIT office where she became the Administrative Assistant. By March, 2007, she was askedLogoNewBanner2 CWIT to be a Lead Case Manager. She had no idea what that meant, but she accepted the position – and the pay increase. In working with clients, women adjusting to life outside of prison, Donna had already enrolled in the University of Missouri-St Louis School of Social Work because she felt she needed more education. In addition, once Donna was released from parole in 2009, she became a mentor at CWIT, helping other formerly incarcerated women to set goals and take steps toward recreating their lives.

Despite her history, Donna also took a leap of faith in 2009 and applied for the Payroll Specialist position at CWIT.

She told Executive Director, Nancy Kelly, “…given the opportunity, I know I can learn [Quick Books] and be successful in this position.”

“Donna May,” Nancy said, “I am confident that whatever position I place you in, you will succeed.”

Those powerful words have helped to fuel Donna’s belief in herself ever since.

She remained the Payroll Specialist at CWIT until May, 2010 when she left for a paid practicum position in social work. Due to receive her bachelor’s degree, Donna recognized that effectively supporting people in navigating their complicated lives would require more training. She wanted to apply for graduate school, but writing the required essay terrified her.

“I never chose social work,” her story began, “social work chose me because of the challenges that I have come face-to-face with in my life…”

In August 2011, Donna started her journey in grad school and was able to perform her practicum in private practice where she learned a greatDonna's MSW deal about diagnoses and barriers for those with mental illness. Sadly, after she graduated with her MSW in December 2013, again she struggled to find a job.

logo-connections-to-success-cRejection after rejection, Donna kept reaching out until she eventually applied for a position with Connections to Success, an organization working to break the cycle of poverty with hope, resources and a plan. During her interview in April, 2013, she wore the same suit that had been assembled for her at Dress for Success back in 2002.

The program director hired Donna as a Life Transformation Coach, the perfect position for someone who had been a mentee and spent several years mentoring others at the Center for Women in Transition. Donna knew how to support people’s decisions and goals as well as help them to see what’s possible.

Less than a year later, Donna was promoted to Life Transformation Coaching Manager, and by April 2014, she shared a dual role as Program Director. Today, Donna oversees the database as the Fidelity and Compliance Manager at Connections for Success. She also works with the Restorative Justice Committee on the Board of Directors for The Center for Women in Transition. 

And she makes people’s lives better every day.

Donna’s 8 Keys to a Great Life:
  1. God hears and answers prayers.
  2. We’re never stuck; we have choices.
  3. Past mistakes are in the past; focus on the future.
  4. Learn to think of yourself and present yourself in a positive light.
  5. Never let others define who you are.
  6. Never allow anyone to tell you what you can’t do.
  7. If you are ever in an abusive situation, please call for help. (ALIVE is a great resource, and there will be several others in your community.)
  8. Most important, follow Norman Peale’s advice: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Which of Donna’s keys have you found helpful on your life’s journey?

Former Prison Inmate, Barbara Baker, Helps Women to Recreate Their Lives

Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition
Barbara at work at the Center for Women in Transition

My childhood in St. Louis, Missouri was a happy one. My mother had seven sisters, and when they began to have children, they continued to live at home with my grandmother.   Four of my first cousins and I grew up together. We were normal kids who played and got into trouble sometimes, and when we got out of hand, my grandmother was the one who punished us.

The first school I remember attending was Laclede Elementary, which was in walking distance from our house.  In third grade, I got suspended because I hit another student when she refused to give my cousin a piece of candy. I was afraid to tell my mother, so I left for school  the next day as I normally would and walked around the neighborhood. This lady asked why I wasn’t in school, so I told her what had happened. She offered to write a letter to get me back in school, and I left her as happy as I could be. When I got school, though, I found out she had written that she did not know me, but I had been walking around outside by myself, and she was concerned. Of course the principal called my mother and told her to come pick me up. I can’t remember if I got a spanking, but I do know I was glad to return to school.

I liked school, but I couldn’t resist being the class clown and getting into trouble, even knowing that my mother would whip me for it. As a young child, I liked to skate, run, dance, play baseball and volleyball, and meddle with adults. Why, I don’t know, but upsetting them made me laugh. At any given time, I always had a bag of something sweet, mostly candy. In fact, looking back, I realize candy was my first addiction. If my mother or someone else in the household did not give me money for candy, I would steal the change laying around the house, or I would cry and throw a fit until I got it.

When I was 11 or 12 years old, my mother met a man who would later become my step dad. I did not like him and did not want him as part of

Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis
Pruitt Igoe Projects, St. Louis

our family. Although he was a good person, I did not realize that until many years later. He worked hard to support us, but I wanted nothing from him. To this day, I do not know why I did not like this man, except that he and my mother moved us to the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. I fought tooth-and-nail to stay with my grandmother, but in the end, I had to go with my mom.

In time, I grew to love the projects. I met other teens who were as confused about life as I was. Around the age of 16, my friends turned me on to cough syrup with codeine and weed. I loved the way I felt like I could take on the world if I wanted to, and we could just walk into any drugstore and buy this cough syrup. Then the FDA began to require a prescription to buy it. I guess I was about 18 when this happened, and someone suggested we get some heroin because they said the high was the same as the syrup. Like a fool, I tried heroin and my life was a roller coaster from that day on.

Addiction caused me to be in and out of jail until I was about 45 years old. Drugs had such a grip on me that sometimes when I got locked up, I would be relieved. I was caught in a revolving door where I would get out of prison, get a job, get a house, get my children back, and then relapse again.  I wanted to be drug-free but had no idea how to make it happen. Treatment was not talked about at that time. The mindset was that addicts chose to use drugs, so they had to suffer the consequences.

In my mind, I was not a bad person because I did not steal from my family. I had given myself permission to steal from stores, my rationale being that stores were insured, so no one got hurt.  After going to prison for the third time, I started to look at myself, but I still had no idea that I was an addict or what I needed to do to change.  When I went back to prison for the fifth and last time, I knew I had to do something different.

The day I had been arrested, my family was in the process of moving on a Saturday morning. While my son and daughter, who were living with me at the time, went to get the second load of belongings to take to the new house, I decided to run downtown to Macey’s. I was dope sick and could hardly help with the move, so I had planned to steal something quickly, so I could get my fix.

But I got busted.

inside prisonMy daughter had no job to support her two small children. When she came to see me in jail, I told her that I had violated my parole and would not be getting out. I could see the fear and hurt in her eyes. She didn’t know how she and her children would survive. The pain in her eyes that day, along with my desire to escape from the revolving door, finally got me to seek the help I needed.

I wanted to change and make a better life for myself.  My daughter and grandkids were also a big factor as well as the prison warden. I worked in administration as the Institution Activities Clerk in the same building as the warden’s office, across the street from the prison.  She and I would talk about my life, my children, and my addiction to drugs. She respected me and the way I carried myself while I was doing time.  We met the first time I landed in prison. She was about 5 feet tall, very intelligent, and she dressed smart. She talked to me plainly so I would understand in lay terms what she said to me. Don’t get me wrong. I was not a goody-two-shoes in prison, but I kept up the appearance that I was.

The last time I got high was in prison, and that is where I made the final decision not to get high again, and to this day I have not. I made this decision because I was on work release and close to getting my good time to get out in three years rather than seven. Then me and two other women had used heroin and crack on a Friday, and the next Tuesday I was asked to give a drug test. I prayed as hard as I could asking God not to let those drugs still be in my urine. Cocaine and heroin can clear in 72 hours if you just use them once. Well, I did not drop dirty, and I was grateful.

I had told my roommate I was never going to use again when I got to the streets, but after risking four more years of incarceration, I told her I was not using again in prison either. When drugs came my way, I passed them on to another friend. Had I known what I know today about addiction, I would not have given the drugs to anyone else either.

I came home October 3, 1995. My family would always welcome me back with open arms each time I got out of prison. Like so many families, they hoped I would stay away from drugs. Before this, their dreams had always been dashed when I had gotten involved with the same old people, places, and things. But they never gave up on me. They always did what they needed to do for my children. When I disappeared, they hoped and prayed that the phone call they would get would be that I was in jail and not dead.

That October in 1995 began a new way of life for me, though, because I joined a support group called Let’s Start which is dedicated toletsstart_logo assisting women in transition from prison life to society. I began to find out what I needed to do to stay clean, and I learned about myself and my addiction. I finally let go of those old people, places and things. No one besides positive people and family members knew how to get in contact with me.

After eighteen months of sobriety, my family gave me a birthday party. A woman in my support group had told me to stop counting the days, so I had not realized that I had been out of prison for that long. The most painful thing about getting clean was to learn that my children had suffered the most from my addiction and incarceration. My son is a heroin addict, has been to prison, and is now on probation. My daughter stayed away from drugs, but she struggled as a young single parent who could not depend on her mother for help in any way.

For the first two years, I had an apartment out in the country, so none of my old influences would find me. After I felt people knew I was serious about changing my life, I moved back into the city. During that time, Let’s Start taught me how to approach judges, legislators, probation officers etc. I had no idea how I was going to use any of this information at this stage in my life. I was just desperate to stay clean and out of jail. My way of life had never worked for me, so I listened and took suggestions. I’d always known the God of my understanding had a plan for my life because I survived two overdoses, so there must have been a reason for Him to keep me around.

Then I was hired by the Center for Women in Transition and was given an opportunity to use my past to help other women struggling withlogo-side-gold3b addiction and advocate for alternatives to incarceration. I did not come out of jail with an ideal that I was going to work with other women who had been in my situation, nor that I would become a role model for them. I am so comfortable in this job. This had to be God’s plan for my life. No one could have told me that I would have judges calling to ask my advice about clients, or that judges would reschedule clients’ court dates to accommodate my busy schedule. The God of my understanding has blessed my life so much. I could not be here without His grace and mercy.

My future goals are to live a simple life and be there for my grandchildren. I can’t get back the special times and events that I missed in my children’s lives, but I can give back through my grandkids. I turned 64 at the end of April and am getting close to retirement, however, I still plan to continue to help women get their lives back on track. Supporting other mothers in recovery means that fewer children will have to go through what my children experienced with me drifting in and out of their lives.

“My motto is: A closed mouth don’t get fed.”

             My Advice: If you or a family member struggle with addiction, don’t hesitate to ask for help. I don’t care how well you know a person, when their addiction is active, you are not dealing with or talking to that person. You are talking to their addiction, and it won’t hear you. You have to be ready to show tough love. Don’t get caught up in the fear that if you put them out of the house, they will die out there. If you let them stay and they continue to use, one thing will surely happen: death, jail or another institution. Addiction affects the whole family, but the fact that someone in your family uses drugs has no reflection on you. We can give our children the best upbringing possible, but we have no control over the paths they choose. Tough love is not saying, “I don’t love you.” It is saying, “I’m here to support you in getting help, but I will not watch you DIE.”

If you are using and trying to stop, it can happen, but there are things that you must do.

  • Get involved in some type of support group.
  • Change people, places and things. You can’t have a relationship with anyone who is still using. You won’t get them clean. They will get you high.
  • Go to treatment and get a sponsor.
  • Seek out the help you need.  Look up resources on the Internet.
  • WE DO RECOVER.

In working towards your goals, no matter what they might be:

 

The links in this article provide lots of great information and resources. We’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome experiences you’d like to share. Your comment could be the tipping point in someone seeking help in dealing with a loved one or setting personal goals to recreate their own lives.

Jade Edwards: From Abuse to Belief – In Herself

Focusing on the Simplest Positives Can Get You through Anything

Jade Edwards
Jade Edwards

I am the oldest of three children and often feel like a mother to my brother and sister, even to this day. My mom and dad had a very physically and emotionally abusive relationship, with life-threatening and hospital-inducing fights for as far back as I can remember. There was always some combination of bruises, broken bones, tears, screams, secrets, and fear at home. As little kids, we would hide under the bed, behind the couch, or stay outside during these fights when we could. Sometimes we weren’t lucky enough to find a hiding place. Being the oldest child of abusive parents, I grew up extremely quickly, sheltering the youngest sibling, my sister, as much as possible. Unfortunately, my brother was beaten by both my mom and dad, while I suffered emotional abuse.

 

 

I found refuge in books. On weekends, you could find me sitting in a FROMWHOMTHEBELLTOLLSgrassy, sunny backyard reading classic novels and poetry. On the Internet, I found a Harvard reading list and checked out those books from the library. If I ever had extra money from doing chores for neighbors or babysitting, I would buy books from bookstores. Even as a little kid, I loved Charlotte Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and Emily Dickinson. I am so grateful for those times when I had access to books, small escapes from pandemonium.

 

By age nine, I had changed schools every single grade – constantly starting over in a confusing and overwhelming environment. The summer of my ninth year, my dad committed suicide, and my mom remarried two weeks later. We moved from Georgia to California, where I entered fifth grade. Starting then, I became largely responsible for raising my brother and sister in the midst of malfunction and adversity. My mom was no longer reliably present in our lives, so I learned the daily tasks of how to prepare meals, find transportation to school, and help my brother and sister with tutoring and homework.

 

A very tortured kid, I had a difficult time making friends, had a poor memory, was always in bad health, and was suffering from a major depressive episode without anyone to talk to. Fortunately, my new fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, took an interest in me and changed my life. I became extremely active in school and maintained straight As without any help at home, all the way through middle school.

 

But the work became more difficult in high school, and although I wanted to go to college, I had no guidance or support. My mom quit school after the eighth grade. She had also fallen into alcoholism and drug addiction, divorcing her third husband and making extremely poor decisions in dating. There were too many new men around, too much chaos.

“My biggest obstacle in high school was learning how and when to get help.”

When I left the classroom at the end of the day and on weekends, I had few tools for success and thought the smallest challenges were impossible. I often did not have computer access, transportation, or even a safe place to sleep. I thought everyone had problems like mine, and my biggest obstacle was learning who to ask and how to get help. Desperate to earn the grades I had been used to, I confided in my tenth grade humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby. He guided me to sources and people who could support me in getting the things I needed, and I began to develop and grow.

 

jayd_graduationI graduated from high school with honors and earned a Bachelor’s degree at University of California, San Diego, yet I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living. I’d worked so hard, and it took me longer than the prescribed four years to get my BA since I always had to hold down a job in addition to my studies. Internships, field trips, listening to speakers from various professions; nothing seemed to help me figure out what career I wanted to pursue.

 

Then I received an undergraduate scholarship from the national McNair Scholars Program for low-income, first generation college students. The scholarship enabled me to work as a research assistant in a developmental neuroscience lab with a stipend to perform my own research. I think this was the first time I found something I loved and knew exactly what to work towards. I love studying the brain and how its experience changes as it interacts with the environment.

 

Currently, I am working as a K-12 substitute teacher, and I just got accepted to the master’s program for psychology at California State University, San Marcos where I’ll be studying social cognition in children. Since it took me slightly longer to discover my academic and professional interests, I’ll be a little older than the average master’s student, but my personal drive has been my faithful constant. I often have to remind myself not to compare my progress with “normal” peers, trying to remember that everyone is different and faces their own challenges.

“I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.”

After I get my master’s degree in 2 years, I plan to continue my studies in developmental neuroscience to earn a PhD. My goal is to get a faculty position at a major research institution. This would give me the freedom to research topics that are important to me, such as the effects of risk and resilience on child development. I also look forward to mentoring students who come from tumultuous circumstances, because I felt so alone when I was young. Helping even one person feel less isolated would make a world of difference to me.

 

As far as my personal life with family, friends, and relationships, I find myself with a different perspective than the average person. It takes me extra time to trust people, which is completely okay, and I have a small group of friends. People usually remark on my independence. I have done my best to simplify my life, allowing in only positive, good people and situations whenever possible.

Jade and Dan
Jade and Dan

 

It would be dishonest not to mention the support, grace, and generosity my fiancé has given me these past three years. Just as misguidance has affected me in negative ways, Dan’s influence has allowed me to grow into an open, honest and confident woman – something I never knew was possible! In learning to surround myself with like-minded, goal-driven people, I met my best friend, the greatest person in the world, and I’m grateful for his support.

 

My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Richards, and my 10th grade Humanities teacher, Mr. Coulsby, truly saved my life. I have never been able to thank them properly, so I plan to respect their legacy by being a role model for struggling kids and students whom I encounter. They encouraged me to continue through life with the curiosity of a child and the wisdom that only comes from early tragedy. They taught me that I was not alone and I was worthy, which were very important lessons for me as a young person.

 

While I went through the hardest times in my life, I hadn’t understood my strength. I always concentrated on my shortcomings and weaknesses. Now that I am older, my role model is myself – as a child! I finally understand the power of a resilient young person, which has been the inspiration for my research focus in psychological development. I encourage anyone working towards a goal to focus on the simplest positives, and use your strengths (old, new, small, and large) as momentum.

One Mom’s Ultimate Example

Margarita Jimenez
Margarita Jimenez

Margarita Jimenez’s father unexpectedly passed away when she was eleven years old. Her mother and three older siblings wondered how they would survive in Torreón, a desert city in Coahuila, México. Margarita remembers her own grief, but more vivid is the pain and fear of those around her. She had always known money was tight, but without her father to provide for them, soon bills went unpaid and food became scarce.

 

Sadly, the wages her brothers procured from part-time jobs, while they attended the local university, couldn’t meet expenses. Her mother forbade the boys to quit school to work more hours. It had been a point of pride for their father, a humble handy man, that their sons would earn college degrees. A few months after their father’s death, Margarita’s 18-year-old sister resolved to go to the United States, determined to find work and send home money.

 

As an undocumented immigrant to the U.S., Margarita’s sister encountered obstacles which sometimes put her life in jeopardy. Earning enough to support herself as well as provide for her family in Mexico became overwhelming. Margarita’s mother couldn’t bear the burden she had become to her children any longer. The 42-year-old widow packed up Margarita and migrated to the United States to find work cooking and cleaning, two skills she’d spent decades honing while raising a large family.

 

Arriving in San Diego was so alien that Margarita’s first eleven years in Mexico seemed a distant memory. Nonsensical sounds came out of people’s mouths. No matter how their voices grew louder or they repeated themselves, she couldn’t figure out what they tried to tell her. The other kids had alternatively lighter or darker skin and eyes than her friends in Coahuila. She encountered cultures, religions and lifestyles she didn’t understand.

 

In time, Margarita made friends. She learned to communicate in English and became accustomed to living in the United States. She discovered, though, that after she completed middle and high school, as an undocumented student, she wouldn’t be able to afford to attend college, the way her brothers had in Mexico. No way could her mother scrape together enough money to pay the much higher tuition for non-resident students on a housekeeper’s wages.

 

After high school, Margarita took a job at a delicatessen. She worked extra shifts, countless hours, to earn as much money as possible. One day, she would reach her dream of going to college to get a degree in Business Administration.

 

 

By the time she was 20 years old, she obtained her legal residency in the U.S., but by then, she had married her husband, David, and delivered her daughter, Samantha. She continued working as her family grew; her son, David Junior, was born two years later, and in four more years, Karla arrived. It seemed Margarita would have to give up her dream to pursue higher education. With a family of five, she had to work to help with household expenses.

 

David, Jr.; David, Sr; Margarita, Samantha, Karla
David, Jr.; David, Sr; Margarita, Samantha, Karla

Then fifteen years after high school, with encouragement from her husband, Margarita decided to go back to school. In 2010, she enrolled in classes at the University of Phoenix to earn her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business. She juggled school, work, and family, and more than once, she wondered if she could keep up the frenetic pace. Her husband helped in every way possible; picking up kids from school, taking them to soccer games and practices. He also took over his uncle’s landscaping business on weekends to make extra money, so she could work fewer hours. Their children were understanding when she had to cancel or opt out of family gatherings to complete assignments.

 

Although going to school, studying, writing essays in her second language, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and trying to meet her children’s needs left little time for sleep, Margarita’s family was her motivation for finishing her classes and earning her degree. She wanted to show her children the importance of getting a college education by being their example. Along the way, she changed her major and received her Bachelors of Science degree in Finance in July, 2014.

 

“That day I will never forget, seeing my family cheering for me [at the graduation ceremony],” Margarita said. “They were proud of my accomplishment.”

Margarita graduation

Margarita credits her tenacity to her hard-working mother and supportive husband. Her mom modeled how to be a strong woman, to appreciate every blessing in life, and to never give up. David senior’s optimism, belief in her, and his commitment to their family got Margarita through those times when the finish line, holding that college degree in her hand, seemed too far to reach.

 

 

Since graduation last June, Margarita received a raise at the accounting firm where she works. The most satisfying accomplishment, though, is the light she sees in her children’s eyes. The kids have historically done well in school, but now they have witnessed, first hand, how goals and dreams can come true.

 

“Regardless of how old you are or your background, everyone deserves to be successful in life,” Margarita points out. “Challenges may [arise]…but don’t give up…obstacles only make us stronger.”

Small Town Girl Makes a Big City Difference

Elizabeth Escobar
Elizabeth Escobar

Born in El Centro, California to a 17-year-old mother and a father who was barely 21, Elizabeth Escobar’s parents were too young to know themselves, much less take care of a small child. Due to her dad’s quick temper, Elizabeth witnessed a great deal of domestic violence, though she spent considerable time with her paternal grandparents. When she became old enough to go to kindergarten, school became her refuge. Learning new things excited Elizabeth and provided distraction from her harsh reality at home.

 

Then in first grade, a boy started tormenting her, constantly calling her names because she was chubby. In second grade, the bully’s taunting became worse when her teacher berated Elizabeth in front of the class for not being able to make it across the monkey bars. That same teacher continued to chide her publically in the fourth grade, stripping the little self-esteem Elizabeth had managed to hold onto. Her mom visited the school to talk to the teacher several times, but the woman refused to stop forcing Elizabeth to hang from the bars until she fell off, all the while scolding her for not being able to grasp the next rung (after decades of mistreating children, this teacher is finally under investigation, according to an aunt who still lives in El Centro).

 

During this time, Elizabeth walked into the kitchen to get something to drink, just as her father flew into one of his rages. He backhanded her in the face, giving her a bloody nose that took what seemed like hours for her and her mother to quell. She remembers her mom crying, holding towels soaked in blood. The incident gave her mother the strength and resolve to leave her dad.

 

At age nine, Elizabeth moved into her maternal grandparents’ house in a smaller town. The first week at her new K-8 public school, a girl with a reputation for picking on people chose Elizabeth for her next target. Elizabeth couldn’t believe she’d captured the attention of yet another bully. At the end of the day, the girl and her group of minions stared at Elizabeth walking toward them from outside the school gates. Elizabeth knew the smirks on their faces meant trouble, so she turned around and headed back to her classroom. As she was about to escape inside the door, the bully caught up and punched Elizabeth in the back. Her new fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Murua, heard the commotion and took off to find the attacker. The occasional grumbles from other kids, accusing Elizabeth of “snitching,” had been worth being left alone from that day forward.

 

Elizabeth flourished after that rocky beginning. She met some of her all-time favorite teachers at that neighborhood school.

 

“Mrs. Mura protected, mentored, and saw something in me. She…was my angel…who changed my life…followed by Mr. Galindo, Mr. Colunga, and Mr. Lozano,” Elizabeth recalls. “Thank God I had teachers who looked out for me!”

 

Elizabeth graduated from the eighth grade as the class valedictorian.

 

In the meantime, her dad got help to learn to control his anger, so her parents got back together, and her home life improved. Her mom went back to school to become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and her dad enrolled in the Correctional Officer’s Academy.

  “What I went through during my childhood made me realize…an education was so important because no one could take that away from me,” Elizabeth explains. “It was the only way I could become independent.”

 

Elizabeth did well in high school and attended the local community college. She held two jobs to support herself and to pay for classes, since her parents didn’t have the means to contribute financially. At one of her jobs at a fast food restaurant, her sociology professor used to show up and sit at a table near where she’d be cleaning. “You are too good for this,” he would tell her. “You need to leave the [Imperial] valley.”

 

In three years, Elizabeth earned an Associate of Arts degree with honors and had decided to take her professor’s advice. Although the Criminal Justice department at San Diego State University (SDSU) was severely impacted, she applied anyway – and she got accepted to the program!

 

She attended SDSU part time and worked full time until she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2004. During her senior year, she completed an internship with the County of San Diego Public Defender’s Office, where she works today.

 

Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika
Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika

In the Public Defender’s office, Elizabeth had mentioned her desire to help kids, especially girls, “not to get caught up in the system.” One of her co-workers saw an ad in the Union Tribune asking for mentors to participate in the Hermanitas® (Little Sisters) program in 2006, an affiliate of MANA, a nationwide Latina organization.

 

That was almost eight years ago.

 

Since then, Elizabeth has been mentor for up to three young Latinas at a time.

This year, Erika, Elizabeth’s Hermanita since sixth grade, will graduate from high school, so the two of them are busily planning SAT dates,

Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park
Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park

revising Erika’s personal statement to apply for colleges, and making lists of possibilities for the institution where Erika will begin her next education adventure a year from now.

 

And Elizabeth has become the Director for Hermanitas®, determined to give as many girls as possible the tools and support to succeed in today’s world.

 

Elizabeth has powered through adversity and found dreams were attainable if she stayed focused and moved through her fears. Along the way, mentors helped her to create a path for her future. They provided advice, and most of all, they believed in her. Now Elizabeth returns that support and love to others, so they, too, will find themselves living successful, fulfilling lives.

 

We’d love to hear from you! If you or someone you know has a story of success through grit and determination, or you have something to say about our small town girl who touches more lives than she’d ever imagined, please write a comment below, and share this with your friends. J