Too Much Coincidence Not to be Part of the Cosmic Plan

By Trish Wilkinson

In the face of academic demands ratcheting higher, stressing out children and their parents, seven years ago, I set out to write Grade by Grade: A Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5. The book would be a What to Expect When You’re Expecting for elementary school. I wanted to help bring families closer in this techno-hustle world and support parents in raising well-adjusted kids.

I’d collected a boatload of convenient games for parents and children to play on car rides, at the doctor’s office, or in line at the grocery store at each grade level—activities to strengthen relationships and help kids thrive, whatever their learning environment.

After twenty-three years of teaching in the classroom, three years of reading studies and articles, and doing interviews with lots of professionals and parents, I decided I was ready to take an online class with Media Bistro to write a killer book proposal.

But once I started sending out queries and talking to agents and publishers at conferences, the response was always the same:

“It’s a great idea,but parenting books written by teachers don’t sell well.”

It didn’t matter that I’m one of the few teachers who has taught all the grades, from kindergarten through sixth, so I could speak from experience. I didn’t have a PhD or several thousand blog followers, so the book wasn’t worth publishing.

My plastic file box, jammed with folders of notes, articles, research studies, and interviews, collected dust in our garage for three more years.

When our older daughter graduated from Cal Poly, and our younger daughter was in her senior year at Williams College, my husband and I decided to move to Bend, Oregon to put 94.9 Central Oregon Fox Sports Radio on the air. To make the move from San Diego, California, we threw out eighteen years of accumulated non-essentials—including my box full of research.

But no effort is wasted.

I often remind my clients of this. Our endeavors don’t always get rewarded in the time-frame we expect. Sometimes the skills we learn on a project apply to the next one that gets the results we’ve been seeking.

Shortly after my husband and I moved to Bend, I arranged for Howard Shulman to give a presentation on his book Running From the Mirror and to teach a workshop with me on how to write a memoir at the San Diego Southern California Writers’ Conference in February 2016. His publisher, Sandra, of Sandra Jonas Publishing in Boulder Colorado, called me to coordinate promotions for the book.

And the two of us hit it off.

Sandra is an incredibly conscientious, passionate hard-worker—like I am.

After the conference, we kept in contact, and she asked me to do a developmental edit for one of her authors. This author’s novel had a fabulous premise, but the story and characters needed fleshing out—which we did, and it’s awesome now!

Watermelon Snow by debut author William Lippett, an intriguing story of scientists, melting glaciers, catastrophic egos, treacherous journeys across the ice, and a bit of romantic tension, chock-full of suspense that’s sure to keep you turning pages, will be released in June 2017.

When wrapping up the edit for Watermelon Snow, Sandra mentioned one of her other authors, Jacqueline Frischknecht. Jackie was a PhD who’d done a ton of brain research related to how function and development affect children’s education. She wrote a manuscript called Boosting Brain Power: Leveraging Students’ Learning Abilities.

“What a fabulous idea!” I said and gave Sandra my one-sentence summary of the Grade-by- Grade project, so she would know I had the background to provide whatever help she needed.

Sadly, Jackie passed away while working to develop the manuscript for publication. It still needed focus, organization, and a friendlier tone.

Jackie’s dying wish had been to publish the book, and her family wanted to see that wish granted. Sandra asked me to read the manuscript to see if I could do a content edit that would: a) make Jackie’s writing sound more conversational, b) hone the focus, and c) flesh out the work to make the book user-friendly for parents and teachers. Excited to work with Sandra on another project, I told her I would be happy to read the manuscript and come up with a plan to get it in shape for publication.

Jackie’s research was excellent and her ideas empowering.

Digital Image by Sean Locke
Digital Planet Design
www.digitalplanetdesign.com

However, to make the book an effective resource, the material needed to be geared for parents or educators, not both. Experts all over the country train teachers to use brain research to drive curriculum, such as Dr. Eric Jenkins who has written many books for educators, Dr. Carol Dwek, and veteran teacher Pat Wolfe, so I told Sandra that Jackie’s work may best serve parents.

 

Still, to create such a manuscript, I would have to read more recent studies as brain development has been a hot topic over the last decade in the research community. I’d have to almost rewrite Jackie’s book to make it work.

“Would you mind sending me your Grade-by-Grade book proposal, so I can get an idea of what you’re talking about?” Sandra asked.

Although I’d tossed my magic box of research, the proposal had been saved on a flash drive, so I said, “Sure,” and attached the file to an email without much thought.

A week later, Sandra called and said she loved my book proposal: my voice, the grade-by-grade progression, how I present what will be expected of kids that year socially and academically, the games, the “Real Deal” (goofy true-life stories), the tips for everything from communicating with teachers to family organization to healthy snacks on the go…

And Sandra had sent the proposal to Jackie’s family. She asked them how they would feel about me co-writing the book with Jackie; that is, using Jackie’s brain research and ideas for capitalizing on current brain development and function to my grade by grade structure, integrating my information on social development, games, tips for organization, and all the rest.

Jackie’s family liked the idea and even paid me a stipend to work like crazy for five months (in the proposal, I’d given myself a year) to complete the manuscript. I mourned the loss of the box I’d thrown out in the move, but truthfully, the more recent interviews and research will better serve parents anyway.

THIS is the book that was meant to be published.

Jacqueline Frischknecht 1932-2015

Though I never had the pleasure to meet Jackie in person, we share our passion for educating and empowering children and families. At times, I felt her looking over my shoulder, guiding my research, nudging me to include this or that as my fingers flew across the keyboard. I learned so much about brain development and the nuts and bolts of how humans learn.

BRAIN STAGES: A Grade-by-Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K-5  by Jacqueline Frischknecht, Ph.D. and Trish Wilkinson will be released in March 2018.

The original release date was in September 2017, but after careful consideration and further planning, Sandra and I decided an extra six months will give us the time we need to make this book the best possible resource for helping families develop a solid mental, emotional, physical, and social foundation for kids in the elementary school years.

Parents who have children at various grade levels are reading chapters to give feedback, and we’re fine-tuning the manuscript now. But mostly they say things like: “I used to get annoyed with my daughter, but knowing what’s going on in her brain takes away the judgement. Our house is so much more relaxed than it was before I read that chapter.”

Simon Tucker, a friend and media intern at Compass Church in Bend, is working with me to develop an awesome Brain Stages website. We plan to make videos of kids and parents playing some of the games in the book as well as post all kinds of helpful hints for raising smart, happy kids, so stay tuned…

I’ll let you know when the new site goes up, show off the cover art when we make a decision, and inform you of upcoming events.

I’d say, “Wish us luck,” except there have been too many “coincidences” involved with this project.

Whatever your beliefs, providence or the cosmos,

 BRAIN STAGES

A Grade by Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5

                                              was simply meant to be.

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

 

The Decision that Made LadyDice an Up-and-Coming Hip Hop Star

fcae31d3-71bd-4212-b3ff-5fa9ceb014ddA few short years ago, singer LadyDice, weighed 275 pounds, had never written a song, and suffered from debilitating stage fright. It took an honest, painful look inside herself to break through the obstacles keeping her from her dreams.

 
Growing up in Southern California with her biological father, a mentally and physically abusive addict, she remembers sitting in the courtroom with her mom and dad fighting over who would get custody of her and her sisters. LadyDice’s home life improved after her mom won the custody battle and eventually married a wonderful man.

 
But the damage from those early years had been done.

 
And understanding the source of her self-destructive behavior wouldn’t come until much later.

 
Hitting bottom either kills you or makes you stronger, and LadyDice chose to use that dark, desperate place as her springboard to recreate her life.

“I decided I was ready to become who I always wanted to be,” she says.

Being overweight had always plagued her with self-doubt; that is, until she got serious and dropped 120 pounds.

LadyDice three years ago, before and after she lost 120 pounds.
LadyDice before and after she lost 120 pounds.

“I wish I could give some miracle answer [for how I lost all that weight and have kept it off], but it was just discipline. I LOOOVE food,” she admits, “so I had to figure out yummy ways to stay satisfied. After I got that down, it was easy.”

In a similar way, LadyDice faced her fear of the limelight by forcing her feet onto the stage for the first time three years ago. She’d always wanted to sing, to be heard. No one would stop her, least of all herself. The dreaded shakes and queasiness she’d avoided for so long gave way to joy as her amplified voice filled the room, and the audience moved to the beat. Since then, she has performed in all kinds of venues in several states.

“I pushed myself for almost 2 years, and now I’m doing shows all over the place. I am a model and pursuing my dream in music!!” she exclaims. “You just have to find the belief in yourself.”

12088272_881154771968703_200476865479206303_nLadyDice has discovered her true friends in going after her dream of becoming a hip hop star.

“It’s amazing to see the people who step up and support your career and the ones who don’t,” she confides. “There’s been a lot of good and bad on my journey so far, but the good is definitely starting to outweigh the bad. I’m grateful.”

 

The single mom of a 4-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, LadyDice finds juggling motherhood and her career challenging at times. “It’s really hard having to be gone and them not understanding why Mommy isn’t home,” she says. Still, her preschoolers root for her success. They love to see her perform on stage, and they sing along and dance to her CDs. Hearing about her travels to faraway places excites them, and LadyDice works hard to be present for her children when she’s home. “Honestly, this is an obstacle I haven’t overcome quite yet,” she acknowledges, “but I believe I’m finding a balance.”

 

Recently, LadyDice left her home in Oregon for a few days to be there for someone else’s little girl in Idaho. Ten-year-old Sophia has struggled with leukemia since birth, and although the treatments have gotten her cancer under control, her kidneys are failing due to the frequent processing of harsh chemicals from chemotherapy. Sophia loves LadyDice’s hip hop, tough-girl music, so her mother contacted LadyDice to set up a meeting to take Sophia’s mind off dialysis and waiting for a new kidney. LadyDice invited Sophia to her recording studio where they experienced a bond neither will ever forget. Not only did they have a great time getting to know each other, Sophia got to see LadyDice record Rachael Platten’s “Fight Song” to accompany Sophia’s video to help raise money to cover medical costs on GoFundMe.com.

 

 

Soon LadyDice will be hearing whether she’ll be opening for a big name act. Fingers crossed. (I’ll let you know the details if this opportunity comes through for her).

In the meantime, here are LadyDice’s five steps for reaching your dreams and goals:

  1. Realize no one is going to do it for you; the only one who can change you is you.
  2. Make a decision and stick with it, consistency is key.
  3. Believe in yourself. Even if there is a long road ahead of you, you absolutely CAN do it.
  4. You will fall over and over again, but you can always get back up and keep going. I refuse to quit until I get where I want to be! We should ALL strive for that within ourselves.
  5. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. This world is ugly, and there will always be people who root for you to fail. You have to know your own worth. None of the other stuff matters.

 

Thanks, LadyDice, for taking the time for this interview. You definitely get our “Tenacity to Triumph” philosophy. You’re a fellow bad ass to the core.
Write questions or comments for LadyDice below, and help her realize her dreams by sharing this post!

Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis: An Unsung American Hero

Written on behalf of Claude Davis by Lyle Hicks

IMG_0737The threat of war in the early ’40s made every young man fear entering the service. I got my notice and went to Portland for a physical, but I failed, so I returned to Bend, Oregon to work and forget about the army. I was born July 6, 1921 in Hepner, Oregon, and at age 2, my family moved to Bend, where I will always call home.

Dad and I got jobs hanging doors on army barracks in Corvallis, and when we were done there, they asked us to do the same at an air base in Moses Lake, WA, so we moved the family in Dad’s ’36 Plymouth pulling a trailer.  About half way, both tires blew, and we had to leave the trailer behind with all our belongs. In a week, we’d raised enough money to retrieve it. Fortunately, it was still there.

While in Washington, I got another draft notice. This time, I became a member of the US Army, and I met some good guys whom I got to stay with all the way through the war. The army shipped us to Fort Douglas in Utah and then to Camp Hann in California near Riverside where we became a part of the Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft, 119th Battalion. Given my background, I became the small arms repair man and carpenter.

Basic training was a rough transition from civilian life with its strict rules and every part of the day regimented, but I survived. The army added driving the supply truck to my small gun repair duties, which remained my job throughout the war. After further training, we were given a 12-day furlough before shipping out. I decided to hitch a ride north, back home to Bend. A plump old fellow in a Lincoln Continental drove me up Interstate-5 at speeds of up to 100 mph. I sure got home fast!

The 119th Battalion embarked in New York on the fourth-largest passenger ship in the world, the Mauritania, which held 16,000 soldiers.Wecap_blanche went up and down waves so big, walls of water hid the whole ship. I slept in the top hammock of four that would swing back and forth with the pitch of the ship. Eating was an adventure where we would hang onto a pipe with one hand and eat with the other. Fifty-gallon barrels were placed every few feet for the guys who got seasick.  Man, I was glad I didn’t get drafted into the Navy.

While in England preparing for the trip to France, we set about the task of waterproofing our trucks. A trailer fell on my hand, breaking four fingers. Without a hospital nearby, we wrapped them and kept going. When I finally got to a hospital, the doctor had to re-break my fingers to set them in place, so I headed to Normandy with a cast on my right hand.

maxresdefaultWe left England on four Landing Ship Tanks and landed on Utah Beach 30 days after the initial invasion. At 6 p.m., we waited inside the tanks in pitch dark with planes screaming overhead and gunfire in the distance. When it was safe to disembark, we had to keep our lights off and follow the truck ahead. It seemed hours before we stopped for the night by a bridge we’d been assigned to protect. The Germans bombed and strafed us all night. 

The next morning, I saw my first dead German, not 50 feet away. He wasn’t more than a kid…but then, so was I.  As a scared young man, sleeping under trucks and in fox holes, I wondered why I was there. These guys looked the same as I. The war was a cruel, confusing thing.  

As we neared a farm in France, Germans strafed our battalion, blowing the tires on my trailer containing 500 lbs of TNT. The first time they came at us, I got as far as the ditch. The second wave hit the ditch, bullets flying right by my side, taking out the man next to me — 4 to 6 inches and I would not be here today. I took off running across the farm and into the woods. There, for the first time, it became real that I had to either kill or be killed. When it was over, I ended up dragging that trailer for 35 miles before we stopped for the night.  

Weeks later, our battalion stopped after dark in this lane with trees on both sides. In the middle of the night, the Germans hit us, their 88’s clipping the trees. One shell whistled through the canvas back of my truck. It didn’t take us long to roll out from under the chassis and run down the hill to better protection. Using the hill for cover, we shot back with our 90’s, lobbing shells back and forth.

It was about that time that my hand began to itch and smell bad. I went to see the medics, and the doc got angry. The cast should have come off weeks before. Boy, had my hand and fingers gotten stiff. It was months before I regained full use of them.  

114609-004-1A35CAD9We moved up the Mosselle River in the direction of Belgium where we took part in the liberation of the town of Vendun, where WWI had ended. The name of our outfit is on a monument there. After a 7-day leave, we went to Paris and into Southern France to an old castle called Mount Saint Michael.

We then began shuttling infantry to the front line and prisoners back into France. Most prisoners were happy not to fight anymore.  We did this under the cover of darkness watching the tail lights of the truck ahead. Often it meant that if the vehicle in front went into a ditch, so did I. One truck hit a land mine, killing some and injuring others. We loaded the injured into our trucks and kept going, leaving the dead to be picked up later. That night, my truck broke down and when guys came to help me fix it, they kept my co-driver, so by myself, I had to maneuver in the dark in unfamiliar territory. It was scary but I made it.

We were then sent to the front line during the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans made one last push back to Belgium. It was a hard and dirty fight with some Germans dressing like Allies and driving our rigs.  It was hard to know who the enemy was.  

On one trip, one of our planes was shot down, landing on nearby a motor pool. Since the plane had carried two-thousand pound bombs, the explosion blew a hole in the frozen ground 35 feet across and 15 feet deep. Debris fell all around as I dove under a trailer, and one of the plane’s motors dropped a few feet from me. I helped load the wounded into eight ambulances. It was sickening. When I got back to my truck, I found a bullet lodged in the padding of my driver’s seat. I’ve kept it all these years.  

Under enemy fire, shells all around us, we crossed the Rhine River on pontoon bridges like big rubber rafts. Across the half-mile stretch, the 4-US_Army_crossing_the_Rhine_on_heavy_ponton_bridge_at_Worms,_March,_1945foot metal rails were just wide enough for our tires, and our heavy trucks with big guns nearly submerged the rafts. Somehow we all made it to Germany alive. We crossed the Danube on May Day in 1945 and moved into our last position.

On May 9th, the firing stopped. The war had ended.  

We were given leave, so I went to Austria to do some skiing and then traveled in Italy.

After the war, I didn’t have enough points to go home, so I was sent to Metz, France to oversee a gas station there. Truckloads of dead people were shuttled through that station. I had a detail of German prisoners who were tasked with running water and garbage to and from the kitchen. One the prisoners did not want to be discharged because he had no home to go to.

Finally, I was sent home with four of my buddies. On a Dutch ship headed to New York, 23 guys slept in a room 14 by 30 feet where rows of beds were stacked four bunks high.  At sea, we hit a storm with 118 mph winds. I was not Navy material as I was sick all the way home.  

In New York, we stood in line to go west on a plane, but the line stopped about 35 guys ahead of me. The rest of us were sent by train. We later heard the plane went down by Billings, Montana killing everyone aboard. On Dec 18, 1945, I was discharged from the army and sent home to Oregon.

It was a joyful Christmas being back with my family. After the holidays, I went to work for my dad in construction.  Eventually, two of my brothers and I formed a company building barns. We also built three houses and a motel.  

Black_Butte_Ranch_-_Black_Butte,_Oregon_fsIn May of 1947, Eva and I got married. By 1950, work had become scarce in Bend, so we moved to Portland where I found work building homes for a company for 14 years. One of the houses I built won first place in Sunset Magazine. My wife and I then formed C&E Enterprises, moved to Sisters, Oregon, and built 47 homes in Black Butte Ranch. Health issues forced me to retire, turning over the business to my three sons.I have enjoyed a good retirement of 35 years, though in 2009, I lost my wife of 63 years. At age 94, I continue to struggle with health problems, my hearing and eyesight, but I still live by myself in Snowberry Village with family and friends nearby.

In those three years in Europe, I drove a truck more than 27,000 miles through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Spain. I had three stripes on my sleeve, one for each year, five battle stars and several ribbons, but the best reward was an honorable discharge.

I am Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis, a proud member of the Bend Band of Brothers

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.

Resting in the Lull

Kirsten Imani Kasai, the founder of the Page A Day Writers group, of which I am a member, just sent off her latest manuscript to her agent, and she’s in the nail-biting phase of waiting for her agent to respond. I hope you enjoy Kirsten’s latest installment of a writer’s tenacity and talent as much as I did. Believe me, Kisten will not end up like E.A. Poe as she fears. My bet is that The Book of Blood Magic will be the novel that will put her on the bestsellers’ list.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                ~T.D. Wilkinson

Creative folks know well that feeling of relieved disorientation that follows the conclusion of a project. For me, finishing a novel brings with it a period of rest and recuperation. The storm abates. We can rest in the lull before new waves build and crest to send us on another journey.

Kirsten Imani Kasai_manuscriptRight now, I’m in the lull. Recently, I finished the Gothic novel (The Book of Blood Magic) I’d been working on for the past three and a half years, packaged it up beautifully, and had it “blessed” by my energetically magical friend before sending it to my agent. It’s been close to three weeks since it left my hands, and I’m still kind of stumbling around, blinking in the sunlight as if I’d just left a movie theater in the middle of the day after completely losing myself in Story.

I have to stay busy, in the meantime. The waiting is the worst part. Is it readable? Saleable? Marketable? Who will buy?

The lull is admin time. I catch up on short story revisions, embark on a mad submission spree, researching lit magazines and sending in new work while it’s still fairly fresh and exciting to me. Fool around with my poetry. Touch up my website and CV. Stave off the looming finance/career paranoia and anxiety that dogs me, always. (I fear what I’ve termed Melville Syndrome*–experiencing a spate of successes but dying misunderstood, unread and labeled a literary crackpot, only to have my work become a classroom staple that inspires movies, an opera** and seeps intopopular speech a century after my demise.) But mostly, I use the time to think. Which dormant project speaks to me with the loudest voice? Which seed will I water and nurture to fruition?

I’m finally ready to begin (again) writing the feminist Utopian novel that’s been simmering away on the back burner of my creative brain for many years, but it’s a complex project requiring much research. However, now is probably the perfect time to go back to the Ice Song series and resume work on the third and final installment now that I’ve settled on a title (Tattercoats). Hopefully, it’ll be quick and relatively fun, and I’ll likely self-publish this one (as I learned that most traditional publishers don’t want to pick up a single book from a series). It’ll be a loving labor, a tying of the bow.

Learning to navigate the lulls in our writing careers means being willing to be nonproductive, to honor the process of gestation as much as the conception and birth of our works. To endure the uncertainty of waiting, to appreciate the lessons learned and the risks taken in our latest project. It is a time of restoration and preparation; we strengthen ourselves for the work ahead. In the lull, we can anticipate the next phase of adventure, the certain successes and disappointments, secure in knowing that the quiet room in our heads, so recently vacated by our characters, will again entertain a party of strange and charming guests.

*Or worse, EA Poe. Dying penniless and ill in a gutter, only to have my work spawn an entire literary industry of hipsterish t-shirts, lunchboxes, household decor, ladies aprons, wall plaques, pillows, films, scads of reprints and spawn new fiction genres. Sure, it’s kind of awesome, but if it happens to me, I’d like to be around to enjoy it.

**I was terribly excited about attending a performance but drank too much wine beforehand and subsequently slept through most of the second half.

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.