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.

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

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.

A Band of Brothers: Veterans Helping Veterans

obob-logo-webIn honor of Veteran’s Day this month, I’ve decided to write a series of posts about some amazing people I’ve met in my new town in Central Oregon. They call themselves “A Band of Brothers” although women have joined the organization, too. In 2006, a few World War II Veterans started meeting weekly in Bend, Oregon, and almost ten years later, the group has grown into the hundreds. U.S. Veterans include those who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, Germany in peace time (that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?), and various conflicts in the Middle East. A few years ago, retired First Responders, our “domestic protectors,” joined the organization as well.

The Band of Brothers’ mission statement: “To provide veterans and current members of the military with the opportunity to share friendship, camaraderie and assistance.”

Elk's Club in Bend, OR
Elk’s Club in Bend, OR

Who knew that WWII Veteran, Phil Bellefeuille’s idea to get a few buddies together for coffee in the fall of 2006 would give support to so many? The original group of nine veterans who met at the Elks Club had such a great time swapping stories, they coined themselves the “Old Pharts: A Band of Brothers” and started meeting weekly at various local restaurants. The Bend Bulletin heard about those guys and published an article that included an invitation from Phil for any veteran to attend.

New brother and sister veterans showed up each week. The group quickly outgrew descending upon random restaurants, so Vietnam War10724170_708747482536519_924899253_n Veteran, Lyle Hicks, stepped up to solve the problem.  Hicks owns Jake’s Diner and offered to reserve the back room in his restaurant for meetings, including a reasonably priced breakfast buffet to accommodate everyone.

By 2008, they had dedicated an American flag to the Bend Heroes Memorial and dropped the “Old Pharts” moniker to become the “Bend Band of Brothers”. The organization was granted non-profit status in 2011.

IMG_0632Today, Hicks dedicates the main restaurant on Monday mornings to his veteran brothers and sisters. Although full of good cheer, even the larger space is a bit of a squeeze.

 

 

 

When welcoming back a veteran who has been fighting cancer, Secretary, Treasurer Ray Hartzell quips:

“We’re so glad to have you back, Lanny…even if he is army.”

The diner bursts into laughter and good-natured ribbing until Hartzell blows a whistle, calling the room back to order.

The harmless flirtation from some of these guys has been a crack up, not to mention good for my ego. Others are complete gentlemen, such as 95-year-old Bob Maxwell, the oldest living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor; Vietnam Veteran Richard Fleming, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1966 but wasn’t told until 2013; Captain Bill Collier who wrote his memoir, The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot: Flying the H-34 Helicopter in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps, and many more. (Stay tuned for posts of veterans’ incredible personal stories.)

As members have moved away and people from other towns have visited, new Band of Brothers chapters have emerged, first throughoutvet-salute Central Oregon and then in other states, such as Idaho and Washington. Veterans’ family members have also joined as they, too, find friendship and comfort in becoming acquainted with others who have lived through similar experiences.

Besides providing emotional support and companionship, the Band of Brothers chapters raise funds to help veterans in need, provide veteran funerals with the “Flag Line Honor Guard”, donate to projects such as Honor Flight, contribute to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and other veterans’ organizations. Though founder Phil Bellefeuille passed away in March, 2011, he left a legacy for which many are grateful.

I hope you will join me for individual Band of Brothers members’ amazing stories in the posts to follow in the coming weeks.

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.

Prosthetics Didn’t Stop Him: Alex Montoya’s 5 Must-Do’s to Live Your Dreams

Alex-Montoya-2012At age four, shortly after Alex Montoya moved to the United States, he knew he wanted to work for the San Diego Padres.

Except Alex was born without arms or a right leg.

Born in Medellin, Columbia, the doctor told his mother and father not to expect much from their son because his abilities would be limited. Lucky for Alex, his folks were people of faith and a fighting spirit. They were determined their boy would do his best with what God gave him. Still, they had to admit to him that becoming a professional baseball player with a set of prosthetic limbs seemed a bit out of reach.

Alex tells a story of being in kindergarten and wanting to climb the monkey bars on the playground at recess. Half of his friends told him he was crazy, that it was too dangerous. The other half said that if he fell, they’d laugh, but if he really wanted to do it, they’d help him get to the top. (He was popular even back then. If you knew him, you’d know why.)

So Alex used his hook-hands for balance and struggled his way up the monkey bars while his friends cheered him on – until the bell rang. The other five-year-olds went back to class about the same time Alex realized getting down would be even harder than going up. Thankfully, his teacher came and rescued him from a precarious position that suspiciously felt like the verge of a fall.

But that day, Alex made a decision: If he could climb the monkey bars with his prosthetic arms and leg,

Alex would find a way to work in baseball when he grew up, the thing he loved most.

As soon as Alex could sound out words, he started reading the sports page in the newspaper. Before long, he noticed lots of people work behind the scenes at a ballpark: journalists, commentators, statisticians, coaches, and trainers. Who knew all the positions somebody with a passion for the game could do to have a career in professional baseball?

“It takes a lot more than a team of players to make a baseball season,” Alex says.

“And I was going to work for the alex_montoyaPadres.”

Alex attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a minor in Theater. From there, he went on to the University of San Francisco where he got a Master’s degree in Sports Management. It was time to pursue his intention all along.

Alex would begin his career in professional baseball.

Except when he moved to San Diego, California to work for the Padres, there weren’t any entry-level positions available. After the initial disappointment, he took a job for minimum wage at Petco Park as an usher, seating fans before the games. Alex made a point of getting to know the trainers, public relations people, business administrators, members of the press, and grounds keepers.

Every day, he would tell at least one supervisor: “Someday, I’m going to work for you.”

While working as an usher, he applied for three other jobs he didn’t get. Finally, the Director of Latino Affairs, a Hispanic outreach position, became available in the Public Relations Department. This was the perfect position for Alex Montoya, the kid who always knew he’d, one day, have a career in baseball, working for the San Diego Padres.

Nine years later, Alex has given lots of motivational speeches about setting intentions and reaching goals.

If you’d like to know more, check out his books.

AlexMontoya4web-192x300 download

 

http://www.amazon.com/Swinging-Fences-Alex-Montoya/dp/1604627352

 

http://www.amazon.com/The-Finish-Line-Alex-                              Montoya/dp/1622950682

 

 

 

 

You can also follow Alex’s motivational blog posts and quotes on his website: AlexMontoya.org: You Can Do Anything!

Alex’s FIVE Must-Do’s to Reach Your Goals:

  1. Don’t ever be afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work out, so what? You’ll always learn something you didn’t know before, and if it does, you will open doors you never knew existed.
  2. Have a dream. It may or may not change along the way (I didn’t become a pro baseball player), but it will give you direction.
  3. Make a plan. Give yourself goals and benchmarks to keep you on track.
  4. Sometimes you’ll feel alone, but you’re never alone. Reach out. There are always people who will be there to prop you up, and you’ll be there to keep others on their path, too.
  5. And most important: NEVER GIVE UP.

 

We’d love to hear about your goals and dreams, new or old. Have you gotten stuck along the way? What obstacles have you encountered? What helps (or has helped) you to get back on track and keep going?

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

Young Latinas, Full Speed Ahead!

Hermanitas Graduation (2)Latinas, ages 12 to 18, enter the Hermanitas® program and find themselves on paths to futures they never dreamed possible. An affiliate of MANA, Hermanitas® meets once a month and provides one-on-one mentors, professional women who support the girls in reaching for the stars with the “Sí. Yo puedo.” or “Yes. I can.” attitude that gave me the idea for writing this blog.

 

An Hispanic girlfriend suggested I join MANA, the largest Latina organization in the United States when she found out the main character in my YA novels is a Latina, because, well, the character had to be; I couldn’t write her any other way. Hermanitas® gave me a venue for contributing to an awesome group of girls and allowed me to learn enough to develop my Latino characters with respect. Yep. For these past 5 years I’ve largely been the only white chick mentoring Hispanic girls. At times, I’ve felt a bit out of place, but the lovely ladies who run the program and the incredible young girls we mentor have mostly made me feel like I belong on their quest for success, right along with them.

 

On June 6, the Hermanitas®  Graduation at the University of San Diego celebrated fifteen Latinas’ admissions to community colleges, universities, and even the Ivy Leagues. Maria Mendez was the recipient of the MANA President’s Award and received a scholarship for her college education. Maria Olea was the Hermanitas’ keynote speaker and will be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall. She told the audience: “…I stayed [in Hermanitas® ] because there were people who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, and they provided the ‘how’ [to succeed].”

 

Director Celina Caprio received a standing ovation for her tireless service to Hermanitas as she passed the baton to Elizabeth Escobar for the coming year. “Everything I am is because I am loved and someone believed in me,” Caprio told the girls. “In the 9 years I have been fortunate to be a part of this program, I’ve witnessed shy girls finding their voice, goals taking shape and dreams…come true, [and] I want you to know…I believe in you. We believe in you.”

 

 

We have another 80 girls working hard in school with big goals and dreams. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor or contributing to the program visit http://www.manasd.org/. In the coming weeks, I hope to feature some of the mentors and hermanitas. You’ll love their stories. These feisty females are total badasses.

Creative CEO on Her Way Up!

This blog celebrates people with the guts to take risks, figure it out along the way, and do the hard work. Laura Sinton, CEO of FreshTape®, an exciting new product that reseals and keeps food fresh, right in the bag, has a must-tell story.

HUA6_FRESHTAPE_01

Laura’s six-figure position at a Fortune 500 company got squeezed out in a merger, rendering her jobless a couple years ago. In the aftermath, she grieved the loss, and worried she wouldn’t find another high-level position in corporate America. Then her friend, Liz, annoyed she’d broken another bag clip mentioned, “Someone should invent a tape that could reseal your bags, so your food wouldn’t turn to cardboard in less than an hour.”

That night, Laura couldn’t sleep. In the morning she called Liz and said, “We should be the ones to make a tape that will reseal bags to keep food fresh. And we’ll make it cute, so people can organize their kitchens in style.”

Laura and her brother, her long-time business partner, Chuck, formed an LLC they call ACME Inventions (being huge fans of Loony Tunes and the Road Runner cartoons). Then Laura set about working with chemical engineers to develop a food-grade product that would seal food bags over and over without tearing them (the adhesive in regular tape, like masking and cello, exposes food to toxic chemicals). They also experimented to find just the right durable plastic that could be printed with a variety of awesome patterns.

In 18 months – thousands of hours and lots of Laura’s, Liz’s and Chuck’s, cash later – FreshTape® was born. It’s FDA safety compliant,FreshTape display BPA and phthalate free, recyclable, made in America, totally cool to look at, and best of all, it works! Even in the fridge and the freezer!

 
Bravo, Laura! Bravo!

 
(My food has never been fresher. I’m totally addicted to the stuff.)

 

Laura began seriously marketing in January. At trade shows, Freshtape® has been hailed “the next Post It Notes or Zip Lock Bags.” Early this month, out of thousands of new products, FreshTape® won a coveted “Retailers’ Choice Award” from the National Hardware Retailer’s Association. Already, 178 stores carry it across the country. As of July, Sur la Table will stock Freshtape® in over 100 stores in 27 states, and ACME Inventions is currently negotiating with a major Canadian chain.

The next challenge will be to raise funds to meet the demand for production. Shark Tank asked ACME Inventions to apply to appear on the show, but they’re still waiting to hear.

 

No doubt, Laura will make the most of this hurdle the way she has with all the others along this journey.

 

Big things are headed her way.

 

Soon.

FreshTape logo

I can feel it.

 

Go Laura!

 

If you, or someone you know, is a bad ass and you think your story will inspire the rest of us, send an email to trish@write-to-win.com, and I’ll get the word out!