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.

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.

My Hero! Sharon Cooper, Successful Self-Published Author, is at it Again!

sharon-author-2012My friend, Sharon Cooper, just released her lasted book. You may recall other posts I’ve written about her amazing entrepreneurship as a novelist. She’s made more money self-publishing her work and has had a much more fulfilling career than in her experience of working with a subsidiary of Harlequin. If you like a mixture of action adventure and romance, you’d love Sharon’s books! I’m re-posting her blog post below.

New Release – Operation Midnight!

Hi All!

t’s release day! Woo hoo! OPERATION MIDNIGHT, book 4 of the Reunited Series is now available for your reading pleasure! This is Wiz and Olivia’s story.

Midnight 800x533

You remember them right? Wiz is the computer guru who has helped some of his Navy SEAL brothers (Quinn and Malik) get their women out of some harrowing situations. And something you probably didn’t know – when Tyler (from Blue Roses) called on Quinn’s help to dig into Dallas’s background, guess who Quinn called. You got it – Wiz!

As for Olivia, she first made her appearance in Rendezvous with Danger (Quinn & Alandra’s story) when the guys (and Alandra) took a trip to D.C. and stayed at Olivia’s townhouse. She had a bigger role in Truth or Consequences (Malik & Natasha’s story) where she befriended Natasha, argued with Malik about calling her Ollie, and when she and Wiz announced that they were getting remarried.

Well, in OPERATION MIDNIGHT, we get to learn more about Wiz and Olivia – their life together before their divorce, as well as how they never stopped loving each other. We’ll journey with them through some trying times as they leap over a few more hurdles in their race to say “I do” one last time.

Blurb:

No bad deed goes unpunished

Former Navy SEAL turned private investigator, Cameron “Wiz” Miller, has loved only one woman, his ex-wife, Olivia. She’s beautiful, talented and the sweetest person he knows. With plans to remarry her, there is nothing she could ask of him that he wouldn’t do except … one thing.

Olivia has loved Wiz since high school. He is her hero. Her protector. She understands his hesitation to search for the woman who left her for dead. Forgiveness has been a long time coming, but Olivia has made peace with what happened. Wiz hasn’t. For him, forgiveness is not an option.

But the sins of the past have come back to haunt Wiz, placing Olivia in danger. He must tap into his military training and every alliance he has formed over the years to save her. But is it too late? Will he and Olivia ever get that happily-ever-after?

Excerpt:

I want you to find my sister.

Wiz stormed into the living room and snatched his pants from one of the chairs. His heart thumped wildly at the words he thought he would never hear. He couldn’t wrap his head around her request. Clearly she had forgotten about all the crap her sister had done.

“It’s like suddenly I don’t even know you.” Olivia’s voice broke into his thoughts when she silently entered the room.

Wiz shook his head and stepped into his slacks, keeping his back to her. “You know me. You know me well enough to understand that I would rather swallow a grenade than to have your sister in our lives.”

She sighed loudly. “Cameron, I didn’t say I want her in our lives. I’d like to connect with her for nothing more than a conversation.”

Fastening his pants, he glanced over his shoulder to find her standing near the bedroom door. The satiny red robe she wore stopped just above her knees, the color bringing out the warmth in her smooth, dark chocolate skin. His breath hitched as his gaze drifted slowly down her shapely body emphasized by the sash cinched tightly around her narrow waist. Damn if a certain part of his anatomy didn’t spring to attention. He knew what lay beneath the thin material. He knew how soft every inch of her skin was to the touch. And he knew that if he stayed in that room much longer, he would tell her whatever the heck she wanted to hear. Everything but the truth that is.

His gaze moved back up to her face and his heart leapt into his throat. The love radiating in her eyes, even after the way he had spoken to her made the vice around his heart tighten even more. He felt like crap for denying her of her request.

Damn Keisha. Even when she wasn’t around, she was still wreaking havoc. Just the thought of her made him want to rip something apart. But then there was Olivia. Staring at her now, the unyielding love he had for her made him want to take the three short steps it would take to reach her, and pull her into his arms. He wanted to come clean and tell her what happened to her sister all those years ago. But the bastard in him stayed rooted in place because he had vowed to take that one secret to his grave.

Copyright © 2015 by Sharon C. Cooper

*

OPERATION MIDNIGHT (ebook) is currently only $2.99! It won’t be available at this price for long.

So get your copy today!     Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  Smashwords

Note: In paperback soon!

I’m so proud of Sharon! I’m not usually a romance reader, but her books are always a blast to read. If you snap up Operation Midnight and find a cozy spot for some reading recreation, enjoy the ride!

I’ll talk to you soon, especially since I’m planning to write an article about another friend who recently released an amazing memoir you won’t believe.

Until next week…

(Posts will come more frequently since my husband and I have finally settled in a bit after moving from San Diego, California to Bend, Oregon)

Trish Wilkinson

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?

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.

Eric Jenkins Leaves the Neighborhood and Finds Something Better

Eric Jenkins
Eric Jenkins

My name is Eric Jenkins, the son of the deceased Velma Jenkins and some other unknown person. The oldest of five kids, I was born in Pineville, Louisiana on November 1, 1983 (the Day of the Dead).  Like most families in my neighborhood, we grew up scraping by, and my mom did everything she could to keep food on the table. One of my best memories is riding around the yard at our first house on my red-pedaled tractor in my red suspenders. Red toy TractorBut we never stayed in one place for more than 5 years. We moved around a lot and sometimes lived with family members.

The small town where I grew up was one of those everybody-knows-you types, stuck-in-time and slow. My mom had several boyfriends who were abusive, both physically and verbally. Of all the men in her life, there is one, in particular, who I remember because he tried to kill her. I remember that night in vivid detail. It’s impossible to forget. During my childhood I saw a lot of other bad things, too.

At age 10 or 11, I saw an aunt, now deceased, sitting in a pool of her own blood in the bathtub because her boyfriend stabbed her. Aside from the bad stuff, though, I was a typical kid.cp_basketball1

Well, maybe I wasn’t typical for my neighborhood. Even in elementary school, a lot of kids talked about sex, tried to act tough, and they got into fights. But me? I spent most of my days on the basketball court. Every year for Christmas, I asked for the same thing: a new basketball.

Though my two younger brothers and two sisters still live in Louisiana, when I graduated from high school, I enlisted in the United States Navy. After four years of active duty, including two deployments, I became a reservist and have been with the U.S. military for almost 11 years. I settled in California, and currently, I go the Art Institute in San Diego where I am working towards my Bachelor’s degree in graphic design.

One obstacle that I faced in my education was math. I swear it is by far my toughest and most hated subject. In third grade, when we were learning to multiply, I couldn’t remember my times-tables, so I sat at home and wrote them over and over until they finally stuck. That experience taught me the best way to understand any subject that gives me trouble is to practice as much as possible, which has helped me even recently.

A logo Eric created for Hummingbird Flowers and Gifts
A logo Eric created for Hummingbird Flowers and Gifts

At the Art Institute, all the new software had clicked in my brain instantaneously, so I assumed I would pick up Adobe Illustrator as easily as I had the others. If ever there was a time I’d been wrong about something, this was it. I just did not get it. I took notes in every class, which didn’t help at all. By mid-terms, I was failing the class, but no way would I let that happen. I downloaded a free trial of the software on my home computer since I couldn’t afford to buy the full version. All of my time, outside of going to school and completing assignments, went into teaching myself, and by the end of the class, I passed with a B. The hard work paid off, and now I use Adobe Illustrator almost every day. It’s one of my favorite programs to use.

My goal as a graphic artist is to, one day, have my own design firm. Until I get to that point, I would love to work in the design department for Eric Jenkins - charity raceStarbucks, Hallmark, or Scion racing, but I’d also be happy to start with a smaller company. I have already completed a few design jobs for non-profit charities on my own, and at the moment, I am working in an internship with a great design firm in Encinitas (North County San Diego). A program that assists veterans in finding jobs and internships helped me to get the position, and I’ve gotten to create materials for several of their clients. After getting my degree in graphic design, I would like to explore Interior design as well.

I spend a lot of time on my computer working on designs and conducting brand research, but I try to plan my schedule so that I have time to spend with my wife, Elizabeth. She supports my goals, encourages me, and understands how hard I work to hone my skills. As for my brothers and sisters, though we’re in different time zones, I try to talk to them on the phone as much as possible.

My mom has been a major influence in my life. She did everything she could to provide for us and seldom did anything for herself. She was always willing to help anyone who needed it, and I think I get my sense of volunteerism from her. Sadly, in my early twenties, when my siblings were still in their teens, we lost her due to a stroke. Mom was only 43.

Another inspiration for me has been my cousin, Tina. She had a childhood similar to mine, but she managed to earn her bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. Currently, she’s a professor at a school in Atlanta. Her determination to make something better of herself was incredible. I saw a lot of my friends do nothing after high school. Some of them got jobs but others literally did nothing with their lives. I’m making more of myself, like Tina, and I want the same for my brothers and sisters.

One of my teachers at the Art Institute told the story of how he designed a piece for a client that was so powerful, it made her cry. The client said the image he created reminded her of her childhood home. When one of my designs has an effect on a client that strong, then I will know my skills have truly gotten where I want them to be. Maybe I can touch someone the way the artwork included in Charles Dickens’s amazing literary works has affected me as I read his stories growing up.

Advice I would give to someone working toward their goals:

  • Take a chance and get out of your comfort zone because you never know what you can do until push yourself to find out.

 

-And-

 

  • Your goal may morph along the way, but stick with it. At times it may seem like a losing battle, but when you finally succeed, you’ll look back and be glad you didn’t give up.

 

If you would like to see more samples of my work, you can go to this link. www.behance.net/fiveEYEmedia

One Mom’s Ultimate Example

Margarita Jimenez
Margarita Jimenez

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Margarita graduation

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

 

 

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

 

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

An Artist with a Samurai Spirit: Composer, Playwright, Eric Scot Frydler

Eric Scot Frydler
Eric Scot Frydler

Contrary to common belief, children diagnosed with autism can grow up to lead fulfilling, successful lives. Composer, playwright, Eric Scot Frydler proves that life’s challenges can cripple us or make us stronger.

Diagnosed with autism as a child, when little was known about the neurological disorder, Frydler had trouble relating to peers. His teachers described him as an “enigma” and a “non-conformist.” At age five, however, he made a beautiful discovery: music spoke to him. Music became his way to express himself as well as connect with others.

Originally from Queens, New York, as a teenager, Frydler publicly played a song he had written on piano. Although impressed with Frydler’s performance, Lazlo Halasz, composer and founder of the New York City Opera, could see the boy didn’t fit the mold for the usual music school. Instead, Halasz invited Frydler to audit masters’ classes. Throughout his high school years, Frydler soaked up advanced music language at Stony Brook and Julliard, two colleges well-known for their excellence. This unconventional education prepared Frydler for composing music professionally.

Frydler’s can-do spirit and creative view of the world presented unexpected paths. In his late twenties, after a project for composing music fell through in Los Angeles, he answered an advertisement that read: “Child Genius Wanted” – to design toys for Mattel.  He got the job and developed Roboto, a transparent robot, part of the Masters of the Universe series. He also wrote stories and comic books about toys like He-Man, Popples, and Rainbow Brite. His name still appears on the Advanced Concepts Inventors list for both Hasbro and Mattel.

However, Frydler has found success in pursuing what he loves most: theater and music.

 “To this day,” he says in describing his creative process, “when I am envisioning and imagining, I go to that world inside my head, tempered by the craft I’ve acquired as a writer and composer.”

Frydler won the Aubrey Award, the equivalent to the Tony Awards for San Diego County Theater, for producing Dracula with Rosemary

Scene from Magical Forest
Scene from Magical Forest
Magical Forest
Magical Forest

Harrison, and he composed the original score. Magical Forest, performed at the Coronado Playhouse, is a musical he wrote that emphasizes belief in oneself and conservation. He has also composed music for film including: Sheriff of Contention, a western; Vampyre, a music video; Sweet Amazon, a documentary, and The Last Supper, a film which aired on Trinity Broadcasting. Currently, he is the Producing Artistic Director  at Carbon Based Life Theater in Carlsbad, California.

“People have had difficulties throughout history dealing with exceptional people . . .” Frydler points out. “Our challenge as a society is to find a way to communicate with them, not ostracize them . . . but to interact with them and benefit from each other.”

Throughout the years, Frydler believes his music has been an advantage in helping him to learn how to communicate with others. In fact, he swears he won his wife’s heart playing an original piece called “In Dreams” for her on a grand piano at the Wyndham Hotel at Emerald Plaza in San Diego. When asked about his success in the face of autism,

“Hideo Sakata, a Japanese martial artist, once told me I have Samurai spirit,” Frydler says. “I never give up. Never!”

“Many people accept other people’s self-limiting beliefs, and that is a mistake. You have to be true to yourself, to be fearless.” Frydler advises. “Never let someone else interfere with what you’re here to do.”

Hey, that’s good advice for all of us!

Improve Your Attitude; Improve Your Life

By Rodolpho Costa

Rodolfo Costa
Rodolfo Costa
Changing and improving our attitude can help us change the way we see and do things. I have learned that apositive mental attitude is far more important than aptitude to succeed in life. I also learned that it is not easy at first because we all have been conditioned since we were born to see and do things and in many cases, to think a certain way. But with practice, we can improve our attitude.

Here are my top ten tips to build and maintain a positive mental attitude:

  1. Stay away from negative and pessimistic people.
  2. Do not complain and blame others for your mistakes, problems, misfortunes and setbacks.You are responsible for your actions and consequences, you are responsible for your life and circumstances.
  3. Be more in touch with your thoughts and feelings, but do not get carried away by your worries. No matter what, make the conscious decision to start your day, everyday, in a positive and optimistic way.
  4. Always work on maintaining a positive attitude about things.We all know that we can not always control what happens in our lives, but we can always control how we react to what happens in our lives. This will help you build the courage, confidence and motivation to change, improve and find a solution to your problem.
  5. Learn to adapt.Things change, circumstances change. Adjust yourself and your efforts to what it is presented to you so you can respond accordingly. Never see change as a threat, because it can be an opportunity to learn, to grow, evolve and become a better person.
  6. Face your reality with courage.Take a good and careful look at your situation and allow yourself time to think. See where you are now and decide what you want and where you want to be. Make up your mind, build the enthusiasm, and go for it. Realize that you have the ability and the potential to change yourself and to change things.
  7. Concentrate on the beautiful things in your life.Never compare yourself with others. You are unique; there is nobody else like you and you are capable of doing great and wonderful things with you life.
  8. Look for better or different ways to do things. Allow yourself to see beyond what others think is possible, wise or practical. Be proactive and be part of a solution, not part of a problem.
  9. Be in charge of your life. Do not think and assume that what happens to you is your destiny. It is not! If you think that way you will give a message to your brain to stop looking for ideas or solutions to your problems. Do not make excuses to relieve yourself from your responsibilities. Keep in mind, if you do not control your life and future somebody else will, whether you like it or not.
  10. Work on your attitude and learn to control it. Always remember, if you are not careful, your attitude will control you.

Rodolfo Costa was born in Lima, Peru. At age nineteen, without knowing what to expect, he said goodbye to his parents and immigrated to the United States. Through difficulties and joys, advice received and mistakes made, he learned to embrace the world in a positive way to become a successful business owner, realtor, teacher, and always a student. He lives in Northern California.

In deepest gratitude, he shares his earned wisdom in his inspirational and motivational collection Advice My Parents Gave Me and Other Lessons I Learned From My Mistakes. Check out Rodolfo’s book on Amazon!

Reblogged from Inspire Me Today (an awesome website, always great for a pick-me-up :-))