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Real Women, Real Stories | Jeanne Little: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty through Education

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Roots: I have lived all over Texas, but I’m so thankful to have spent the last 32 years in Austin.

Family Life: Blessed to be married to an amazing man for almost 35 years. Lew and I have 3 children; Wesley, Anne and Elizabeth. Two weddings this year and now we have two more wonderful children; Dora Lee and Nick.

Work Life: I retired from real estate several years ago after 18 years with Moreland Properties.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten…“This to shall pass” from my mother. I always thought this meant that difficult times would not last. As I have gotten older I realize the need to live in the moment and appreciate all the good days. They pass too.

I’m most inspired by…I was fortunate to have an incredible mentor in business; Emily Moreland. Emily is a great example of a working mother. She has a deep faith, kind heart, commitment to helping others and always puts her family first.

When I’m not working, you can find me…on the hike and bike trail walking around the lake.

My perfect day…is having all my children home. Anne and Elizabeth live in California and New York and I miss them.

My Story: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty Through Education

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Showing the children the first-ever reading books at Victory School

I love to travel! In 2011 I convinced my husband Lew to go to Uganda to hike with the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impentrable Forest. I had always wanted to go after seeing the movie “Gorillas in the Mist.” Bwindi is a remote village high in the mountains with no electricity or running water — this trip certainly qualified as the adventure I was looking for! We loved our hikes with the gorillas in the beautiful rain forest. It was awe inspiring to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

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The first time we met Kamukama

On our second day in Bwindi, Lew and I left the lodge to go visit the community clinic we had heard about. Without a map or cell phone we headed out. While we were overwhelmed by the poverty we saw, we were also moved by the smiling and curious faces staring at us as we walked through the village. Along the way, a little boy in rags appeared and walked down the dirt road with us. I guessed that he was about 6 years old. He had the most beautiful smile and peace about him. At that moment he touched my heart in such a special way that I still do not fully understand it today. With his direction, we finally made it to the clinic and he disappeared. As we were hiking the following day, we saw the little boy again. He ran up and hugged us and, of course, I started crying. We found out his name was Kamukama which means “ Protected by God”. He had been in the village the day before looking for his father to pay his school fees. He could not attend school without paying and his father had deserted the family for Kampala. Before we left Uganda we made arrangements for a guardian to make sure he was enrolled in school and we wired the money to pay his school fees.

 

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Kamukama and me in 2015

A year later we returned to Bwindi with our children and Carol & Milo Burdette. We had great hikes with the gorillas and everyone was able to meet Kamukama. He was healthy and thriving in school. We saw so many other children living in extreme poverty without the chance of an education. I had been praying for a year for God to show me a way to help other children like Kamukama. I had no idea where to even begin. On this trip we met children from Victory School. We learned that Sylvia and Victor Bahati were struggling to educate 33 children at the school. They only had several untrained teachers, mud huts for classrooms, no textbooks and few resources, but they had a deep faith in God and a desire to improve the lives of children in their community.

 

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Students with letters from their sponsors

After returning to Austin we decided to establish the Kamukama Foundation. We partnered with Victory School with the goal to expand and educate more children. I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support . With a new Victory School website, generous supporters from across the country have been able to sponsor children and make donations. We have built relationships with the families of students and work together with the common goal to provide a quality education for these precious children. We have so many gifts and talents to share with each other.

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Immaculate with a letter from her sponsors, Corrinne & Betsy

The school now has trained teachers and staff, textbooks, library, new classrooms and 300 students. It has been so fun these past four years to share this special place with friends who go with us to work at the school. The gift of an education is giving these children a real chance to break the cycle of poverty and have hope for the future…God has put us on this path and I am excited to see where he will lead us.

More about Victory School in Uganda:  

Uganda´s AIDS epidemic, extreme poverty and decades of civil conflict have left the country with over 2.4 million orphans – the most of any country in the world. Due to lack of government subsidized education, families face enormous challenges to educate their children.

  • over half of the people in Uganda struggle to survive on less than $1.25 a day
  • 3 out of 4 children who start primary school in Uganda do not complete 5th grade
  • 1 in 3 Ugandan children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition
  • 2 in 5 children and adults in rural Uganda lack access to clean water
  • almost 100,000 children die annually from malaria in Uganda
  • an estimated 1.2 million children and adults in Uganda are living with HIV / AIDS, 64,000 of whom die annually
  • the average life expectancy is 54 years

Victory School is a place of hope. The school provides an education to these children growing up in extreme poverty who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend school. In addition to academics, Victory School equips the children with the tools to manage family planning, nutrition, health, sex education and farming skills.

To find out more about Victory School and how to Sponsor a Child, visit http://victoryschooluganda.org

How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world?  -Anne Frank


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


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Real Women, Real Stories | Martha Pincoffs: Discovering Self-Love in Order to Shine in Life

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Roots: I am born and raised in Austin. I have left to live in D.C. and Telluride, CO, but I always come back to Austin. This is home.

Family Life: My partner, Jo, and I have two kids. River is 4 years old and Townes is 2 years old.

Work Life: I am the founder of Hot Dang Grain Burgers, a company I started in 2011 and am President of Hat Creek Provisions, a fermented food company. I am on a personal mission to empower people with food!

Martha - HatCreek.jpgMy favorite quote: “You can be scared and brave at the exact same time.” -Brene Brown

People so often speak of “fearless leaders” and that never resonated for me. When I read the quote, it put words to that feeling. Leadership for me is scary sometimes, but trusting myself and the people I surround myself with and doing it anyway.

I’m most inspired by…my kids. I am constantly amazed by their curiosity and joy and resilience. They have such pure, sweet spirits, I can’t get enough of them.

The best advice I’ve ever gotten…Every time I left the house when I was a kid, my mom told me “Be sweet and have fun.” Somewhere along the way those words really soaked in and have shaped me.

Something people may not know about me…I have dreams of being on Broadway!

My guilty pleasure…The Real Housewives of Atlanta

What I’m looking forward to right now…A trip to Tulum next week with Jo.

When I’m not working, you can find me…Playing with my kids, cooking, on the back porch with Jo or riding a bike

My Story: Discovering Self-Love in Order to Shine in Life

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My life-changing experience have come in stages. Each one has allowed me to be the most authentic version of myself.

I have changed careers and cities and houses and come-out and had adventures and big belly laughs and plenty of heartbreak and therapy and some of the best friends in the world and found the love of my life. All of these experiences have showed me the way back to my authentic self, held up the mirror for me and helped me sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently get back to myself.

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Martha with Jo, her kids and her dad

No single thing has changed me more than becoming a parent. There was all of the sudden this little being (River) in our world and he became the ultimate mirror. I started thinking differently about life and about how Jo and I could raise a kid that is sweet and confident and safe in his own skin. I wanted him to feel the license to be himself.

There was something unsettled in me that I knew needed light. In this time I started meditating, reading Brene Brown and Debbie Ford and I could feel the light shifting in me. One day I was reading Brene Brown’s Parenting Manifesto, probably for the 15th time, but this time it hit a different nerve. In that moment I understood that my kids would never be able to be sweet, confident and safe in their own skin as long as I wasn’t able to give that to myself. That day I stopped drinking and smoking, my favorite coping mechanisms. I started actually liking myself and even loving who I am.

I’ll never forget the moment I was standing by our grill on the back porch and I had an experience where I could feel all of the love people had been giving to me for years that I hadn’t been able to feel. I had known intellectually that I was loved, but I had never been able to hold it. I always felt like I had something to apologize for, something to be ashamed of that made me somehow unworthy. Until this moment and the right relationship and set of circumstances, spiritual guides and tiny humans to care for taught me how to love myself.

Since that day I have been truly free. I don’t wear dresses any more. I don’t hold my tongue when I believe in something. I love my wife-to- be and our kids and the work that I get to do and the people I spend my days with. This lesson in parenting and self-love has pulled all of the parts of me together and I have given myself permission to love every bit of this journey and permission to go out and live the life of my dreams.

View More: http://katezimmermanpictures.pass.us/hot-dang-december-2015The effects of my “self-love” revolution left no stone unimproved. I had already started my company, Hot Dang, at this point, but I was plagued by self-doubt and insecurity in the early days. I didn’t feel like I knew enough about business to be successful, and the truth is…I didn’t, but no-one does when they start something and are immersed in learning. The shift that happened for me in business was profound. I went from a mind-set of who am I to try this, to who am I not to. I have a vision for a healthier place to live and eat and my regret would be NOT doing anything about it. This shift allowed me to boldly do and learn and unapologetically pursue my vision. The trick of living the life of your dreams is not to judge what exists in you or others and go bravely (remember, it is okay to be scared here) forward and live the life that you are meant to live. Whether that is becoming an artist, a therapist, raising kids, starting a company, being the best friend in the world, you are entitled to live YOUR dreams. Who are you not to show us your shine?

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -Marianne Williamson


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


 

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Real Women, Real Stories | Carley Lickteig: Heeding the Call to Adopt in Uganda

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Roots: I’ve lived in Austin for the past 18 years, aside from 6 months in California and 10 months in Uganda. Before moving to Austin, I lived in a few different places that my dad’s job took our family.

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Carley with husband, Josh

Family Life: I’ve been married to my husband, Josh, for 5 years. We dated for about 5 years before getting married, so he has been my best friend for pretty much all of my adult life. I also have two kids and one on the way. My daughter (Avery) is 8 and my son (Caleb) is 5. We are all four eagerly anticipating the arrival of a baby girl this June! My eldest two kids joined our family through adoption and our third is joining us the old fashion way.

Current Occupation: I have the privilege of staying home with my kids as a full-time mom. I’m grateful for that privilege and enjoy it very much.

My favorite quote… “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6. I love the quote and I also love the fact that I fell in love with it while it donned my husband’s Facebook profile as his favorite quote for years. (Including months before we were dating when I used to spend a lot of time on his Facebook page checking out his interests and whereabouts!)

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Avery and Caleb in our playroom in Uganda

I’m most inspired by…Jesus. For many reasons, but in particular for how genuinely and steadfastly he loves us even when we are at our worst and when we are making choices that make us highly unlovable. It truly amazes me and inspires – I want to love like that! And I’m so grateful I’m loved by him like that.
Something people may not know about me…I’m a homebody. I love filling a day with many, many books curled up on the couch with my kids. (And maybe a few chores, I really like a neat and tidy home!).

If I weren’t in my current career I’d be… I taught yoga and Pilates for years before becoming a mom and I loved it so much. So if I wasn’t a full-time mama, I would be back to teaching yoga and Pilates classes. I hope to get back into teaching in a future season when my kids are a bit older.

My guilty pleasure…I used to sneak in a long run any chance I could get, now I sneak a chance to put my feet up any chance I can get!

I’m looking forward to…meeting my baby girl!

My Story: Heeding the Call to Adopt in Uganda

Carley & Kids

I grew up the recipient of mountains of blessings. I had loving parents that poured into me, an older brother that definitely earned the title “best big brother in the world”, and every opportunity and material provision my family could generously offer me. Then as young adult, Jesus captured my heart completely! Meeting Jesus filled my heart and mind with surpassing joy. I knew that I wanted the amazing life God had given me to be given back to Him for whatever purposes He had planned. “To whom much is given, much is expected” – by God’s grace this truth didn’t crush me, but rather exhilarated me. As I transitioned into adulthood (exhilarated!), God gave me a husband who also desired to follow Jesus with passion. And so the adventure began!

Before getting married, God gave my husband and I each a desire for adoption to be a part of our future. He gave this desire to us as individuals first and then as a couple later. Our initial awareness of the reality of orphans in the world came through our church, The Austin Stone Community Church. We have the privilege of being a part of a church that is great at realizing needs, presenting them to the rest of the church body, and then collectively meeting those needs. So as our church presented the reality of orphans domestically and internationally, our church also began to fill up with adoptive families. Seeing these families and hearing their stories inspired my husband and me, and also showed us that we could very readily engage this particular need in the world ourselves. And that is exactly what God led us to do. 

We said to each other when we got married that we wanted to adopt as soon as we were able to do so. God provided through the generous way that my parents helped us start off our marriage in a good spot financially and He also provided through giving us a thriving marriage. Six months into our marriage we both felt the clear word from God to begin the adoption process! We were excited and nervous!

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With Caleb five weeks into meeting him & one week before bringing him home to Austin

After lots of prayer we decided to pursue adopting from Uganda. God gave us a baby boy who was 16 months old when we traveled to Uganda to meet him, go to court, and apply for his visa. We were in Uganda with him completing his adoption process for six weeks. During that time, and through the crazy love that we felt for our son, God deepened our heart for adoption. We felt that God was saying He had another child for our family through adoption. When we got back home with our son and continued to pray for our future children, God made it clear He wanted us to adopt again from Uganda.

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Avery in front of Lake Victoria near our house in Uganda

This time God gave us a little girl who joined our family at 6 years old. During the initial process of our daughter’s adoption (which is stateside), we felt God urging us to sell our home and move overseas to Uganda. We felt His urging to make that transition for many reasons, but as we reflect we are most thankful that He urged us to move to be with our daughter sooner rather than later. The process of her adoption was stalling and we were losing precious time with her. As He does, God provided and made a way for us to move to Uganda and foster our daughter in our home right away as we waited out the rest of her process. He didn’t ask us to do that without also giving us a desire. We moved to Uganda with expectant excitement. It was an enormous blessing to live our first year as a family, together with our new daughter, in Uganda. It was certainly a challenging season, but we can see now that God had many purposes in those challenges. Once we had successfully completed our daughter’s adoption process, we felt that returning to the States was the best thing for our family.

Our kids are learning and growing so much each day!

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Enjoying family time at the beach

Through adoption my husband and I gained the two loves our lives, Avery and Caleb. Loving them and parenting them has been a great and weighty privilege.

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With Avery a few months after arriving in Uganda

No parenting journey is easy, and ours hasn’t been either. Through the exhausting bouts we have very simply been sanctified! So many of our selfish and character-weak habits have had to go, but God has replaced them (we hope!) with new, stronger character traits, a deeper heart for serving and giving of ourselves, and a more passionate hunger for God’s nearness in our lives. We are works in progress (or even unfinished masterpieces of our King) and God will go to great lengths to pursue us and make us holy and righteous…and one of the ways He has done that in our lives is through our children and through a move to Uganda and back!

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One of the primary modes of transportation in Uganda, much to Caleb’s delight!

I love God so much more five years, a husband, two kids, and five moves later. I’ve also learned SO much about how much He loves me – through the love He has given me for my kids, through witnessing His love for my kids, and through the experience of His promises proven to be true. He is a God so worthy of our lives. I truly believe that when we give God the reigns of our life, He pours in blessing. Maybe not always blessing in the form of ease and comfort, but in the form of much sweeter gifts. The greatest gift He has given me through my husband and I’s pursuit of Him….is more of Himself. We are now closer to Him and know Him more accurately and intimately. When we see Jesus more fully, it changes the way we see everything else. And for so much the better. I live today with greater joy, peace, and freedom than I did five years ago. Pursuing Jesus the past five years has made me hungry to pursue him for a lifetime more. I’m so thankful for God. Above His blessings that come through sunny times and dark times, I’m mostly thankful for Him – to quote the song “He is a good, good Father.”


 

iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


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Real Women, Real Stories | Nancy’s Story: Abundant Living Among the Chronically Homeless

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Roots: I was born in Orange, California, but moved to Dallas in 1969 and then to Austin in 1984.  I’ve been here ever since and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

With my grown children: Sarah, Kim, Rachel, me, Justin & Rebecca

Family Life:  My first husband and I were both in the medical field and saw that older children were not getting adopted after the preschool age. They would age out of foster care or group homes with no place to call home after 18.  Specialists at the time said older children were rarely being placed. We wanted a big family, so we decided to have our “bio babes” first and then adopt older children.

We had Justin, and then Rachel came 17 months later. Then, a year later we added Kimberly (9 years old), then a year later, Rebecca (8 yrs), and finally a year later Sarah (17 years old).  Whew!  What a ride! They all came from different families with different stories. What an adventure!

Grandchildren (it's hard to get them all together at the same time): Trey, Valencia, Brooklyn, Derrick, Kannon, Kyciel and Chasity

Grandchildren (it’s hard to get them all together at the same time): Trey, Valencia, Brooklyn, Derrick, Kannon, Kyciel and Chasity

I am an artist, but being a parent probably required my most creative spontaneity!  Folks asked us how we figured out how to raise this family — well, we kind of made it up as we went along. We had gentle firm rules, and as much fun as possible. We had regular rule breaking to ease the structure. For example we had “bad manners night” one dinner a week (the only rules were no throwing food or eating off of each other’s plates), they had to dress up for church only once a month, they could have a whole box of any cereal (usually with chocolate in the title, ugh) they wanted for their birthday. We also enjoyed pranks, theater plays, a giant dress up/costume room, 10 different pets, and tons of crafts.  I thought I was going to make the biggest impact in their lives, but I am so very changed myself.

After 30 years my husband and I parted and remain friends today, still very involved with our children’s lives. I am in a new chapter of my life. My children have grown, have children of their own (11 fabulous grandchildren and counting). We all love getting together as much as possible.

Ed and I at a Chicago concert

Ed and I at a Chicago concert

I met a wonderful man named Ed Miller who was not frazzled by my huge family, brought two sons of his own and joined me in a new marriage adventure. We have been married now for 7 years. He is also a nurse and works with the elderly.

Work Life:  I am currently a psychiatric nurse, a charge nurse at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital over the adult ICU, and I have been there for 8 years. I began as a nurse in 1978, but after having children, I joined the pastoral staff of a local church as the director of congregational care and counseling.  I received my masters in counseling, obtained my LPC and had a private practice for 10 years. I missed the team spirit I had in the church setting, so I returned to nursing as a psych nurse. I love it — and again I need my creative energy to problem solve and creatively care for our patients.  In 2013 I was named Seton Behavior Health’s Nurse of the Year. In 2014 I was chosen as a TNA (Texas Nurses Association) Fab Five Nurse, the first psych nurse to obtain this award.

Suzanne McConkey & I drinking cowboy coffee, as we get lunch ready for everyone at Community First! Village

Suzanne McConkey & I drinking cowboy coffee, as we get lunch ready for everyone at Community First! Village

A little unknown fact, in 1974 I wanted to be an animal vet but they did not allow women in the A&M vet school, so I went into nursing! Oh how times have changed!

Pastor…counselor…nurse… all different but dealing with people just the same, only from different perspectives.  I love going the extra mile, to help other people grow, to be encouraging. I believe that we all heal and grow best when we do it together!

 

My favorite quote:  I have seasons of quotes that linger and settle on me for a while, then new ones settle. These two I have been sitting with me lately:

“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry, to get my work done, and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
-Maya Angelou

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy,
I woke and I saw that life is all service,
I served and I saw that service is joy.”
-Kahlil Gibrán

With Christine Novak (another missional resident at CF!V) & Heidi Sloan (head of the gardens at CF!V) after I just got my tattoo based on Psalm 121

With Christine Novak (another missional resident at CF!V) & Heidi Sloan (head of the gardens at CF!V) after I got my tattoo based on Psalm 121

I’m Most Inspired by… I once bought a book just because of its title “Playing a Poor Hand Well.”  It talked about people who have had adversity or trials yet remained resilient, positive and thrive. I am inspired by those people. They choose to take what was intended to take them out, and they weave it into their story of joy.

Something people may not know about me… I love to play hand drums and hope to be part of a drum circle at Community First! Village, where we now live.

My guilty pleasure…  Spending a whole day in the studio painting, playing music, making new colors and trying new techniques .

My “perfect day” would be… Oh my that would be a full day… walk my dog Jack while visiting with friends/neighbors as I go, watch my children play together, work together on a project with people, paint/draw a little, then I’d go dancing with Ed at Don’s Depot downtown, sit on the porch and enjoy the breeze.

My Story:
Abundant Living Among the Chronically Homeless

Ed and I at our new home Community First! Village, where we are missional residents

Ed and I at Community First! Village, where we are missional residents

A large percentage of my patients have fragile housing situations. Every week, I discharge them out the door to the streets. Often they have little or no access to consistent resources to maintain their health. This troubles me greatly.

Serving lunch under the big tent at Community First! Village, everyone knows me by my big hat & plaid shirts

Serving lunch under the big tent at Community First! Village, everyone knows me by my big hat & plaid shirts

Two years ago, my husband and I were invited to visit the small Mobile Loaves and Fishes model of the Community First! Village.  Community First! Village is a 27-acre master-planned community that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas.  Community First! Village Includes:

  • An innovative mix of affordable housing options
  • Places for worship, study, and fellowship
  • Memorial garden and columbarium
  • A community garden featuring fruit- and nut-bearing trees and vegetables
  • A chicken operation, bee hives producing fresh honey, and aquaponics
  • A workshop with tool bank and art gallery for micro-enterprise opportunities
  • A medical facility for physical and mental health screenings and support services including hospice and respite care
  • Walking trails
  • An outdoor theater and bed & breakfast for mission visits
  • CAP Metro bus stop
  • WiFi

As I walked around the canvas cottages, micro homes, RVs, chicken coop, tilapia pond and gardens, I heard the plan of creating a true working community with micro enterprises, clinic, movie theatre, and more. I kept hearing in my head “I could so live here and be a part of this.” My husband and I talked and prayed for several months. There was a strong sense that God was inviting us to jump into a roller coaster for the ride of our lives. Why would I do anything else!

the garden crew on the bridge at Community First! Village

The garden crew on the bridge at Community First! Village

We then jumped into volunteering on Saturdays out at the gardens… we have been there ever since!

We moved to Community First! Village during Thanksgiving week of this year, into a 300 square-foot RV that we had redone. We’ve learned that so much of our “stuff” is not essential for a rich life. I share much of my day with so many new folks. We walk dogs together, cook/feed volunteers together, harvest crops, sit around a roaring fire on cold nights, share meals — just do life together. So many stories , so many incredibly resilient people that choose to not let the horrible trials of life get them down.

with CF!V chef Dennis Williams & some of the hundreds of fabulous volunteers

With CF!V chef Dennis Williams & some of the hundreds of fabulous volunteers

My kids love coming out and being here with us — the grandchildren harvesting food and feeding chickens.

Life has come full circle, my hopes are unfolding… laughing, tears, getting work done, loving others and finding daily courage to be loved in return.  I am rich!

 

 


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


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Anissa’s Story: Boxing My Way from Self-Destruction to World Champion

Roots… 
I was born in San Angelo, Texas. My family moved to Austin when I was 6, so when people ask where I’m from, I always say Austin. I’ve pretty much been here my whole life!

My parents split up when I was 8 years old, and I have two older brothers and an older sister from my dad’s previous marriage. My brothers and I are very close and hang out often.

I have never married or had any children. To be honest, I was never one of those little girls who dreamed about the perfect wedding or my knight in shining armor riding off into the sunset.  I did play with barbies and had a barbie dream house –just in my mind Barbie had bought the house and went on a lot of dates with Ken.
My favorite quote…
It would have to be “The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare” by Juma Ikangaa.   I saw this quote in my early years of boxing on my coach’s wall on a yellow 3M sticky note buried in the collage chaos of boxing posters and photos. I saw it and it stuck.  I didn’t always follow it, but I understood it and I try to apply it to other goals I have and want to achieve.

The best advice I’ve ever received…
The best advice was something somebody told me when I was young. I had a crush on a cute boy who did not like me the same way. I was really upset that he only wanted to be friends, and my mentor at the time told me that just because you can’t have someone the way you want them doesn’t mean you can’t have them at all.  I think people have a tendency to get mad and try to forget about people just because they don’t feel the same way that they do.  Really, you could be throwing away a good friendship, but you’ll never know if you kick them to the curb.

My dog Rocco

My dog Rocco

For fun…
When I’m not at work, you can find me hanging out with my dog Rocco, fencing at the fencing club or hanging out with friends.  I began fencing at the Texas Fencing Academy because my body wasn’t able to keep up with boxing on a regular basis because of my injuries.

My guilty pleasures…
Pizza, burgers, wine and chocolate.

I’m looking forward to…
I’m looking forward to someday competing in fencing.  But that will be a while 🙂

Current Work Life…
I am currently a Receptionist at Sports Performance International with Dr. Ted Spears. We specialize in orthopedics and sports medicine.

MY STORY: Boxing My Way from Self-Destruction to World Champion

When I was very young, I was really shy.  When my family moved to Austin things were great until my parents starting fighting a lot and eventually split up.  From that moment on, I started acting out. I was getting into trouble in school and having angry outbursts, throwing chairs — the whole bit.  I also became very self-destructive and started cutting myself at around age eleven.  My behavior got so out of control that I was expelled from school and was sent to a mental hospital.

I was in and out of short-term facilities until I was fifteen, and then was sent to a long-term treatment hospital in Dallas.  I spent about 2 & 1/2 years there being pretty self-destructive and very suicidal. I spent a lot of time in restraints… actually, most of my stay was spent in restraints.

At the time I didn’t think anybody would understand what I was going through because I had never heard of anybody doing the kinds of things that I was doing to myself. I was so ashamed that I couldn’t ask for help. I knew it was wrong and messed up, but I couldn’t stop.

When I look back on that time, I don’t even know that person. I just don’t identify with that person anymore.  It was me…I was there…it’s just very hard to believe.

I eventually got out when I was seventeen, but my troubles didn’t stop there. My mom kicked me out, and I moved in with my father back in San Angelo. It was then and there that I made up my mind to do something with my life. I didn’t want to be angry anymore. It was killing me… literally, killing me.  That’s not to say that I still didn’t have setbacks, but I did continue to move forward.

Saved by Boxing

image2It wasn’t until I stepped into the boxing gym that I really started to heal and figure things out. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and had a lot of energy.  And even though I would be training to fight, at the same time I was also learning how to control myself and to channel all of my energy and hostility into a direction that was positive and constructive for me.

I walked into the boxing gym in January of 1993, after a hard night of partying and bringing in the New Year. I had decided that is was time to get back in shape and maybe not party so much. I could lose a few pounds as well. The previous year I had torn my ACL in my left knee in Tae kwon Do, and had pretty much partied my way through my recovery, had not made the best decisions and I wasn’t really turning into the person I wanted to be.

image5I had no idea if there would be any women in the boxing gym when I first walked in, but I was completely surprised to see Lori Lord and Amy Simmons (the owner of Austin’s famous Amy’s Ice Cream) finishing their workout. I felt comfortable right off the bat there. I walked into my future coach Richard Lord’s office, signed up and told him I wanted to compete.

In the beginning as an amateur, I couldn’t get any fights. There weren’t a lot of women fighters, especially in my weight class of junior flyweight or flyweight. Women’s fighting wasn’t really accepted and promoters didn’t want anything to do with women fighters. I can remember a lot of the fire behind my training came from wanting them to show that women could do it and we could do it well.  It was pretty frustrating back then — training so hard all the time and not being able to compete. In 1995 I actually walked into Richard Lord’s office and told him that if I didn’t get a fight soon that I was going to quit.

Well, be careful for what you ask for, because within a week Richard got a phone call from a promoter in New York who wanted to put on the very first sanctioned women’s boxing match in the state of New York.  So, off I went to New York to make my Pro debut and to be a part of the first women’s boxing match in the state of New York. I won that fight and kicked off my professional boxing career with a bang. My boxing was up and down — wins and losses, but  I eventually earned the WIBF Junior flyweight world title and retired with the WIBA flyweight world title.

image7My boxing career taught me a lot about myself and what makes me tick.  I not only learned how to use physical fitness to deal with some of my self-confidence and self-esteem issues, but also how to work through things as they come up in life.  I learned that when I’m struggling with something in my personal life, sometimes it takes completely wearing myself out in a workout and after I work out I’ll either have a solution or it just doesn’t seem like the end of the world anymore. That’s not to say that sometimes I didn’t just have to go to bed and wake up the next day and hope it would be a better day, but I guess I learned how to live life.  Things are going to happen — they’re gonna happen everyday and you’re gonna have to deal with it, because that’s life. That’s everybody’s life.

Always Moving Forward

What I have learned the most on my journey is how important fitness is.  Whether it’s just going for walks or boxing or whatever —  it’s important to keep moving.

Fencing with coach Mike at Texas Fencing Academy

Fencing with coach Mike at Texas Fencing Academy

Now, I am retired from the fighting world. I suffered a few injuries from boxing that don’t allow me to box all the time, so I have picked up fencing. It’s tough and difficult and has its similarities to boxing, but at the same time is very different.

My fencing coach Mike and I

My fencing coach Mike and I

My outlook on life is pretty positive at this point.  I’m still learning and figuring things out. I started a new sport. I’m enjoying meeting new people and really being comfortable in my own skin and feeling good about myself.  I don’t compare myself to other people — don’t do that,  it will drive you crazy!

I appreciate my life now. Even the not-so-good stuff. It’s made me who I am… and I’m good with that.

Becoming an Author

My book Boxing Shadows came out In 2009.  I wanted to help people — I didn’t want anybody to ever feel alone like I did when I was going through my self-destructive phase.

I also wanted to give people hope — hope that you can always change and that things can get better. That it just takes a lot of hard work and you having the want to get better. I went into great detail in my book about some pretty horrific things that I had done to myself, and some people have asked if I really needed to go into that much detail.  I felt that it was necessary so that whoever was reading the book could picture how bad things were, and then see that I was able to work through it. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but you have to want it like you have never wanted anything in your life…and you have to do the work.

 

Using My Past Struggles to Help Others:

image6I started speaking to groups about three or four years ago.  Professor Anne Martinez’s Mexican American History class at the University of Texas studied my book, and afterwards I would come in and speak to the class.

I was nervous at first and had no idea what to expect, but there is a need for it.  Some of the students reached out to me after my talk to let me know that they could relate to my story or that they had a family member that could.

I was always worried about what people would think of me after I had told my story, but each time I hear that I have helped someone by sharing it with them, it makes it all worth it.  I would hate for someone to feel alone and think that they’re the only one in their situation, because it’s just not true. People go through many different things, whether it’s cutting, depression or suicidal thoughts — they just don’t talk about it. I’m trying to change that.

– – –

iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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Real Women, Real Stories | Ginger Simons: Changing Lives through the Jeremiah Program

Real Women Real Stories Ginger Simons Jeremiah Program

photo by Catherine Sanderson

Roots:  I grew up in Long Beach, California, and graduated from high school and college in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I raised my 4 girls in Las Cruces, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, and I moved to Austin 6 years ago!

Ginger and her grandchildren Savannah and Elijah

Ginger and grandchildren Savannah and Elijah

Family Life:  I am married to John Simons, who helped raise my 4 grown daughters.  Jenny, my oldest, has a career she loves as a high school librarian at a health sciences magnet school in El Paso. Although we all harass her to try to get her to move to Austin, I guess I can’t begrudge her the happiness she has found there. My daughter Liz and her husband Danny were my network for establishing myself in Austin. Thanks to daughter Melanie and Bear for the gift of sweet granddaughter Savannah. Most recent arrivals to Austin are youngest daughter Sheila, her husband Eric and my precious 10 month-old grandson Elijah.

Having fun with Kyael, a Jeremiah Program resident

Having fun with Kyael, a Jeremiah Program resident

Work Life:  I have been working as Family Services Manager for the Jeremiah Program.  In this role, I serve as Empowerment Facilitator, Life Skills Coach and work with staff and volunteers to help complete the overall mission of the program: to transform families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. Through support for a career-track college education, safe and affordable housing, quality early childhood education, and empowerment and life skills training, Jeremiah Program prepares determined single mothers to succeed in the workforce, readies their children to succeed in school, and reduces generational dependence on public assistance.

My favorite part of my role is having a front row seat, getting to watch the moms’ and their children’s lives in transformation.  Prior to working at the Jeremiah Program, I spent 22 years in education as an Elementary classroom teacher and Instructional Coach. In my spare time, I spent two summers working as a park ranger. In an effort to help my daughter with pain from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, I also trained to become a licensed massage therapist.

Favorite Quote:  “Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.” -Helen Keller

I’m most inspired by…  Creativity inspires me, mostly that found in nature, but myriad artists as well.

Something people may not know about me… My 8 years as a single parent has helped prepare me for my role in the Jeremiah Program. During that time, I earned my BS in Education while running an in-home daycare. Makes me tired thinking about it now!  🙂

What I’m  looking forward to right now Our new campus for all things Austin Jeremiah!

“I wish I were a gardener. I love it, but stink at it.”

When I’m not working, you can find me… Pretending not to be working by playing with grandkids, cleaning house and gardening.

My perfect day would be… A nice morning hike with a friend, an entertaining afternoon movie, play time with the grandkids, and dinner at a relaxing outdoor diner with great ambiance — which must include indie folk or blues music.

My guilty pleasure:  Hay Day  (ssshhhh, it’s embarrassing!)

Jeremiah Program

Jeremiah Program is a nationally recognized nonprofit organization whose proven, holistic approach transforms families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. The program provides single mothers and their children with support for a career-track college education, quality early childhood education, a safe, affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills training.

I began working with Jeremiah Program in 2012 as a volunteer. Dazzie McKelvey (consultant and now national board member for Jeremiah) invited me to help her facilitate a class similar to our current Life Skills class. We led the group of 5 single moms, who have all since graduated from college!

When housing for our first 4 residents was almost ready, I was hired part-time by Executive Director Shannon Moody to be the Family Services Manager.

Ginger Gives a Peek into One of the Many Lives She’s Seen Changed

fun with the Jeremiah Program kiddos

fun with the Jeremiah Program kiddos

Lena (name changed for privacy) slid into the chair, squirming and nervous.  Her body language spoke of that of a hurt child. When the meeting room door opened or someone nearby made a noise, she startled. She came to our 12-week Empowerment classes sharing as little as she could while still being considered engaged. She kept her head down and doodled whenever it was not necessary to look up. Upon completing the process of Empowerment, she shared that she had come to realize that the passive way that she had been accepting unhealthy relationships in her life, needed to change.

She now continues with Jeremiah Program, practicing the life skills she is learning. She does the necessary work to make important changes. I observe her with an anticipation similar to watching a chick emerge from its shell. There is no swan or dove emerging, more like an eagle or a hawk. She is taking flight with an amazing inner wisdom and determination. Yet, I chuckle every time she comes forth with her thoughtful, sometimes hilarious ideas as she parodies life. There is no doubt in my mind that her impact in this world has been amplified by being in the Jeremiah Program. I cherish her response when she was asked what she feels about Jeremiah Program so far, “I feel so loved.”

Serving Others Changed Me, Too

I am blown away by how much my own life has changed by being a part of Jeremiah Program. I abhor being perceived a hypocrite, so what I learn, I must also apply.  I tell you, empowerment changes lives!  It’s been a very internal thing, a dumping of emotional baggage, lightening the load and making way for better energy. Because I have the opportunity to facilitate empowerment classes, it keeps it fresh in my mind, prompting me to keep practicing and helping our participants to practice using empowerment tools.  By doing this, I get front row seats to watch their lives become increasingly empowered. What an honor!

Coming in the Fall: the New Austin Jeremiah Program Campus

Jeremiah Program Moody Campus Austin

Rendering of the soon-to-be-built Austin Jeremiah Program Moody Campus in east Austin

There are currently 3 women in our Austin program, and approximately 8 women will begin Empowerment training next month. We will select our 4th participant from that group. We expect groundbreaking to occur for our new Austin Moody Campus in the fall. Soon after, great strides will need to be made to recruit a large pool of applicants to find those who will be the best fit for our program. Once the campus is built, the facility will house 35 single women and their children, along with 4 duplexes housing another 4 families, giving us a total of 39 women in the program.  There will also be an onsite Child Development Center as well as community rooms, playground and staff offices.

Real Women Real Stories Ginger Simons Jeremiah Program Austin Site

Ginger in front of the future site of the Austin Jeremiah Program Moody Campus in east Austin, adjacent to Austin Community College Eastview Campus

Get Involved

In addition to volunteering and donation funds to our fundraising campaign, a great way to get involved in helping Jeremiah Program is through our upcoming awesome, fun event Epic Battle:

2014 Epic Battle photo collage2015 Epic Battle Facts Sheet

Join us on the iGnite Epic Battle Team today!
Email neissa@igniteyourlifenow.com to join

Our current fundraising goal is $600,000, and our biggest need is general operating dollars. General Operating dollars are important because we can use these funds where we need them, when we need them. Epic Battle is not only an important fundraiser, but a key component in getting our mission message out to the public.

Our focus of course has been on development and getting our permanent home built. The money for the campus structure has been raised, but there are still apartments, classrooms and meeting rooms to furnish.

Volunteering

We cannot complete our mission without volunteers. They are a vital part of what we do. Currently, we have volunteers who help with Cooks for Kids, providing meals and child care while our moms attend Life Skills classes. Volunteers serve on committees, facilitate Life Skills and raise funds.

When we have our main campus, our volunteer pool will multiply with each new group of women who enter our program. We will then have volunteers in the Child Development Center as well as ambassadors for meetings and greeters for the front desk.

Also if you’d like to stay updated on developments and progress through our newsletter, our director of development, Lauren Portley would be happy to sign anyone up! She may be contacted at LPortley@jeremiahprogram.org.


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


You Might Also Like:

Real Women, Real Stories | Missy Zinnecker: Navigating Life as a Military Wife

Real Women Real Stories | iGnite Your Life

Missy's Story: Navigating Life as a Military Wife

photo: Catherine Sanderson

Roots:  I was born and raised in Austin. Most recently, my husband’s military career took us to The Netherlands for five years. We loved our time there and all of the amazing travel opportunities we had. We are now in the process of moving to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas where Chad will attend Command and General Staff College for a year. We will then begin a new path in the Army, where my husband will receive various levels of training and education to become a Foreign Area Officer. He will specialize in South East Asia, where we will eventually live and work at a U.S. embassy or consulate. We are really excited about this new adventure!

Missy and Chad

Missy and Chad

Family Life:  I have been married to my husband, Chad, for nine years. We are pregnant with our first child and I am due on December 1st. Chad and I have technically known each other since birth. We were both born premature at Seton Hospital around the same time and were in the NICU together, so our mothers got to know one another. We didn’t begin dating, however, until my final semester at Texas A&M University.

Work Life:  Out of college, I worked for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) in Austin for 5 & 1/2 years in their Customer Service Policies and Procedures group. Then, my husband’s military career took us abroad where, instead of working, I completed my master’s degree in international relations. I hope to work in the embassy when we move to SE Asia.

Who Inspires Me Most:  Many of the senior Army spouses I have met throughout our time in the military. These women have raised children both with and without their husbands, navigated numerous moves across the country and abroad, and done it all with a great attitude toward life.

If I Weren’t In My Current Career I’d Be…  An interior designer. I love home design shows and Pinterest!

~ My Story ~

Becoming a military wife wasn’t ever how I envisioned my life. I thought I would graduate from college, begin my career, meet someone along the way and settle down somewhere. All of that changed when Chad and I began dating just before I graduated and I became aware of his commitment to the U.S. Army.

Chad and I married on July 1, 2006. We knew we wanted to get married before his first deployment and this gave us a few months together as a married couple before he went to Iraq for  the first time. We have been through three deployments over the last nine years, and I have learned that staying busy is the best way for me to handle the stresses and the many months of separation associated with deployments. Through the first two deployments, I was fortunate enough to have a full-time job in Austin to keep myself occupied. Living with either my sister or parents also made the challenges much easier.

travelcollage-01

Fun with travels and friends while living in The Netherlands

One of our most difficult times as a couple occurred when we made the international move to The Netherlands. After the initial excitement of living in Europe wore off, we hit a few bumps in the road. Being immersed in a new culture had it’s challenges, and we had to learn that we needed to work a little harder to get things taken care of — everything from figuring out where to buy a vacuum cleaner to how to navigate the narrow roads took a little more effort and patience. The cloudy/rainy weather also affected our mood. These changes, along with the fact that I was no longer working full-time, made my outlook less than positive and affected how I was treating my husband. After some much needed reflection, I realized that I needed to get busy pursuing a few of my passions and focus on my personal goals. Soon, I joined the board of the Military Spouses Club, where I met some wonderful friends, and I also began taking classes in pursuit of a master’s degree. Soon I grew to truly love every aspect of our life in The Netherlands, the sense of home we felt there and the people we befriended. Saying goodbye to that life a few weeks ago was one of the hardest things I have done.

PromotionCeremony-01

At Chad’s most recent promotion ceremony: being promoted to  Major

In overcoming the challenges of moving abroad, I learned the power of the quote, “Bloom where you are planted.”  Moving every few years was never something I desired, but I now look forward to the new opportunities that arise every time we are stationed somewhere different. A new home comes with new chances to experience life differently and opened my eyes to differing perspectives and new opportunities to learn and grow as a person. Working through that challenging time also reminds me to keep my personal goals at the forefront of my life, despite my ever-changing location. 


iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com


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Eulalia “Lala” Cortes’ Story: The Depth of a Mother’s Love

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

compiled by Catherine Sanderson

With mother’s day approaching, we’re excited to share the story of the amazing Lala Cortes, a mother and grandmother in her own right, but also a “second mother” to almost 20 other children in the Austin area. Her story displays the incredible power of a mother’s love to ignite a journey from a place of war and turmoil to one that is safe and full of love. Her motherly instincts led her to bravely start anew and create an independent and safe life for herself and her children after years of hardship.

We know you will be inspired 🙂

— — —

Roots & Family Life:  I was born in León, Nicaragua and lived there until I was 22 years old when I moved to Austin, and have now lived here for 27 years. In Nicaragua, my dad Jose worked in agriculture and farming, and my mom Mercedes had her own business selling our produce at a market stall.

My parents in Nicaragua

My parents in Nicaragua

I had 4 brothers and 2 sisters — 7 of us total, although one of my brothers was killed in the civil war. I have 3 children: Silvia (now 32), Orlando (27) and Brenda (26) and I now have 2 grandchildren: Genesis (9), Eli (6) and one on the way!

I am happily married to my current husband Eliseo, and we have been married for 12 years.

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo's wedding

Left: with my children and daddy at mine and Eliseo’s wedding; Right: my grandchildren Genesis and Eli

Current Occupation: I’m a nanny and I clean houses for a number of families. Over the past 27 years, I’ve helped raise 18 children other than my own, and have worked for more than 15 families — from less than a year for some, to 27 years for others.

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann's children), 2 of the children I look after now

With Malaine and Durant (Neissa Springmann’s children), 2 of the children I help look after now

I always treated the girls that worked for me in Nicaragua the way that I wanted to be treated, so when that doesn’t happen with me, I don’t work there for long!

Who inspires me most: God. He inspires us all as human beings to move forward, and without Him in front of us we couldn’t be as strong as we are.

The best advice I’ve been given: There are many, but the best was from my parents: In life, although there’s suffering and it’s hard, it teaches you how to live and live with other people. Also, they taught me that the way you treat others is the way you’re going to be treated.

Something people don’t know about me: As a kid, my favorite pastime was jumping rope. Once, I fell and hurt my knee (which I still have the scar from) and never told my mom because I knew she’d get made at me for not being careful and hurting myself (there was no money for going to the doctor). I had to tell her when my knee became really swollen and I got gangrene and she wanted to take me to the doctor. I still have knee problems because of it…all because of jumping rope and not telling my mom! Which is why I now get so scared when the kids I take care of love jumping off things!

If I wasn’t in my current career, I’d…  I’d retire! 🙂 Well, when I was in a kid in school I wanted to be a teacher or a nurse, but I can’t see myself being a nurse anymore because I have a weak stomach when it comes to blood. With the little English I know, I can see myself looking for another type of job where I can use the language more and communicate more.

What I’m looking forward to right now:  I’m excited for my newest grandbaby to get here, and when it does I’m going to charge $30 an hour to watch it! {kidding 🙂 }

LalaCortez_w-1When I’m not working, you can find me…  Shopping, exercising, volunteering with my church, teaching bible studies, gardening, and getting my nails done.

My perfect day would be: On my perfect day (a day off), I would be teaching people about the bible and giving bible studies — it’s my therapy.  I volunteer through my church to go to people’s homes who have shown interest in learning about the bible and give them bible studies. I love sitting down with people in their homes.

~ My Story ~

The hardest and most life-changing experience I’ve been through was traveling alone with my children to the U.S. and then raising them alone in a new country.

After my brother was killed in the civil war in Nicaragua, my parents wanted to protect the rest of us, and so they traveled with the rest of the family to the U.S. to live in Austin. I stayed behind in Nicaragua because I had married my first husband at 16 and had my first child Silvia at 17. My husband owned a jewelry store there and we were very well off — I had 3 ladies working in my house helping with the children, cleaning the house and running errands. I would go get my nails done and go shopping!

After a number of years with my parents in the U.S. and the civil war going on in Nicaragua, I had 2 small children, was pregnant with my third, my husband wasn’t being a good husband, and I was seeing civilians who didn’t support the government get killed. I knew my family was in the U.S. and I could be safe with them there, so at 22 years old I decided to travel to the U.S. alone with the children to be with my parents.

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

Clockwise from top left: with newborn Silvia in Nicaragua, with all 3 children in Austin, the children growing up in Austin

So, with 4-year-old Silvia, 10-month-old Orlando, and me 8 months pregnant with Brenda, I crossed from Nicaragua to Mexico (a 1 month journey) then crossed from Tapachula, Mexico into Texas (a 3 day journey). During those 3 days in Mexico, the coyotes (the people you pay to take you across the U.S. border) left me and my children alone in a shack in the bushes in the mountains somewhere outside Matamoros because Orlando was a very fussy baby and they said he was too loud — they said they’d come back for me. They left me with water and a tortilla and cheese, and I didn’t eat anything over those 3 days. I was scared that they wouldn’t come back for us, but luckily one of the coyotes was my cousin and they eventually did. I crossed the border in labor, and then Brenda was born in New Braunfels immediately. I remember going to the hospital right after I crossed over and telling my mom, “If you had told me how hard that journey would have been, I wouldn’t have come!”

When I crossed over, life was even harder here. I had to leave my kids to work — when before in Nicaragua I never had to work while I had kids. I didn’t know English, didn’t know anyone other than my family, and didn’t have any work experience.

After 3 months of being here, my sister Marcia took me with her to help clean houses and I gave my babies to a friend to take care of while I was out.  Three months later, I started working for Sha Klatt (iGnite’s swimming leader who I’ve now worked for for 27 years). Marcia had been working for Sha’s neighbor Patty, and when I was helping her out Sha saw me at Patty’s and asked if I could help her with her house when her daughter Sydney was 3 and her son Sam was 6 months old. So, my daddy took me to the bus stop downtown and left me there because my sister Marcia said, “Here you go, this is the bus that will take you to Sha’s house.”  I would take Brenda (6 months old at the time) on a bus into central Austin while a friend watched Silvia and Orlando.

So I began working for Sha, and she began teaching me English. She had a Spanish-English dictionary, and for a year & a half we used that dictionary to communicate with each other.

After 10 months here, the children and I got our residency and social security cards — we were officially “legal.”  My mom paid for my husband to travel to the U.S. to help take care of his family about a year after I arrived, but 3 months later, he started “being bad” again… in ways I won’t go into. The kids remember him as being very in-and-out, never having a connection with him, and remember him sometimes being gone for weeks or months at a time. We were together for a total of 18 years before getting a divorce.

I had to wait 7 years for my U.S. citizenship, and the children got theirs then too.

Receiving my U.S. citizenship; Far right: with Sha and Carolyn (another woman whose family I have worked for for many years)

I took busses around Austin for 8 years, and then Sha told me, “Lala, let’s go driving. You have to get your driver’s license.”  I told her I was scared, but she wouldn’t have it. I had never driven before — I just took taxis everywhere in Nicaragua!  Sha taught me in her neighborhood driving her husband Mike’s grandpa’s car. Sha cleaned the car up and paid for me to take the test, and then with my license I was able do more — to help take the children to ballet, school, the swimming pool, restaurants, etc. She gave me a Visa card to fill up the gas, and I was free to take the kids around all day.

Sha and I

Lala and Sha

Sha had a giant impact on my life, she’s like a sister to me. When I would get sick, Sha — knowing I lived by myself with the children — would come to my house and take my kids to school, bring me food and clothes, and take me to the doctor. She is my family. I remember when all of our kids were little, she was my big motivator and cheerleader. She gave me that boost and encouragement to get up. She would say, “Lala, bring your children to my house.”   When I’d get there and start cleaning, she’d get all of the kids in the pool and teach them to swim.

I can now say that all of this hardship saved my life and my children’s lives, and it has allowed me to start a new life here with a new husband that loves me and loves my children.

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

Brenda, Lala and Silvia

— — —

Lala’s story is one that fully embodies the risks a dedicated and loving mother will take and the lengths she’ll go to to protect her children.  As a result of her incredibly difficult journey motivated by wanting to give her children a better and safer life, they now have just that. And not only that, but Lala also now owns her own home, is in a loving marriage and is surrounded by children, grandchildren and friends that love her.

Happy Mother’s Day!

— — —

iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

— — —

You Might Also Like:

Real Women, Real Stories | Deborah Turner-Mack: Overcoming My Son’s Fight Against Food

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Deborah Turner-Mack's Story

Roots: I grew up with my mom and two sisters in Amarillo, Texas and spent my summers with my Dad in Addison, Texas. I am named after my mother, Deborah, but all of my family calls me by my middle name, Rae. After graduating from Amarillo Community College and spending a year in Utah, I moved to Denton to finish my journalism degree at the University of North Texas. I moved into a 200 square foot duplex and fell in love with Charlie, the boy next door. We moved to Austin in 2006 and married in 2007. I call Austin my home and Colorado a close second.

Family Life: Charlie and I have an amazing son, Turner. He has my surname. I wanted to use a family name and Furd, Garfield and Murdock just weren’t making the cut. Turner was the best fit and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

"Our family picture. Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We've taken him to 25. One day, we'd like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner's doctors appointments. It's the journey, not the destination that we look forward to." 

“Charlie, Turner and I camping with our VW Bus named Fillmore. We spend much of our free time camping, hiking and being outdoors. Our goal is to take Turner to all of the State Parks across Texas. We’ve taken him to 25. One day, we’d like to get Fillmore running in tip top shape, so we can drive up to Colorado for one of Turner’s doctors appointments. It’s the journey, not the destination that we look forward to.”

Favorite Quotes:
But out of limitations comes creativity.” Debbie Allen
Change is not something we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.”

The Best Advice I’ve ever been Given:
Keep on pushing! Don’t take no s—t. And never, never, ever let me hear any s—t from you that you can’t back up.”
Behold the turtle, she only makes progress when she sticks her neck out.”
Both quotes from my Dad, Rick Turner.

Something that most people don’t know about me:  I’m currently writing a memoir about my summers living with my Dad.

My Story:

Turner harvesting carrots in the family's backyard garden

Turner harvesting carrots in the family’s backyard garden

If I were to draw a picture of my three-year-old little boy, it would start with his towhead, his deep blue eyes and an exhilarating smile. He’d have a Ninja Turtle, a combine harvester and a monster truck all crammed into his small hand because he cannot leave the house without all three. Aside from wearing a cape, Turner would be barefoot, shirtless, pantless and sporting his favorite superhero skivvies turned around backwards because he says, “Mom, I can’t see their faces, if they are on my booty.”  Right in the middle of his chest, I’d draw a heart bigger than Texas itself. He’d have my dimples, my father’s chin and my husband’s triangle toe. He’s perfect in every way.

Now imagine that I told Turner to help Mommy color his inside parts. He’d choose red, his favorite color, and scribble erratically from side to side just as any child his age would do. It’s fridge worthy. Again, perfect in everyway. On the outside, he looks completely normal, but if you look at his insides, you’d see that the scribble marks show that something is completely wrong. He has an invisible and incurable disease called Eosinophilic Esophagitis (say: EE-oh-sin-oh-FILL-ick  Ee-SOFF-a-JIE-tiss) or EoE for short.

What is Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
EoE is a rare and chronic disease that occurs when there is an increased number of eosinophils  causing inflammation in the esophagus (the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). An eosinophil (say: ee-oh-SIN-o-fill) is a type of white blood cell that fight off parasitic infections. They are not normally found in the esophagus. Eosinophils are the superheroes of our bodies. However, in patients with EoE, those superheroes or eosinophils get some bad information about who the bad guys are and instead of attacking parasites, they start attacking the esophagus. The eosinophils cause injury to the tissue in the esophagus which causes food impactions, vomiting, severe reflux that does not respond to medication, failure to thrive, abdominal pain and feeding refusal.

RWRSDeborahTurnerMack

“I teach (Turner) about managing his disease by showing him where food comes from and by him cooking all of our meals with us.”

What causes Eosinophilic Esophagitis?
Food. The one thing that is designed to go down an esophagus, nourish a body and provide complete satisfaction for the three-year-old hangries is the thing that causes my son so much pain and discomfort. As of today, Turner cannot tolerate any products that contain dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, gluten, sesame seeds, tree nuts, buckwheat, peas, corn, peanuts, coconut, beef, watermelon and oats. As of two weeks ago, we had to add sunflower seeds to the no list. If you are counting, that’s 16 foods.

Road to Diagnosis:
Turner was diagnosed with EoE at 15 months old and I’m grateful that we figured it out so early. Others are not so lucky. I cannot imagine having to take away foods from a child who already knows the joy of tasting a fresh baked croissant or the pleasure that comes from eating a dipped cone from Dairy Queen on a hot summer day.

I breastfed him for one year and throughout that time, he had bouts of severe eczema across his body. Our pediatrician assured us that things were fine and figured he had some food intolerances. As we started introducing foods to him around 7 months, we noticed things started changing. He spat out foods, had bloody stools, his eczema worsened and had an anaphylactic reaction. A few minutes after consuming eggs, his head swelled up so large that it looked as though we had pumped helium into his mouth as to inflate a balloon. We did blood work to test for more allergens and everything we tested for came back positive for a food allergen. Even after eliminating those top 8 foods and trying a regiment of reflux medications the more food we introduced, the worse it got. After his first birthday his health rapidly declined. He’d lost almost 2 pounds, he was vomiting 4-5 times a day, had just as many bowel movements and would stare off into space in a lethargic state. I knew something was wrong.

Deborah holds Turner's hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Deborah holds Turner’s hand while waiting for him to come out of anesthesia after getting his second endoscopy on his second birthday

Finally after meeting with an allergist, he suggested that we see a pediatric gastrointestinal (GI) doctor because he suspected he had EoE, a rare disease he knew nothing about, but had heard about at some point in his career. Upon arrival at the GI, we discovered that the only way to diagnose and check for EoE is through an endoscopy and biopsies of the esophagus. My husband and I held our son’s tiny hand as he slipped off into a state of unconsciousness as the doctors checked for some disease we could not pronounce. It only took 15 minutes for the doctors to confirm it with the visuals of the endoscopy. He had deep furrowing, scar tissue already building up, and strictures up and down his esophagus.

Days later the biopsies confirmed the diagnosis. The doctor gave me a couple of websites www.apfed.org and www.gikids.org, samples of some amino acid formula, suggested we try some more food elimination, and highly encouraged us to hire a nutritionist to help us find alternative foods to those already on our “no” list. Over the course of the next year, our world was flipped upside down.

In those websites, I found resources to help guide us through the road ahead. I discovered recipes for severely restricted diets, advice for communicating our needs to caregivers/family members and an amazing team of doctors at the Gastrointestinal Eosinophilic Disease Program at Children’s hospital of Colorado. Most importantly, we’ve found a supportive online community of now 4000+ people across this world who manage this disease. I am so thankful for my online EoE community and Austin Families with Food Allergies, a local support group. I love our supportive family and friends too. We live knowing that there is no cure, but together we are stronger. I am grateful for the foods Turner can eat because I know that there are always others praying for what we have.

25 Texas State Parks down!

25 Texas State Parks down!

Living with EoE:

  • In 2013, we were at the doctor’s office, therapist, specialist or pharmacy 173 times. That’s one trip every 2.1 days.
  • We have never been able to take Turner to a restaurant without him having a reaction to the food that they have served him. We stopped eating out as a family over 1.5 years ago. We cook ALL of our meals at home and we LOVE experimenting as a family.
  • We stay awake at night wondering how Turner will ever get to experience college like we did. It’s hard to imagine our own experience without pizza, keg parties, dorm room food, late night trips to IHOP and a last minute snack from a vending machine just before class.
  • Dum Dums are the ONLY candy that Turner can enjoy safely because they do not contain any food proteins. For some kiddos with EoE, who are not in remission, Dum Dums are their only safe food.
  • Food trials, followed by a biopsy and endoscopy are the only way to determine if a food is safe for someone with EoE. Food allergy testing does not accurately indicate whether a food is safe or not for EoE.
  • After eliminating 15 foods and following a strict regimen of medications, Turner is in remission as of his last hospital visit. We are hopeful that the next visit will be the same.
  • I know more now about ingredients and cooking than I ever imagined. My husband and I truly enjoy finding creative ways to feed our family.

Follow our journey at www.sneezyt.wordpress.com or follow our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/sneezyt/ to get more information on EoE, find recipes  or learn what it’s like to be the Mom of one amazing superhero. We’d love to connect with other families in the area who have EoE, because together we are stronger.

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Photos by Catherine Sanderson

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

Darby & Jennie: We Never Imagined We’d be Heart Attack Survivors

Catherine Sanderson

Catherine Sanderson

It’s American Heart Month, y’all!  And because we’re crazy passionate about women’s health and wellness and we know that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer, we’re excited to join the awareness movement by sharing with you the stories of two amazing Austin-area women.  Darby Denison and Jennie Covert Stewart are both young, vibrant, active, busy, go-getter women — who also happen to have survived heart attacks within the past year.  

Woah!  What a wake-up call to realize that the face of heart attacks might not be what we all immediately picture in our minds. They do not just affect the unhealthy, the inactive, the elderly or the sick. But wait, there’s a silver lining:  an awareness of the symptoms is key to survival and to minimizing damage, as displayed in both Darby & Jennie’s experiences.  And awareness we can all have.

We hope their stories open your eyes as they have ours and teach you something you may not have known before about heart health and heart attack symptoms among women.  As with all of our Real Women, Real Stories features, these incredible women will also inspire you with their optimistic, hopeful and renewed perspective and approach to life!

We encourage you to please forward this story on to all of the women you love and care about.  Because knowledge is power, and awareness saves lives!

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Roots:

JENNIE: I am a fifth generation Austinite. I was born here, graduated from Austin High School and The University of Texas. I’ve never lived anywhere else except for Oaxaca, Mexico for 6 weeks!

DARBY: I’m from Houston and have mostly done a Texas Twirl! I’ve lived in Houston, Austin (University of Texas), Dallas, a stint in London at Sotheby’s and Madrid, back to Houston and finally Austin since 2001.

Family Life:

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Jennie and her family

JENNIE: I have a large extended family and we are all close. In fact, we are all part of our 106-year-old family business, Covert Auto Company. I have wonderful parents who live 8 miles from me. I‘m the oldest of their two girls as well as an aunt to seven. I married Sam, a custom home builder, 18 years ago and got so lucky to have amazing in-laws who also live close by. We are blessed with three children: Bo, Rachel and Chapel.

Darby and her family

Darby and her family

DARBY: I am from a large, wonderful family comprised of 3 siblings: Dawn, Courtney and Colby and my precious parents Linda and Mack who live in Houston. My claim to fame and a most amazing blessing is that I was born an identical twin to Dawn Thompson, who happens to live just 3 streets away from me. I have wonderful brother and sister in-laws and a host of nieces and nephews that I claim to be my own. Oh, and I can’t forget my precious and precocious golden retriever Wrigley!

Occupation:

JENNIE: I do radio and TV ads for my family’s Chevrolet Buick and GMC dealership in Bastrop.

DARBY: I am lucky enough to have found a career 25 years ago that I still love today: interior design. I have owned my own company since 1995, Denison & Denison Interiors, which I started with my sister Dawn, but I now run on my own.

Favorite Quote:

JENNIE: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t—you’re right.” -Henry Ford

DARBY: It’s an excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech ‘The Man in the Arena:’ “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….”
Also, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians: 4:4-7

Best advice I’ve been given:

JENNIE: My dad Rox reminds us to honor each other’s differences. I always fall back on this when I lose my patience. It also helps me have an open heart and an open mind.

DARBY: It was from my mom last year after my heart attack and her very serious spinal surgery: “Live and dance and play and have all the fun you can have while you can; don’t waste a day!”

I’m looking forward to…

JENNIE: Baseball season and a Bible Study with Jennie Allen called Numb.

DARBY: I love to travel and have so many places on my bucket list that I don’t know where to start! Prague, New Zealand, Bali, Greece, Croatia and Barcelona are a beginning. I love meeting new people from different countries and cultures and realizing how similar we all really are. And if I had the luxury to live somewhere else for a time it would surely be Paris!

If I had another career it would be… 

JENNIE: I grew up wanting to be a news anchor. I idolized Stephanie Williams — she was the anchor on KTBC with Neal Spelce. I used to imitate her and practice delivering the news in the mirror in my room!

My perfect day would be…

JENNIE: Quiet moments before anyone else is awake, a morning prayer thanking God he gave me another day, lunch with a friend, watching my children play their sport, and dinner with my family.

I’m inspired by…

JENNIE: My children—their work ethic is amazing and they never give up.

 ~ OUR STORIES ~

Jennie Covert Stewart

Before my heart attack, I was crazy busy — which was brought on by myself.  I volunteered for a lot more than I do now, but now it’s just more about quality and focus now. Not that what I did or who I spent my time with before was not important, it’s just that it took up too much time and took me away from what mattered most.

As I mention in the video, having a heart attack changed my outlook on life. It forced me to repurpose my life. It empowers me to say ‘no’ when I need to and focus on just having an audience of One. I have an attitude of gratitude and a true awareness of how blessed I am.

Darby Denison

photo 1

Darby (right) and her twin sister Dawn (left), as featured in a Go Red for Women campaign

Before August 28, 2014, I thought I could do anything, outlast anybody and keep going forever! I was working, playing, exercising, helping where I could, sleeping too little and pushing too hard. I was invincible.

On that night, I woke up with the classic symptoms of a heart attack which I had memorized a mere 4 months earlier when my friend Jennie Stewart had suffered one as well: crushing chest pain, tingling arms, cold sweat and nausea. After denying it for as long as I could and even confirming the symptoms on the internet, I called 911 and was rushed to the emergency room. After numerous tests and multiple theories thrown about, an enzyme test came back elevated (which was definitive proof of heart damage). At this critical juncture, I was taken to the Cath Lab for an immediate heart catheterization procedure in which they removed a blood clot in my Lower Anterior Descending Artery (the “Widowmaker”) and performed an angioplasty. To say that it was scary and an incredible surprise is the understatement of my life, and I will never be the same.

I now wake up every day and thank God immediately for another day on this precious earth! I have learned to say “no” when I need to and “yes” when I mean it. I choose happiness much more often because I see each day as a gift and life as short and I don’t want to waste a single minute of it! I have rebuilt wounded relationships and am more careful to espouse positivity and gratitude in place of negativity and pessimism. I tell people that I love them all the time. I have more patience with myself and others and actually stop to smell the roses.  I count my blessings at least once a day and am thankful for the most simple of things. I pay more attention to my health, go to the doctor (and actually listen to them), and watch closely my cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation and stress. I cherish my family and friends more than ever and am eternally grateful and humbled by their continual love and support.  My heart is overflowing!

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iGnite’s Real Women, Real Stories is a series highlighting the inspiring lives and experiences of women in our community. We hope their stories motivate and inspire you to live your life to the fullest.

Know someone who would be a great candidate for a Real Women, Real Stories feature? Email nominations to hello@igniteyourlifenow.com

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