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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


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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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