Hero Teacher Sonya Romero

Long story short, in the midst of my Grad school “homework”, I stumbled upon a “Pay It Forward” nomination plea on the KOB Channel 4 Facebook page.  I immediately thought of a teacher, Sonya Romero, whom I had met in the fall, who had ended up taking in some children from an In-Home Services case that went arye back in November. I would love to say just google it (google “Sonya Romero” or “Social Worker Pays it Forward”) but if you’re too lazy to do that, here is the general timeline of events and how it turned into a segment on the Ellen show:

In January, a few weeks after I submitted my nomination, the channel 4 producers contacted me and stated they were selecting my nomination as their winner.  They asked me to come to the studio to film the segment.  Little did I know that, the principal at Sonya’s school had invited everyone to the school for the “surprise” part of the filming.  It was super nerve racking but awesome at the same time!  Awesome for Sonya Romero whom deserved it so much!

My FB post on February 1, 2015:  I nominated an APS teacher for something amazing she did for children via CYFD….and I WON the Channel 4 KOBTV Pay It Forward award to give her $400. The story is supposed to air tonight after the Superbowl on the 10pm news. I’m not sure if we’ll be in front of a TV tonight in Angelfire at 10pm or not, I wish I had DVR. Ugh.

The pay it forward story aired on February 1st, 2015 on Superbowl Sunday in the 10pm news. It was the kick-of story for their new Pay-It-Forward news stories series.
KOBTV Channel 4 Pay It Forward – Social Woker Pays it Forward to Teacher who opened home to 4 children
http://www.kob.com/article/stories/s3693857.shtml?cat=12846#.V39POEDqPdP
payit4wardSonyaRomero

Well, a month or two later, in March, the principal at Sonya Romero’s school contacted me stating that the producers of the Ellen show had caught wind of how awesome Sonya Romero was from some national news articles that she had been quoted in stating the effects of poverty on children’s learning.  The principal stated that the Ellen show wanted to video the foster children for their segment on Sonya Romero and she wanted to know who to contact for them to get permission.  (The State did not give permission for this due to confidentiality issues and parents still having rights).  The principal let me know that the show was taping the segment at the school that day and for me to come down for an on camera interview.  They had tricked Sonya Romero into going out to California while they filmed with the students/teacher at her school.  I agreed and went to the school and had a short on camera interview about Sonya’s awesomeness.

My FB post from March 18, 2015 – Remember that awesome teacher/foster mom I nominated for Channel 4 Pay It Forward in January? She’ll be on the Ellen Show tomorrow (Thursday) and I might have a very small cameo… Somebody please record it, as I will be at CYFD and I don’t have DVR.
“Getting to introduce you to Sonya Romero tomorrow is why I love what I do via @theellenshow”

Here is the clip of the show from Ellen Tube – Hero Teacher Sonya Romero.  When Ellen heard about humanitarian Sonya Romero, she knew she had to bring her to the show.  This was an interview neither of them will soon forget.
http://ellentube.com/videos/0-ux3r2qq8/

Sonya Romero

My thoughts posted on FB on March 22, 2015 – Finally able to process the Ellen Show excitement & aftermath from Thursday. I can only explain it as rooting for a football team full of underdogs (public school teachers and foster parents) who’ve been under-appreciated for so long and then one day the quarterback (Sonya Romero) throws a touchdown to win the Superbowl ($20K & being recognized by Ellen/our community). Nothing makes me happier than people getting the recognition/reward they deserve for helping others (thank you Ellen & Target). And for me to have a small part in an even bigger story was just a lil bonus. To hear Ellen talk about a case that was my very first case/family to work with at CYFD as an intern last semester was just surreal. The guilt & sadness I had over the circumstances was greatly diminished by knowing two of the four children were placed with Sonya. I will never forget her, nor this case. ‪#‎GiveGratitudeAlways

The End of an amazing story.

 

Boards, Bridges, & Bucks

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Lunches with Leaders event for July put on by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque (YPA).  This lunch was held at Chama River Brewing Company on I-25.

This months “Leaders” were Executive Director, Steve Johnson, and Board Chair, John Nichols, from New Day Youth & Family Services, a non-profit helping homeless & troubled youth in Albuquerque.

If I had to use 2 words to describe the stories of these two men it would be:

Refreshingly honest.

What was most refreshing to me about Steve was that he was very humble about his rise to the top and his position at New Day.  He didn’t really care to have the fancy title of Executive Director.  In fact, I got the idea that it embarrassed him a little bit probably because it sounds like some big hotshot job title, reserved for someone who had lots of ambition and drive, someone who clawed their way to the top.  But this couldn’t be further from the truth for Steve.  He admitted right off the bat that he is not an ambitious person at all.  He confessed that he didn’t really pursue any of the high level jobs that he’s had, they just came knocking on his door.

Steve admitted that he never really had any grandiose vision for his life or how successful he wanted to be.  He described being more of a wanderer, wanting a job to feel like fun rather than work (don’t we all?).  He said he just sort of fell into his career path because it was aligned with his core values.  He admitted that on his job interview at All Faiths Receiving Home, he was blatantly honest.  He told them that he had 3 priorities in his life:  God, his family, & his job.  In that order, and that his job was never going to be more important to him than the other two.  They apparently appreciated his blunt honesty & they hired him.  He worked there for 22 years before moving on to his current position at New Day.  Steve concluded by stating that you must follow your heart, have integrity in what you do & say, be kind, & try to never burn bridges.

Next up was Board Chair, John Nichols, and he was just as refreshing & honest in his stories of experiences.  He started out by admitting that he was disappointed with many of the boards he had joined in the past where he experienced “the resume phenomenon”, where many people just join a board to perk up their resume but don’t want to actually get their hands dirty.  Luckily for New Day, John was different. He was determined to make changes when he was asked to head the Board at New Day.  Shortly after reaching out to his fellow Board members to ask them to get involved with the kids at New Day, 9 of the 12 Board members quit.  It was a blessing in disguise which allowed him to build a new Board from scratch.

Today, New Day has a Board of 6 highly motivated & involved members.  John takes pride in the fact that they actually get to pick & choose who they’d like to have on their Board.  Unlike a majority of Boards out there, they actually turn down many requests to join their board if they don’t think it’s a good match for their needs.

John also talked about “being the change”.  Yep, it reminded me of that Gandhi quote “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” (or something to that tune).  John said instead of finding excuses or complaining about a Board being dysfunctional, to get involved and make the needed changes to help it be a success.  He encouraged us to find a Board or an organization that we are passionate about and to get involved.  His enthusiasm was really amazing!

In his conclusion, John talked about money.  Something he probably knows well after working at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney for 19 years.  He said buying “stuff”, fancy cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, is just self-fulfilling & sort-of empty.   He said money never feels better to spend than when you can spend it to help someone else (I know there is a similar quote out there somewhere but I can’t think of it). And I completely agree.  Giving is such an addicting feeling.  It almost begins to feel selfish because it feels so good to put a smile on someones face, especially someone who really needs it.

John actually got choked up and fought back tears when he spoke about his experiences with the kids at New Day.  He said nothing makes him happier than being able to spend his money on taking the New Day kids on outings to Flamenco dance shows, Isotopes games, movies, or new experiences for them.

It was very inspiring seeing these two so passionate about their cause.  Their cause being “the lost” children of Albuquerque.  They may be lost but certainly not forgotten in the eyes & hearts of Steve & John at New Day.  These guys were very real, very honest, very passionate about what they do, but in a real & very relatable way.

I was moved & inspired by their commitment to our community and to our youth.  Lucky for me, the Junior League has selected New Day as one of its main monetary & volunteer focuses for the next few years, so I will get the chance to experience the power of these leaders & of New Day first hand.

I can’t wait.

I want to be a Supa Star

I went to my first Lunches with Leaders  function yesterday.  This is a local event in Albuquerque, New Mexico put on monthly by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque (YPA).  I’m not a member of the YPA but I got an email through my Linked-In subscriptions and decided to check it out.  I attended with a few fellow Junior League ladies.  We were ready to be inspired.

The guest speaker was Sally Adams, a highly successful business woman in our community.  She started out by downplaying her long list of achievements but she shouldn’t have.  She is great.  She has a very long history of giving back to her community and receiving numerous awards & accolades.   One of the first things she told our audience was something to the tune of encouraging us to find a non-profit organization that we liked and to partner with them throughout our careers.  Hopefully that message will stick with most of us.  It always impresses me when people use their “celebrity” (or the influence they have within an industry) to help others in their community.

Sally talked extensively about her life’s journey, which was humorous, scandalous, and entertaining.  She even shed a few heartfelt tears when she spoke about her beloved daughter.  She shared how she made many questionable or “failed” choices in her life.  Though failed choices, she said she never regretted them because they were the choices that made her into the woman that she eventually became: knowledgeable, well-rounded, experienced, down-to-earth, compassionate, and relate-able.  All of those experiences are what made her “real”, not just a list of awards on a piece of paper but something that created what she called the “fabric” of interpersonal relationships with others.

Often times I go to business engagements and I never really get a sense of who someone really is or was along their journey.  We never get to scratch beneath the surface of who these “successful” people really are.  In my personal life, I enjoy people who are introspective and can be honest with others, but more importantly honest with themselves.  I liked that Sally was willing to tell her colorful life story to a room full of strangers and not be fearful of judgment.  It’s refreshing when people “own” who they are and the decisions they made along the way (good or bad).

I think being comfortable in your own skin must just come with age.  I don’t think there is any faster or easier route.  She mentioned that she was 54.  Today, I turned 34, and I have to say that I can’t wait until I feel so comfortable in my own skin too.

Luck of the draw, Oprah, and a Music Hall

I received a message in my email saying that Oprah’s Lifeclass was going on tour and that tickets would be chosen at random the following day.   I quickly found the page on their website and submitted my request for two tickets to the New York show taping with Deepak Chopra or Tony Robbins.  But in all honestly, I figured it was just shot in the dark, some marketing scheme that would pick one in a million submissions.

About  a week later, I received an email stating that we had been selected for tickets to the Tony Robbins Lifeclass, the evening show on April 2, 2012 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.  I had to re-read the email over & over again to make sure it was true.  I was in disbelief.  The Oprah Winfrey show had been on the air for 25 years and we had never been able to score a single audience ticket, we could rarely even get through on the phone line, and now, this email was stating that we had actually been chosen for tickets to her Lifeclass show in New York  City. Part of me felt like I was on a hidden camera show and someone was going jump in front of me and say “Just Kidding, you’ve been PUNKED”….

The show was just over a month away.  My heart fluttered with excitement.  Who would I take with me as my guest?  Afterall, we only had tickets to the show.  The flight, hotel, and everything else would be at our own expense.  Who would want to go?  Who could go?  Who loved Oprah as much as I did?  The first person that came to mind was my Mom, who I quickly ruled out because she was across the world teaching on the tiny island of Guam and she wouldn’t be available on such short notice.  Then I thought of my twin sister.  Yes, we were kinda “on the rocks” and not as close as we once were, but she was the only person who I thought might appreciate the experience as much as I would.

When I asked her, she immediately said yes.  I jumped up and down with sheer excitement, like a 6 year old who’s parents just told them they were going to DISNEYWORLD.  Not only was I going to see my idol, but I was going to have my twin sister along with me to share the experience.  It was absolutely perfect.

When we arrived at Radio City Music Hall on April 2nd for the evening show, the air was sparkling with excitement.  Women were everywhere, ecstatic to be there, arm-in-arm with their best girlfriends or sisters, smiling ear to ear, and all dressed up.  Photos were snapping nonstop, people were documenting their experience at every inch of the theatre.

We were shown to our seats.  We got pre-selected to sit in the very front section in the Orchestra seating area.  It think it was because of our reply to an email of theirs inquiring about us.  We told a story of our last experience together in New York City, being stuck in the power blackout of 2003.  They either wanted to give us a better memory of NYC or they were rewarding us for flying all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We were so grateful to be seated just a few rows away from the stage.

When Oprah walked out onto the stage it was like I wasn’t even there.  It almost didn’t feel real.  After her show on ABC had ended, I hadn’t seen her in several months, so seeing her felt like seeing an old friend, one whom I had religiously watched on TV practically every single day for as far back as I can remember.

I could hardly notice the deafening cheering around me.  It was like I was watching her on television. She had the same voice, the same smile, the same sense of humor, the same mannerisms.  She was larger than life, yet her presence was calming & peaceful.  Her face translated as love to me.  It was familiar, genuine, full of light & love.  She had a warmth about her, a positive energy that brought tears to my eyes.  I felt so blessed to be in her presence.

Everything that she has done in her life has been to help other people.  Whether it be through her charitable organizations or though the work she does on her shows, she’s committed to success of humanity.  Committed to help us grow, cope with, and overcome things.  Help us become the best that we can be.  Help us forgive others, and forgive ourselves.  She’s a true humanitarian of our times, a modern day Mother Teresa.

She may not be directly living amongst & feeding the poor but she sure could have taken all of her wealth & riches and ran off to live on her own private island decades ago.   Yet, she didn’t.  She chose to continue to use her life, her influence, her platform, to encourage & inspire others to find their own strength and their life’s ultimate destiny.  She’s truly selfless, and a world class example of what true wealth is made of:  The wealth inside of your heart & soul. She is my hero.

She was so funny and real too.  During a commercial break (it was being aired live on the OWN network), she joked about her high heels hurting her feet so she promptly took them off and gave them to a screaming fan in front row.   She also joked around with the guest speaker, Tony Robbins.  They were both really candid with each other.

From where we were sitting, the sound was really echo’y.  We thought that might have been from the way they had to have the speakers positioned for the live feed, so we had a hard time following the dialog at times.  Tony Robbins’ loud booming voice really echoed alot so it was harder to understand him, distracting mostly.  But we got what we needed to out of the Lifeclass:  How to live fearlessly.  Tony was such an enthusiastic and positive guy.  Oprah spoke about how his support & encouragement prompted her to walk on firey hot coals, something she didn’t believe she could do.

End the end, echo or not, you could have put me on a tiny boat in the middle of shark infested waters with Tony & Oprah and I would have felt so grateful for the experience of just being there to hear these great inspirational icons and absorb all the wisdom they had to share.  Seeing an Oprah Winfrey show in person (and at world famous Radio City Music Hall in the heart of New York city no less) is now happily checked off of my Bucket List.  Whew.

Radio City Music Hall Lifeclass Audience

Radio City Music Hall Audience for the Tony Robbins Lifeclass

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Oprah Winfrey

Oprah on stage at Radio City Music Hall for the Tony Robbins Lifeclass

Radio City Music Hall Oprah Lifeclass

Radio City Music Hall Oprah Lifeclass

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Radio City Music Hall Lifeclass Tickets

Picking up the tickets at Radio City Music Hall the day before.

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Aside

Anne of the Little Theatre

Growing up, my family never had cable. The closest thing to a BRAVO show was watching the Young & the Restless after school on CBS, or watching Beverly Hills 90210 (the original one) on Fox every Thursday night. One of my favorites though, was watching Anne of Green Gables on PBS. I was absolutely hooked on the little spunky redhead and all of her adventures. So when we got a reminder in the mail that the Albuquerque Little Theatre was having a 3 week showing of Anne of Green Gables, I was beyond excited.

My husband bought tickets through his office and we attended the evening show on Friday March 2. Though more verbose than I remember from childhood, the live play was everything that I had hoped for. The actress was just as spunky & sweet as I remember. All in all, It was a great show, giving me plenty of nostalgia. Previously we had attended one of my favorites from last December, “A Christmas Story”. From the on stage narrator to the cast, everything got the true essence of the movie, just like Anne of Green Gables had.

This year, the theater is putting on a production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” during December, which is probably my all time favorite Christmas movie. I have no idea how they could ever come close to James Stewart ’s performance but even If they can capture the spirit of it, I will be thrilled.

Bonus: I had no idea that The Albuquerque Little Theatre was a 501c non-profit. This makes me feel even better about attending shows there, knowing that they are helping to cultivate appreciation of the arts.

Wholesome Envy

Last night I attended the wedding of our families long time friends son, Josh.  My Mom & Josh’s Mom have been best friends since before we were born.  I was the first born of my family, Josh is the 4th.  He had 3 older sisters, all of whom got married in years (& months) prior.

Josh’s parents are John & Diane Nevers.  They are hard-working and traditional.  John has worked as an engineer for as long as I can remember.  Diane was a nurse but stopped working to raise her children.  They are devout Christians and very involved in their church.

Growing up, they invited us to every single church function:  vacation bible school, october carnival, and all the special holiday functions.  Sometimes we’d go, sometimes we wouldn’t.  Being raised by my parents, both of which were never really religious on such a saturated level, we’d often wonder what the Nevers family “got out of” being so wrapped up in religion & the church.

Throughout the years, after being raised Catholic, I had often struggled with my own spirituality & religious beliefs.  At times, I’d felt insecure around the Nevers family in all their Godly glory.  I perceived that they judged me & my life.  I perceived that they were secretly shaking their heads at all of my imperfect decisions.  But I’ve learned that that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Though we haven’t always been pillars of light, they’ve always treated my Mom & our family, like we’re a part of theirs. The Nevers family would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.  I’ve never heard them gossip or pass judgment on anyone.

I’m convinced they are one of the last true wholesome families out there.  John & Diane raised all 5 of their kids on a single income.  And as far as I could tell, their kids never wanted for anything.  They were content with hand-me-downs from older siblings or friends.  Content with sharing bedrooms & bunkbeds.  Content with keeping their old television, mini-van, computer, etc. until they burned out.  Content without their kids having the latest & greatest video games, ipods, clothes, gadgets, fads, etc.  In other words, content without having to keep up with the Jones’.

They lived a simple life with simple by-laws.  And it worked.  They raised 5 wonderful kids.  They are sweet, caring, loving, and wholesome.  In fact, I have never heard them fight or bicker or say two mean words about anybody.  They don’t care about wanting to “get ahead” or to find jobs making gobs of money.  They just seem to have different goals & priorities.  They seem to make the world a better place by just being in it.

I may have felt insecure by their “simpleness” in the past.  Speculated on their true joy in life.  Questioned their achievements & contributions to this world…  but I finally “get it”.  And the truth is, now that I’m a parent, I want my children to be just like them.  Sweet.  Kind.  Caring.  Loving.  Simple. Beautiful.  I don’t want Gentry to be the popular jock in highschool who gets all the ladies,  I want him to be the quiet nerd in the corner who is kind to people before anything else.  Same with Haven, I want her to make the world a better place just by being in it.

I know that I will have to let my kids be who they are going to be but if I can somehow be the influence like John & Diane have been to their kids, I want to be.  I know it starts with becoming more spiritually rich myself & raising my kids to be too, and valuing ones neighbor and not possessions.

It’s so hard in this society of mass materialism.  It’s so hard not to lose focus of what the most important things are.  I’m going to try my best.

Make a Wish, makes a difference

I am truly blessed.  Let me just stand on a soap box for a minute…and cry…

There are families that struggle through no fault of their own…. families where one parent has to stay at home from work to take care of their sick or bed ridden child because the child has a debilitating disease such as cancer or spinal muscular atrophy (degeneration of motor cells in the spinal cord and brain).  They live paycheck to paycheck to support their terminally ill child.  They put all their extra money into buying motorized beds, ramps for their childs wheelchairs, and expensive “alternatives” to the little that their insurance actually covers (it’s amazing how little).  They spend days/nights, months/years searching for answers and cures for their children.  They cling to the hope that their child will return to the vibrant playful ball of energy they once were.  They somehow make ends meet and get through the days, always keeping hope alive. Faith is the only thing that keeps them from self pity…it’s amazing.

And when you visit their house, you smell a little of whatever that hospital smell is, you sit in their living room, and they bring the child into the room…. you feel a knot in your stomach, you feel ashamed, saddened, almost embarrassed to be there.  It humbles you.  Who are you?  Sitting there with your fancy purse, your overpriced jeans, your gas guzzling car sitting out front?  Didn’t you just get annoyed at the gym because all the new years resolution people were taking up all the treadmills and you had to wait an extra 5 minutes? …and here you are sitting in the tiny apartment living room of a family who’s had the unthinkable happen, their child diagnosed with a life threatening illness, witnessing the slow and painful deterioration of their child into sometimes a near vegetative state.  But what if some miracle cure was discovered in a year or two or three, what would you do?  You’d hold on to hope too.  Just like they do…

I don’t know how they do it.  How do they even get out of bed everyday or concentrate on work while they’re at work.  The entire family is consumed by the illness.  While I’m complaining about waiting at the gym, these families would feel lucky to even have the time or energy to get to the gym or to even afford it.  They don’t give a damn what brand of clothes they’re wearing or that they bought their purse at K-mart instead of Coach.  They don’t go to Starbucks for their morning coffee, they’d rather spend $4 a day sending letters to research hospitals.  Their whole life and focus is dedicated to their childs recovery.  And they would trade everything for it.

It makes me want to cry.  It takes me sitting on the couch, two feet away from these ill children and their families, to think twice about whats really important in life.  We are so spoiled.  And I know I’m not the first to say it but it’s completely true, we really do take alot of things in life for granted.

I am truly humbled every month when I do these family wish interviews for Make-A-Wish.  It really has changed my life.  I no longer find such importance in shallow things: What really matters is life/limb/health and family/friends.  Just being able to live life everyday is a true blessing.

Use your life for something other than yourself….and more than just twice a year or around the holidays.  Granted, we can’t all run out and quit our day jobs but wouldn’t it be nice if we could

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