Abby is the middle daughter of five. She and her sisters learned how to care for themselves and others, and to create a community of giving and sharing – making space for all. These moments and interactions helped shape Abby’s core belief that everyone deserves a space to be heard, and if given a space to speak and stand up, one will flourish and blossom – creating their own joy and foundation. This has continued to manifest in Abby’s career, being drawn to positions that allow her to sit by someone in various stages of growing or crisis and stand witness to their strength and resilience as they gather the pieces of themselves and take steps in asserting their value and determination.
One of the first times Abby realized she personally could attend a University was during an interaction with Gwen Thompson Davis, her Chemistry teacher and Science Club advisor in high school. During one of their many interactions Gwen asked, “where she was planning on attending college” Prior to that moment, college was a thing other people did and was not in her future. But Gwen’s assumption that she was attending made her question, “Why not me?” The benefit of that one pivotal conversation with her high school chemistry teacher, is that it sparked an urge in Abby that led her down a path years later, where not only has she graduated from college, but more importantly, she feels certain of her ability to pivot her journey and change her future if or when she needs to.
As a Case Manager at Jubilee, Abby had the privilege of holding a piece of program participants’ stressors as they worked to feel secure and self-sufficient. The journey was their own, and with every interaction her understanding of navigating the world grew, her belief in human compassion and strength deepened, and she further visualized the pitfalls of trekking alone through life or with poor boundaries. Abby, now more than ever, believes that the power of having a single moment of positive support can make the difference in one’s determination of their ability and success and thus impact their ultimate prosperity.
Walking with participants as they navigate the complexities that brought them to Jubilee often inspires optimism. Mary Jane came to Jubilee after her well-planned retirement was derailed by a family medical emergency that drained all her financial resources, and had her as the designated caregiver, resulting in her losing her job and housing. Coming into Jubilee, she had a plan to regain her savings and an unfailing drive and determination to re-focus her plans. Mary Jane allowed herself to settle and readjust to no longer being transitory and made it her priority to access Jubilee’s training opportunities. With a great sense of independence, she implemented her action steps efficiently, and within eighteen months of entering Jubilee, Mary Jane had a job that suited her needs and had moved into a market rate apartment with a beautiful view. Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone is get out of their way.
There is always a duality in every interaction and relationship. Abby, who was inspired by Gwen, her high school chemistry teacher to make a pivotal life change, years later, walks Mary Jane through part of her journey to reclaim her life, knowing that every interaction is an opportunity to learn, to be part of a community that empowers, and to be a continued thread of hope.
In weaving these stories together, one of the questions posed to our story tellers was, who are the women who have inspired you? Each response was accompanied with a short pause, followed by a smile. Gwen, Abby’s previously mentioned high school chemistry teacher was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the women who have been influential in her life. Though both Gwen’s parents and grandparents were teachers, her initial career path did not include teaching chemistry to high school students. However, after working for several years for a chemical company in the City of Industry doing sales and quality control, Gwen discovered that sales were not a strength or a passion. So, she quit her job with the chemical company and became a full-time day-care provider for four infants (including her son) and headed to night school to get her teaching credential. Within one year, she had completed the basics and Los Angeles Unified Schools granted emergency teaching certificates to physical science instructors, who were in very short supply.
Perhaps the teaching gene runs in Gwen’s family, and perhaps the choice to move from chemical sales and quality control was inspired by her mother, Diane Davis. Diane passed away in 2014 at the age of 77. She was a wonderful and loving mother with an impressive professional trajectory. Diane went to Ball State, a teaching college, and graduated in the 1950s when the roles of women in the workforce were largely teachers and secretaries. When Gwen was in elementary school, Diane started teaching shorthand and secretary etiquette at a small business college. As the college grew, it became part of Indiana University and through the years, Diane started teaching bookkeeping and accounting. At some point the local business college was integrated into the university and if Diane wanted to keep her teaching position, she needed to become an accounting professor and obtain her CPA. It took time and effort, taking classes at night and in the summer, studying long hours, to achieve her goal with a young family. She had a long teaching career as an accounting professor at Indiana University, Fort Wayne. Diane was recognized by the Indiana University, Fort Wayne’s student body as an outstanding and inspiring instructor.
In 1988, when Gwen walked into a middle school classroom at Wilmington Junior High School which was near the Los Angeles Harbor, she had never student taught or set foot in a classroom before. Everything Gwen learned about teaching came from her experience teaching a diverse group of rightfully distrustful, and reluctant high school students. She learned that teaching is listening enough to take students from where they are to some place new, some place that is discovered through a modicum of success and achievement. She learned that science has the power to touch and change everyone, when made relevant by tapping into a community. As retirement for Gwen approaches, she is grateful that she stumbled into teaching. Gwen’s hope is that students understand that knowledge evolves, and a high school chemistry class is not the gateway, it is a steppingstone. The direction each of us chooses to go, and that next step is up to us. Just as Abby realized in Gwen’s class, and Mary Jane knew when she arrived at Jubilee, we should not ever think that we cannot cross a threshold.
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