Alive East Bay Magazine

Caring Awareness

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for all communities. I hope you enjoy March’s edition. 💚

The month of March always has me in deep reflection. As an awareness month to educate the public about Cerebral Palsy and all that this medical diagnosis signifies, I think about all that my 11-year-old daughter has survived. I think about what emotional turmoil my family and I have survived and about the many families with a special needs diagnosis.

While caring and awareness may be brief for some, the many “hats” that I must wear are the forever symbols of the delicate care I must incorporate, as life is now filled with priorities much different than those of mainstream society. It is a rocky path strewn with emotional, physical, financial, and medical challenges, but these bumps in the road can be faced with help from caring organizations like CARE Parent Network.

Founded over 30 years ago after the implementation of The Lanterman Act (laws to protect and grant equal rights for those with disabilities), CARE Parent Network is a family resource center that provides support for the disabled and the loved ones that care for them.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, a medical condition due to injury of the Cerebral Cortex (the part of the brain that controls muscle movement and function), I thought her world had been shattered into pieces, resulting in many future hardships. Families feel lost after being told by a medical professional that their child has a condition that will limit their physical or developmental ability. They can feel alone with their fears as they navigate medical terminologies, paperwork, and life-long commitments to readjusting their daily schedules—let alone the educational options and legal rights of which one must be knowledgeable in order to wear a respectful but firm hat of advocacy. While a parent cares for the child, CARE Parent Network takes care of the family unit, providing a network of supportive and informative options.

Whether through support groups or one-on-one support, CARE Parent Network’s  staff are not only knowledgeable but empathetic, as they are, themselves, special needs parents, like program director Hannah Michaelsen. With a degree in public administration and the parent of a son was with Autism, Hannah was a volunteer for CARE for 14 years before becoming its program director. The most gratifying part of her job, she states, “is to share in a chapter where others are more empowered and confident because of CARE’s existence; to equip the parents to advocate and navigate not only the system, but their daily lives.” Through CARE, doors are opened to compassionate directions of understanding. They help clients navigate the intricate paperwork of IEPs (educational planning and goals) and legal rights, as well as addressing personal concerns and frustrations.  

May the months that introduce awareness also introduce connections that inspire compassion and a purpose to create a sustainable and capable community; one where a disability turns into visibility beyond the fog that can overwhelm us.

The ribbon we wear this month is about being aware that there are people who do care. It is a ribbon worn not just once a year but every day. May CARE Parent Network continue to weave together all ribbons and teach families to wear them with not just pride but unwavering hope.  

For more information, please visit careparentnetwork.org or visit their Facebook group page: Care Parent Network

Alive East Bay Magazine

Breaking Patterns

ALIVE-Media-Magazine-February-2020-Nekisha Pic

I write monthly articles for Alive East Bay Magazine. My goal is to provide positive information, resources and hope for all communities. I hope you enjoy February’s edition. ❤

Just like a national holiday or a particular month that focuses on a person or group of people who overcame enormous challenges changes your perceptions, sometimes you meet someone that unexpectedly adds to that enhanced appreciation of life. A person I met recently, Nekisha Gallon, is one of those people that touches your life the moment you meet her.

With a heart to always strive for a better life than what she endured as a child, Nekisha Gallon is a true spiritual survivor who aims to be a light to anyone she meets. A bright soul I crossed paths with in the past year, we instantly connected because of our experiences with the foster care system. Her story began in 2001 when she was only 11 years old and forced to endure the emotional turmoil as she was removed from her home and placed into the custody of the Contra Costa County foster care system. She endured painful experiences no child should ever have to face.

The oldest of six siblings, Nekisha and her younger brothers and sisters were separated, placed into not just one foster care home but multiple foster care homes. Caught in the crossfire of her mother’s crack addiction, she dealt with multiple instances of sexual abuse at the hands of people who were supposed to care for her. Even with all these tragedies in her memories, Nekisha always knew that God had a different plan for her life.

Watching her mother make diligent efforts to show up for the supervised visits, the devastation and difficulties of her mother’s choices, along with the lack of follow through from the county’s family court system, she witnessed the deterioration of her mother’s mental state. What could have been an opportunity for her mother, Rocquel, to be provided with direction and resources for rehabilitation, sadly resulted in her living on the streets of North Richmond.

Dealing with the world with her heart on her sleeve just like her daughter, Rocquel has endured harassment and insults as she survives sleeping in parks and any abandoned home she can find. Nekisha still visits her in this environment out of unconditional love and a desire to keep her thoughts on what is good in this world and how she can add something good in her mother’s life.

It can be a very cruel world that we live in but there are offsets because of the determination of individuals like my dear friend to keep on keepin’ on. Sadly, growing up in a dysfunctional family environment often leads to a continuation of the dysfunction. However, Nekisha shattered the limitations by graduating with honors from high school and now attends Cal State East Bay, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business. In 2015 she married her high school sweetheart and is a mother of two children, Angelo Jr. and A’Naiyah. Today she works full-time in her own fitness business, “Flexin With Keke,” and is working to raise funds to help her mother with future rehabilitation costs.

You never know what someone has been through and their capacity to make necessary changes, despite pushbacks, so don’t judge a book by its cover because behind that “book” may be loved ones wanting a better path for all involved. Whether a person is part of the mainstream or the struggling homeless, everyone has a story to share. When the day begins and you walk out the door to face it, remember that there are those who have endured or who are enduring a rough path.

The pain of the past can be the lesson that helps us grow and break patterns; to plant the seeds that help the community and many we may never meet. It was such an honor to get to know about Nekisha and her family’s life. Just like her business name, instead of letting the problems keep her down, she is determined to flex through the mess. It is a pattern we all should imitate.

For more information regarding fundraising or to be a physical fitness member with “Flexin_With_Keke”, please email flexinwithkeke@gmail.com

 

Inspirational

Blacktop Rivers

blacktop river poem pic

I had to leave the point of where I was

Left in the thoughts of hell was pretty rough

I had taken many roads before that wasn’t too wise

Only to end up full circle, what a surprise

Back to square one and I couldn’t get away

From the child in me that wanted to stay

Good bye to the ways of the woe

As I float on down this windy road

 

The blacktop rivers

The rivers..the blacktop rivers

Seek and you shall find

The freedom of your mind

The blacktop rivers release the blind

Get on the road of discovery

The blacktop rivers of clarity

Letting it go..letting it go

Set your mind free

 

Blacktop Rivers where my mind goes free

Movin’ to my dream, the road beneath my feet

Pressing forward without touchin’ the ground

Letting the wind brush past me, my thoughts with no sound

 

I’m just letting my mind go free

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

The blacktop rivers where no one can stop me

I’m just letting my mind go free

 

Blacktop Rivers where my mind goes free

Movin’ to my dream, the road beneath my feet

Pressin’ forward without touchin’ the ground

Letting the wind brush past me, my thoughts with no sound

 

I’m just letting my mind go free

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

The blacktop rivers where no one can stop me

I’m just letting my mind go free

 

On the blacktop rivers to the powers that be

 

Copyright Stefanie Boggs-Johnson

 

Inspirational

Mirror Talk: Brain Wash

Mirror Talk Brain Wash

Romans 7:17-20 

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

 

Start observing your thoughts.  In order for awareness to occur, in order to see the darkness that is guiding your actions, there must be light.  Like the light that separates the dark, awareness is the separation of yourself from your thoughts.  You first must think about what you are thinking about.  The protective mechanisms originate in your mind.  To remain feeling safe from the moment you were born, you imitated patterns of behavior to feel connected to the world.  As time went on, some of these patterns remained habits, an automatic reaction based on what you saw others repeatedly do or say.  The type of nurturing you received shaped your mind.  Based on the level of healthy nurturing, it formed survival skills that were perceived to have served a purpose at certain stages of your life but that no longer serve you today.  You must become aware of what thought patterns and behavior responses no longer serve a purpose.  Your self-talk begins to change when you hear what it is telling you.  Does the chatter softly direct you or does the chatter mutter quickly?  What is your brain saying?  Begin to talk back to your brain.  Start speaking to the subconscious thoughts that surface when you are by yourself. Behind all the people and daily circumstances that occur in front of you is a repeated scenario or conversation playing in your mind.  It is these repeated scenarios or conversations within your thoughts that either bind you or free you.  Become aware of the fact that this isn’t “just the way you are”.  Become aware of your thoughts.  This is the first step of renewal, being able to build the habit of stepping back when in the midst of a situation.  Observing your thoughts begins the awareness of any habitually negative thought patterns that needs to be washed out.

 

Romans 7:21-23 

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

 

The process of renewing your mind is to remember that there is worth in powerlessness. You have value despite people, places or things that are out of your control.  You can’t control an environment based on what behaviors others deem as worthy, it is only your first internal response that determines the circumstances.  You can not change what is outside of you, only what is within you.  Giving God permission to begin laying the foundations of new perceptions means giving up your survival mechanisms.  It means being powerless, standing back and paying attention to what He is trying to speak, teach or form in your life.  During this transfer of power, you do not become less.  You begin to see that your worth starts with words you let Him engrave in your mind.  Interrupt your own made up conversations and in that space of interruption, listen.  You do not need to jump through hoops in order to get people to treat you in a manner that helps you feel better about yourself.  That is the power, which you thought you could contain, that you are releasing.

 

Romans 7:24-25

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

 

Beginning a brain washing is not equivalent to being out of touch with reality.  If anything, it is about finally beginning to live in the reality, being where your feet are currently placed and not habitually viewing the moment as a repeat of your past.  You are filtering out the layers one at a time.  The past protective behaviors and mechanisms that help you not feel vulnerable are actually the very things that keep you in a repeated cycle.  Once you lay down these protections, God can step in to reshape your outlook to the point that when you think you are being thrown out to the wolves you actually have landed among new trails of growth.  The new life that wants to be formed is already within you. Life (light) or death (dark) begins with your internal conversations.  Let God change the conversations by letting him gently pull you back to the sidelines so that you are no longer in the middle of the battle scenario.  You can learn to stop beating yourself up and choose the thought trail that leads to a beneficial outcome of acceptance. Acceptance means that not everyone or everything will go in a direction that you would prefer, including yourself.  It is a continual process to step back daily and see your world exactly as it is right now- not exactly as it was in the past nor exactly as you imagine it to be in the future.  Stop the trip ups that always seem to occur because you keep mentally tripping back to your mind movies of the past.  Step into His power and Let God redirect. Release the old thoughts to Him, be still to receive the new as He gets rid of the old and be open to starting over.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

#MirrorTalk #BrainWash

Alive East Bay Magazine

The Lunch Bunch

Through my in-home beauty services business, I provided pedicure services for Jane’s 16th birthday celebration that included her closest friends. It was during this celebration that I became acquainted with Jane’s mother Kelly Meek and a group of inspirational teenagers as they shared the history of their friendship with Jane. This strong tie between them wasn’t just about showing up to a friend’s birthday but showing up for her life to face any mountains right alongside their best friend they have known since 2nd grade. It was that day that I knew I had to write about these beautiful human beings. They exemplify the true meaning of “It Takes A Village” as their love and loyalty continues to surround their friend, helping her to thrive within a family that isn’t just blood-related, but also love-related.

Never mistake someone who is in a wheelchair and needs assistance doing daily tasks as someone who is weak. If you currently have a stereotype about anyone diagnosed with special needs, then you need to meet Jane Coggins. This driven, unique and positive young lady wakes up every morning excited about her day. Her talent with digital animation through the assistance of her communication devices has her focused on pursuing animation courses. Persevering through any challenge, she matches the vision board that hangs in her bedroom with persistent action and, with the help of her mother Kelly, has recently contacted a media company for a job in the animation field.

Diagnosed with “SMA” which stands for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, her voluntary muscles do not receive the messages of the nerve cells (motor neurons) of her spinal cord. There are different levels of muscular limitation based on what age the onset of SMA occurs. The earlier the onset, the more affected the individual. Jane was diagnosed at 10 months old and receives 24-hour assistance. Do not dismay (fiery and creative Jane doesn’t, so why should we?) because the village surrounding her provides not only assistance with basic needs but with friendships where the connections run deep.

The first connection for Jane began with her friend Raquel, in kindergarten. Fast forward to 2nd grade at Buena Vista Elementary in Walnut Creek, California, through the inclusion focus within educational settings, children from mainstream classes were asked if they would like to partner up with individuals in the special needs’ classes

It was this blessed connection that formed “The Lunch Bunch” and added to Jane’s friend list was Madi, Gabi, Alisa, Kathryn and Amelia. These seven musketeers will show anyone a thing or two about never putting a person of any age or “disability” into a box. If you are ever worried about the future of our world, the teenagers that will soon take the paths provided for them along with paving new ones, please refer to this article as many times as needed. The driven, devoted and compassionate actions of this group spark the light of hope.

For example, Amelia started a bracelet fundraiser when they were all in 7th grade to help raise funds for a hot tub that provided physical therapy for Jane. Titled “Come Together for Jane,” Amelia and the rest of the Lunch Bunch raised $1000.00 selling the bracelets at school and in their neighborhood. Gabi dedicated a whole page of their school’s yearbook to share Jane’s story. They wrote a letter and obtained 300 signatures to petition the Acalanes Unified High School District to provide appropriate education as Jane transitioned from 8th grade into high school. This year they will all take part in the “Walk-n-Roll” fundraiser to help raise awareness and research funds for SMA. They all show up through major efforts but, most importantly, they all show up for Jane daily and keep her a part of their daily lives—hanging out, holidays, trick or treating, and birthday celebrations, to name a few.

As a mom who sees these displays of light towards her daughter while also looking within, Kelly expresses her gratitude for growing up in the Walnut Creek community. Being a parent who appreciates all that life offers, she practices Reiki and is active in the “Yoga Works” community, and even conducted a fundraiser called “Yoga From the Heart for Jane.”

Sitting down with the “Lunch Bunch” gives one a new perspective—one where you realize there are selfless people everywhere willing to encircle others with emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual support. But you won’t be “sitting” for long, as this group will pull you back up in so many wonderful ways.

So, as they prepare for the “Walk-n-Roll” fundraiser walk on August 24th at Kennedy Grove in El Sobrante, California, in an event benefitting SMA research and treatment, you’ll see a group of women who don’t just sit with a friend, they hold her hand as they all walk this thing called life—a good life indeed, with the “Lunch Bunch.”

For more information about the Walk-n-Roll, Cure SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy) contact Cure SMA at http://events.curesma.org/norcalwalk, or call 800.886.1762, or email info@curesma.org

Stefanie Boggs-Johnson is the author of “I See You, Little Naomi” and “I See You, Little Andrew.” Her educational children’s books promote special needs awareness and compassion. She is also a licensed cosmetologist and owner of For Every Season, a mobile beauty service for the special needs community. For more information visit ForEverySeasonServices.com