Personal Journeys revisited
A look back at four stories of courage,
generosity and perseverance.
Today we look back at four remarkable Personal Journeys from 2015. One is about a father who discovered the only way to help his son overcome addiction was to walk away until his son was ready to get help. Then he was there like nobody’s business. One is about a woman who gave up a successful career as a Christian novelist to create a community for refugee women who were uprooted from their war-torn homes and looking for community in Clarkston. One is about a middle-aged couple that opened their hearts and their home to three little brothers who had nowhere else to go. And one is about a Kennesaw State University student, athlete and novelist, who refused to let cerebral palsy prevent him from living the life he desires. Each person at the center of these stories is unique, but they share two traits we find inspiring: Courage and perseverance. That’s what makes them among our favorite Personal Journeys of 2015.
Suzanne Van Atten, firstname.lastname@example.org
For AJC sports writer Jeff Schultz, saving his son meant letting him go.
Thousands of emails, voice mails, messages and comments in social media began flowing in before I even realized the story had been posted online.
“I’m still crying. That’s my story,” one reader’s email read.
“Thanks. You probably didn’t know about my father but ...” read one text message from a major sports executive.
“You may not realize this but you saved lives today,” a high-profile college football coach said in a voice mail.
When I wrote about my son Josh’s struggles with addiction, and how the disease affects not just the addict but their family, it never was about promoting him or me or our family. It was about promoting recovery in hopes of destigmatizing the illness and helping those in similar situations. The response was overwhelming. “My accountability just went way up,” Josh joked.
But the truth is, Josh wasn’t accustomed to being a semi-public figure and he went into hiding for a few days when the story came out. “I got the hell out of town,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m not talking to anybody.’ I didn’t really know who to reach out to and I was worried some people in recovery might not like it.”
He began to feel more comfortable after speaking with friends and others in the recovery community. Then I showed him some of the messages people had passed along to me, let him hear a voice mail or two.
“What really got me was when we started to look at all of the emails, all of the people who were touched by the story,” he said. “I saw more and more of that for a month, people just expressing their gratitude, saying they’ve been there before or their son or daughter is going through it. That’s when I got a lot more appreciation for the (impact of the) story.”
Today is good. Josh has a string of clean days stretching more than two years. It’s normal for there to be periodic bumps in recovery, just as in life, but a valuable lesson was reaffirmed along the way.
“The more I stayed in my recovery, the more things worked out fine,” he said.
He returned to the University of Georgia after two and a half years out of school, changed his major and re-acclimated himself to campus life. He is one class from graduating with a degree in advertising and already is working in two internships in the areas of advertising and marketing. He also has a part-time job in Georgia’s Collegiate Recovery Community and is active in the Atlanta recovery community, working with various committees, as well as being there for anybody who reaches out for help.
“I’m always looking for ways to give back,” he said.
As usual, we’re on parallel tracks.
After the story was published, I received countless requests from parents who wanted to speak to me about their children’s and their own struggles. I gladly did so, either by phone or in person, and responded to as many emails as I could. I probably spent more hours doing that for several weeks than I did at my job. Those in recovery understand working a strong program is about sharing experience, strength and hope and always helping those who seek it.
Josh and I were sitting in a coffee house in Athens recently, talking about when he first returned to UGA and the anxiety he felt. Being back in Athens, he can’t help but sometimes flash back to a certain night or moment when he walks past a bar or club.
“I got drunk everywhere around here,” he said.
Then he took another sip of green tea.
Jeff Schultz, email@example.com
Kevin Enners doesn’t let cerebral palsy get in the way of his big dreams.
Life happens. Completing the 26.2 mile Boston Marathon has moved down Kevin Enners’ bucket list. He is now focused on the seven-day, 400-mile Bicycle Ride Across Georgia in June.
And why not? It is just another challenge for the 22-year-old communications major at Kennesaw State University.
You see, Enners won’t let obstacles prevent him from living a normal life.
He was born with cerebral palsy, a non-progressive neurological disorder that can occur during traumatic childbirth. It permanently impairs muscle movement to varying degrees. In Kevin’s case, it affects his ability to walk, talk and feed himself.
Prior to puberty, he also developed dystonia, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary body movements. When he is stressed, his limbs flail and his torso twists erratically.
Enners, profiled last April in Personal Journeys, was hoping he and his father could qualify for the Boston Marathon. But his father, Rich Enners, injured his hip and back before the Albany Marathon and came up short of a qualifying time.
After several visits to the chiropractor and an epidural shot in his spine, Rich has recovered enough to begin exercising with his son again.
Kevin was worried his 58-year-old father could hurt himself, so they transitioned from running to bike riding. It means less pressure on his father’s back.
The two have been riding bikes since Kevin was 5 years old. He is able to pedal at his own pace in the front while Rich pedals the modified tandem bike from the back.
Bike riding comes with its perils. Luckily, Kevin takes everything in stride. In a recent race at Stone Mountain, Rich tipped the bike over with Kevin strapped to the seat, his feet locked to the pedals. The bike was on its side, water bottles everywhere and 100 other riders were watching, not sure what to do.
Kevin, are you OK? Rich said as he tried to right the bike. All Kevin could do was lie there laughing.
After straightening the handlebars, they took off in pursuit of the other riders.
In September, Kevin spoke at the AJC’s Decatur Book Festival about his first self-published novel “The Crave.” Using his eye-gaze computer, it took him two years to write the 72-page novella and another year to edit. He is working on a sequel to the Boston crime story.
Mostly, though, Kevin is focused on college. He went to one KSU football game this fall but was disappointed to discover there were no handicapped accessible seats in the student section in the end zone. He had to sit on the other side of the field, away from his classmates.
He said he suffers from “senioritis,” but he maintains a 3.42 GPA and is on the HOPE Scholarship. This past fall semester, he took a full load of classes and interned at KSU’s Center for Sustainable Journalism.
And meanwhile, he has his eye on the Boston Marathon in 2018.
Rick Crotts, firstname.lastname@example.org
A successful novelist gives up her career to change women's lives in Clarkston.
Much about the Refugee Sewing Society remains unchanged, in a good way.
Three days a week, the Christian, Hindu and Muslim women who’ve fled political unrest and rampant violence in places like Sudan, The Congo and Bhutan still stream into the cheerfully cluttered workrooms in Clarkston. As always, they’re there to sew, knit and craft items to sell for some much needed income. But they’re also there to form bonds, socializing across sewing machines and a communal lunch table, swapping advice on everything from family matters and physical maladies to the challenges of getting around metro Atlanta.
Earlier this month, though, one thing was noticeably different. In the room where the advanced sewing group works, a large pile of unassembled cardboard boxes were stacked against one wall. Each box was waiting for a handmade “Nomi” doll to be placed inside and shipped off to a lucky person who’d donated money to the organization’s Kickstarter campaign. As the pile kept getting smaller, the sense of the group’s accomplishment and of its even brighter future continued to grow.
“It’s been a lot of work, but absolutely, I’m glad we did it,” said Cathy Palmer, the organization’s founder and executive director, about the ambitious Kickstarter campaign. “It provided additional income for our ladies. But we also learned a lot from the response, about how much people cared. It was so heartwarming and inspiring.”
Last June, the AJC wrote about Palmer’s equally inspiring personal journey — from Kenya-raised child of American missionaries to the full-time driving force / mother hen of the Refugee Sewing Society. In between, she’d moved to Missouri and become a bestselling Christian novelist. In 2007, she visited a friend in Clarkston, a melting pot for refugees; soon after, she and her husband, Tim, moved here to work with them as volunteers.
In the years that followed, the Refugee Sewing Society turned out colorful pillows, aprons, bags and beaded jewelry. The women receive 70 percent of the sales for everything they make. Earlier this year, though, Palmer and an advisory group had been exploring the idea of making dolls, thinking it could be a steadier source of income for the women. In late June, they launched the Kickstarter campaign to test out the idea and help fund the project.
The goal was to raise $15,000 in 30 days. The incentive: Your very own “Nomi” Refugee Friend doll for a pledge of $75 (for $130, you got the doll and a copy of “Nomi’s Hiding Place,” a new companion children’s novel about the little refugee girl from South Sudan, written by Palmer).
The results, one month later: $18,930 raised and an order for 92 Nomis by the holidays.
It was a daunting task. Then again, many of these women had survived war, genocide or religious persecution, followed by years in crowded refugee camps.
By Dec. 1, they only had five dolls left to complete the order.
The Kickstarter campaign was such a success, a second doll and book about a refugee girl from another country will likely debut soon.
And there are other exciting changes afoot: The organization’s website will be redesigned soon, possibly to feature an online store. DMC, a large manufacturer of needlework threads, has ordered 10 dolls along with accompanying clothing patterns for sale on its crafting website; if they sell well, more orders likely will follow. Meanwhile, a former fashion buyer for a huge e-commerce company in Berlin (her husband’s job brought them to Atlanta) is volunteering her time to help design a new product line and seek out new markets.
“It’s impossible to look at everything that’s happened and not see a pattern,” Palmer said. “People just have to hear about these women and they want to help.”
Jill Vejnoska, email@example.com
At an age when most people are starting to think about retirement, the Majettes became parents to 3 little boys.
Chaos is having its close-up on the second floor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Whiter than white gowns, shirts and pants are being pulled from storage boxes and handed out, handed back, passed around, switched up, tried on, taken off, put back on. The “candidates” for baptism are getting ready. Or trying to.
“Where’s Michael Jr.?,” asks Michael Majette about his eldest son, 9, who has temporarily gone missing. His other two boys, Markus, 8, and Mariyo, 7, stand by in the Men’s Room, wide-eyed and grinning at just about everything, not the least being the notion of hitting the baptismal pool in a few minutes.
Michael, as usual, appears unflappable. After years of jumping through the bureaucratic hoops of foster care, and navigating the sea of uncertainty surrounding adoption, he and his wife, Pam, legally became parents last December to three whirlwind brothers who had suffered abuse and neglect in their early years. The children have new names along with a new life.
A little confusion like this is standard operating procedure.
He also knows it’s leading to a momentous morning. The family baptism will cap their first year as the Majette quintet. Michael, a MARTA bus operator, and Pam, a retired engineer, were never able to have their own kids. But a few years ago, they came across these three brothers in need of help. Surprising just about everybody, most of all themselves, they became first-time parents on Dec. 29, 2014. They were already in their early 50s.
“After we became parents we realized we needed to join a church as a family,” says Pam, who was raised Seventh-day Adventist in Atlanta. Michael, the son of ministers from North Carolina, was brought up Pentecostal. With the boys, they are now pledging to Mount Vernon Baptist, an institution realizing its own new beginning after moving from its previous home downtown to make way for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
As they did in Pam and Michael’s foster care, the boys have flourished in their first year as full-fledged Majettes. Their schedules at West Manor Elementary School — where they are in the fourth, third and second grades, respectively — are full with extra-curricular activity. Mondays they all participate in etiquette club. Tuesday afternoon is the chess club and band. (Michael Jr.plays the saxophone; Markus the violin; Mariyo has to wait another year to join.) Wednesday is Cub Scouts. Thursday is gardening club. Pam says they volunteered all on their own, with no prodding.
Their grades are great. Markus is an emerging math wiz, winning school-wide honors and beyond.
Still, some bumps in the road were inevitable. “There have been a couple incidents in school with Michael Jr.,” Pam says. “He’s had some anger issues, but he’s overcoming it. He gets frustrated with his speech and some of the children are not so nice about it. They pick on him.”
Perhaps most encouraging, there have been no recurrences of the night terrors and sleepwalking that plagued the boys when they first moved into the Majettes’ house in southwest Atlanta. They are healing. The family bonds are growing, as well. And so it’s fitting that Pastor Rodney K. Turner’s Sunday preaching this day is themed around Luke 1:46, “And Mary said, my soul doth magnify the Lord.”
Children and parents have magnified each other and, in turn, their praise rings loud and clear.
Tom Sabulis, firstname.lastname@example.org