Wednesday, February 24, 2021

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Sarah


Sarah Nitta was busy washing dishes when she noticed movement behind her backyard fence. Upon closer inspection she was able to discern a man in a dark hat, and it made her nervous.  Who was he, and what he was doing back there? Eventually she saw him lift a tent, and realized he was homeless and setting up a place for himself and his partner to sleep for the night. A night that would reach 19 degrees. 


She tried to get on with her evening, but couldn’t stop thinking about the couple in the tent. When it got dark, she sent her husband outside to see if they were still there. Their supplies were, he said, but he received no response when he tried to reach out. “Hello? Anyone there?” Nothing.


Sarah wasn’t convinced, so she packed up the enchiladas she had made for dinner into bags, grabbed a step ladder, and headed outside herself.  “I’m not going to lie,” she said. “My heart was racing a little.” She climbed up, called out, and was again met with silence.  But Sarah wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Hi,” she said. “I’m just going to drop down some food, okay?” And then, from the darkness. “Thank you so much. We won’t be here long. We’re just trying to get back to Arizona.” 


Encouraged by the sound of their voices, she asked if they needed blankets, to which two very eager voices replied, ‘Oh yes. Please!” 


By now the temperature was in the twenties.


“When I first went inside I started to look for some dingy old blankets,” she said. “Then I realized how dumb that is. If they steal my blankets they need them! I can always buy new ones, and they aren’t in a position to do that.”


Watching their mother, her children also became eager to help. “They need blankets,” said her 8-year old daughter matter of factly, “And so we’re going to give them blankets.” Together they gathered their nicest minky comforters. “I just hope these keep them warm,” said Sarah, who slept better that night knowing they would too. 


She admits she had some reservations and understands that situations like this require caution, but says she felt an undeniable pull to give what she could. “We never know what brought people to the place they’re in,” she says. “They are someone’s brother or son or mom, and I believe those people are praying for their loved ones to be taken care of that night," she says, adding that she has a cousin in a similar situation and hopes she encounters people who are kind and willing to lend her a hand from time to time. 


Sarah doesn't know what it's like to be homeless but has overcome her own share of struggles, including years of heartache brought on by pregnancy loss and infertility, before growing her family through adoption and IVF. She has also battled debilitating food addiction and completed a 12-step addiction recovery program, ultimately losing over 100 pounds.


Through all of it, she has been open about her struggles and received an outpouring of support, appearing as a contestant on The Biggest Loser, and sharing even her lowest moments of grief with her followers on Instagram. "I have felt seen and loved," she says, "And I do believe everyone deserves to feel that."


Far more revealing of her character however, than reality television fame or thousands of followers on social media, is what Sarah chose to do when she was home washing dishes, noticed cold strangers behind her fence, and no one was watching to see how she would respond.


The next morning she packed up a bag of breakfast burritos and filled two Nalgene water bottles with hot chocolate, which she told the couple to keep and fill with hot water from a gas station to warm their sleeping bags at night. Later, she looked out the window to find that they were gone but her blankets remained neatly folded by the fence, the kindness of a stranger returned. This is how we do it here.


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Tuesday, December 22, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Terri

Every Christmas season, Terri Jensen has an overwhelming amount of presents to wrap. Like, overwhelming. So many in fact, that when her home ran out of room to place all the gifts and wrapping paper, a friend volunteered warehouse space for extra storage.  

Last year the presents totaled a thousand, each of which was hand-wrapped and given to residents of the Salt Lake City area in desperate need - Immigrants, refugees, homeless, the mentally and physically handicapped, and widows with young children. With each gift, Christmas became a reality for someone who would otherwise have received nothing. 

 

Terri never aspired to be the Santa of Salt Lake, but life has taught her to expect the unexpected. An elementary school teacher for twenty years, she was in the middle of fulfilling a lifelong dream of earning her master’s degree, with hopes of continuing on to a doctorate, when her 16-year old daughter Emily was in a car accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. 

 

Terri’s life was put on hold as she became Emily’s full-time caretaker. She attended high school with her every day, pushing her to class in her wheelchair, taking notes for her, and adapting and coordinating her schoolwork with teachers to make it possible for Emily to still ‘graduate’ with her peers. 

 

Twenty-two years later she continues to care for Emily full time, and service is a way of life.


Every Christmas since she and her husband Larry were married, they have participated in Sub for Santa. When she began teaching school, she realized there were desperate needs among her students and within the community that she could never alleviate herself. Eager to do more, she and Larry founded “Heart and Hands Sub-for-Santa” to rally friends, neighbors and the community in a giving effort. Since then, she has spent thousands of hours assessing needs and collecting, wrapping and distributing gifts. 

 

In the words of her daughter, Jenny McArthur, “This isn’t a wealthy woman who sits on boards and attends fancy gala fundraising events. This is a woman in the trenches. A woman who cares full time for an adult handicapped daughter, who worked full time as a school teacher for years, and who now in her golden years works full time in the trenches of charitable work year round.” And, she adds, “She is as thoughtful of the one as she is the many.”

 

In addition to her efforts with Heart and Hands, Terri also works with volunteers on Navajo Nation reservations to provide delivery of much-needed supplies, and is actively involved in charitable organizations in Africa. She coordinates thousands of pounds of donations a year to be sent to Zimbabwe, and serves on a committee to help provide equitable schooling opportunities for women there. 


Whoever said that Christmas is how people act the way they should the rest of the year never met Terri Jensen. For her it's not a season of giving but a lifetime, of the kind of gift no amount of wrapping paper could contain.


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I am so excited to share, along with Terri's story, a simple but impactful way to assist her efforts to provide for those who suffer. Because of COVID there is not only a greater need among the most vulnerable this holiday season, it also is easier than ever to get involved.


Terri's "Heart and Hands Sub-for-Santa" has been working with licensed Social Workers to locate individuals with physical and/or intellectual disabilities living at the poverty level. Together, they have determined that the most helpful gift for this community are grocery store gift cards.


The next time you find yourself at the grocery store or online, please consider purchasing a gift card to contribute (Wal-Mart gift cards are best). Donations will be accepted until January 12th, and can be mailed to:


Too Often Forgotten

P.O. Box 159

Clearfield, Utah 84089



Monday, October 26, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Jayme



 

Dr. Jayme Garcia, our fifth (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake City, is accustomed to success. She earned top grades in high school and college, was accepted into a prestigious pharmaceutical program, where she served for two years as Class President and graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy. 


Jayme was selected by Smith’s Pharmacy to serve as their first-ever Community Resident, and now works as Director of their Residency Program. She is also President of the Utah Pharmacy Association, and frequently represents Utah pharmacists in television appearances and in advocating for legislation on Capitol Hill.  

Yet in spite of all of her achievements, there is still much about Jayme’s life that she never could have predicted. 


Utah, for instance.


Born and raised in Southern California, Jayme had never visited the Beehive State when she was offered the opportunity by Roseman University to enroll in their South Jordan campus. It may as well have been a foreign country. 


“I truly thought there was no civilization here,” she says with a laugh. “My friends warned me that I would be living in the boondocks and end up as a sister wife.” 


She was happy to discover upon arrival that nothing could be further from the truth. Jayme says she quickly fell in love with the area and, nine years after promising herself it would only be temporary, is proud to call Utah home and has no plans to ever leave. 


“It’s the people,” she says. “The people here are so welcoming and kind.” She says there is a feeling of community in Utah that she never had growing up. “My entire childhood I spoke to my neighbors maybe a handful of times but here, it’s a whole different story. Everyone is constantly interacting and supporting each other.” 


Although, she says, after growing up in California, “I have to laugh when people here complain about traffic.” 


Jayme is an active participant of her church, South Mountain Community Church in Draper, which she says has been a tremendous source of strength, especially in recent years as her life has taken another unexpected turn. 


The reason she chose to pursue a career in pharmacy, she says, was because her greatest dream has always been to be a mother, and she knew it would allow for the work life balance that requires. She and her husband Jeremi are incredible parents to their son Isaiah and have a beautiful home with “rooms to fill,” but are struggling with secondary infertility. 


For years, she has suffered through multiple rounds of failed IUI and a devastating miscarriage. “It’s a constant cycle of two weeks of hope followed by two weeks of disappointment,” she says. “But it’s those two weeks of hope that keep me going.” 


Hearing the stories of other women facing similar challenges has helped her through her hardest moments, and inspired her to share her own. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of success,” she says, “but I want to be just as authentic with my struggles.” 


Jayme’s own mother miscarried, but she says the two of them never discussed it until she was in her 30s. “But things are changing,” she says. “One in four women miscarry, and one in eight struggle with infertility.  They need to know they're not alone.” 


And so she tells them. Recently while on shift, Jayme was called up for a patient consultation. When she saw the prescription she knew the woman had miscarried, and was able to offer not only the medical advice she needed, but compassionate tears of someone who understood what she was going through. 


Jayme says she never could have predicted the current circumstances of her life - where she’s living and working, or the winding path to expand her family. But in moments like that, connecting with another woman who is suffering, she says it all somehow seems perfectly aligned.


This is how we do it here. 



Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 

Please message me on Facebook


Monday, October 19, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Jolyne



Jolyne, our 4th (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake City, has a gift for knowing just what people need, at just the moment they need it. A hug at the grocery store for the woman having a bad day, late night visit to a single mom just when she’s hit her limit, or text to a neighbor to check in on a struggling child. 


If you ask her how she does it, she’ll tell you she has an unfair advantage.


So what is it that gives her an edge? Jolyne has had severe hearing impairment since childhood - 92% loss in both ears - but describes it not as a setback, but a superpower.


“My whole life it has forced me to stop and think, and pay a little more attention than normal,” she says. “I don’t get to hear with my ears like everyone else, so I have to watch instead of just listening to words. More often when someone is hurting, you can see it in their eyes more than you can hear it in their voice.”


This heightened sense of perception and sensitivity to others has made Jolyne, who works at Smith's grocery store in South Jordan, a community favorite. But it has been hard-fought.


As a child, Jolyne was terrified of being teased for her disability, and did everything she could to hide it - wearing her hair down to cover her hearing aides, or running away from water fights she desperately wanted to participate in for fear they would get wet and draw attention to her impairment.


She became an expert lip-reader and developed a thick skin that served her well through other challenges as she grew, including the divorce of her parents, and painful decision to put a child up for adoption shortly after high school.


After she married and welcomed a son, Jolyne carved out a life that allowed for limited interaction with others, running an online bookstore with her husband. Then late one evening, she said she ventured to the grocery store to give herself a much-needed break. While there, an employee she had never met went out of his way to make her feel at home. She says she sensed in him a genuine desire to make the world a better place, and was inspired to follow his example.


She began to volunteer there daily, assisting with customer care, until she was eventually offered a job. She has since worked tirelessly to help create a thriving community of customers who support one another an rally together for charitable causes.


Her hearing loss remains a challenge. She depends entirely on lip reading and communicating with customers can be a struggle, particularly in light of the mask mandate. There have also been heartbreaking moments, like not being able to hear her son's voice or laughter. But she is filled with gratitude, saying that she's lucky to have never known life as a hearing person because "being unaware of what you're missing out on makes it easier not to feel sorry for yourself."


"Sometimes I go home and have a good cry," she admits. "But tomorrow is always a fresh start and a new smile."


This optimism is precisely what draws people to Jolyne. Her customers tell me they shop at her store not just for groceries, but also for her genuine concern and hugs. 


As a child, her grandfather used to tell her, "If you're not kind, not much else matters." I'm sure he would be proud to know that she understood him perfectly.


This is how we do it here.




Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 

Please message me on Facebook!


-

Monday, October 12, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Maryann



When Maryann, our third (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake, found out her first child was a boy she and her husband Matt, a South Jordan Police Lieutenant, chose the name Max and began to dream about everything he would do and become. 

Then at 30 weeks pregnant there was an accident, followed by a medical misdiagnosis, and as result Max was born 10 weeks early and later diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Parenthood has a steep learning curve for any new mother, but for Maryann there has been the added dimension of learning to accommodate her son's disabilities, as well as the financial strain of keeping up with compounding medical bills, surgeries, and equipment needs. 

But if you're tempted to feel sorry for Maryann, let me stop you right there. 

Max suffers impaired motor function and limited cognitive abilities, but has the confidence of an Olympic athlete and optimism of a daily lottery winner. Once, when asked by Santa Clause what he wanted for Christmas, he responded from the confinement of his wheelchair that he would like a pogo stick.  On another occasion, he saw a boy at the park riding a ripstick and begged for a turn. Maryann hoisted him onto it for a brief moment and then as she sat him back down heard him say, "Well, I'm pretty much an expert now." 

Between working two jobs as a dental hygienist and the demands of caring for her two other children, Maryann always makes it a priority to give Max a fulfilling and joyful life - Arranging for him to play wheelchair baseball or give pep talks to his high school football team. Phone calls from his favorite Disney characters. The chance to serve as a student body officer, meet his college football heroes, and a surprise visit at home by a player for his favorite team, the LA Kings. 

When quarantine hit and Max wasn't able to get the social interaction he craves, Maryann set up an Instagram account for him, where he posted daily videos of himself delivering motivational speeches and performing random acts of kindness (do yourself a favor and visit @maxbrown070). 

When you have a child with cerebral palsy, simple tasks we take for granted can become overwhelming obstacles, but Maryann is upbeat and uncomplaining - Not because life has been easy, but because of a conscious decision she made when Max was young. 

For years after he was born, she fought legal battles over the medical errors that led to his condition. One day, a nurse told her that in her opinion, what had happened to Max "can only be classified as a fluke." 

Maryann says that in that moment, the only thing she knew for sure was that her son was not a fluke. No child is a fluke. She knew that Max was exactly who he was supposed to be, and that even with all of his challenges she wouldn't trade him for anything. Then and there, she decided to transfer all the energy she had exerted seeking justice for him into accepting and loving him exactly the way he is. 

The result has been a life that is sometimes difficult but always punctuated with moments of overwhelming joy, achievement and love. 

This is how we do it here. 


Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 
Please message me on Facebook

Monday, October 5, 2020

(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Debbie



I met Debbie at her house as she was wrapping up class for the day. She's a kindergarten teacher, instructing now entirely online, and I wanted to interview her about what it's like to be an educator during the pandemic. 

She answered the door with an apology.

"I'm sorry," she said as she opened it. "I really should have cancelled. I feel bad you came." 

She told me that her circumstances had recently changed, and that within the week she would no longer be teaching her class. We cancelled the interview, but she invited me into her home anyway, and we ended up visiting for an hour and a half. 

When I returned home, I went through my list of nominees for this series, trying to decide who would take her place.  The more I thought about my conversation with Debbie however, the more evident it became that as impressive as it is to adapt to teaching in a Covid environment, it was possibly the least impressive thing about her.

I'm honored to feature Debbie as our second (Real) Real Housewife of Salt Lake City.  

Debbie is, foremost, a survivor. At 16, while crossing the street near her high school, she was hit by a car and thrown 30 feet before landing on her head. Her recovery was miraculous and from that moment, overcoming became a theme in her life. 

Her accomplishments - A college education, teaching career, strong marriage, and two kind, creative (bilingual!) children - are impressive by any standard. But when you consider what she has overcome to achieve them, they are extraordinary. 

For the past ten years Debbie has battled bipolar disorder and psychosis. Her challenges have included hospitalization, relapses and continuous rounds of medical trial and error. But even in moments that test her to the limit, she has never given up. And by continuing to walk such a difficult path, she is paving a way for others who struggle as well. 

Debbie rejects the stigma of mental illness, and speaks openly and honestly about her diagnosis. Her friends tell me that she has increased their empathy for those who suffer, and helped them not feel alone in their own challenges.

She understands darkness, but is also adept at seeking light. Debbie invents games and dresses up guinea pigs in costume for her kindergarten students. On weekends she can be found mountain biking with friends or exploring hiking trails with her children. She is an avid reader, the first to offer to watch neighborhood kids when someone is in a bind, and the kind of mom who signs up for bubble runs and camps out on the trampoline.  

In stark contrast to the Real Housewives, there is nothing about Debbie that is edited, filtered or extravagant. When she invites you into her home, it's not in hopes that you will be impressed by it or by her, but rather an opportunity to make you feel welcomed and understood. She puts you at ease by highlighting what others would leave on the cutting room floor. 

The trailer to Real Housewives of Salt Lake City tells you that "perfection is attainable," but don't worry. Women like Debbie will reassure you that's it's a myth. 

This is how we do it here. 


Would you like to nominate an inspiring Utah woman for (Real) Real Housewives of Salt Lake City? 
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(Real) Real Housewife of SLC - Sarah

Sarah Nitta was busy washing dishes when she noticed movement behind her backyard fence. Upon closer inspection she was able to discern a ...