Pauly’s Bold Story – Reclaiming Life from Bipolar Disorder

Pauly’s Bold Story – Reclaiming Life from Bipolar Disorder

I was talking to my sister Pauly on the phone about what I’d been doing lately. I’d recently retired from a career in Physical Therapy, and she was curious about how I was spending my time. I explained to her that I was in transition. I had moved from being a health care provider to an advocate supporting and promoting the stories and bold ventures of active women over 50. I was meeting amazing women, collecting and sharing their stories through our company, Sistership. The narratives mostly centered around those who bucked the gender and age stereotype through physically daring adventures and inspirational challenges. I believed that by spreading these tales of women who chose to live life boldly, it could help inspire others to do the same. After all, it was pretty much the same thing I had been doing as a PT, but using stories to build connections to change behavior.  

My sister listened to me intently. She seemed excited as I shared my enthusiasm for this new phase of my life. I rambled on for several minutes before finally coming up for air. In the brief pause, I offered, there was a short silence. Then she asked, almost timidly, “Jo, do you think my story is bold enough? I mean, do you think someone would connect with my life story?”  

I gasped. Tears began to well up in my throat. Unlike other heroines I had written about, here was my sister’s untold story, so deeply woven into the fabric of our family, it almost seemed too ordinary. But it was far from that.  

I was 14. I remember when my parents got the call from Harbor General Hospital. She was in their mental health ward, admitted with a diagnosis of “bipolar personality.” Unlike today, this disorder was virtually unheard-of in the ’70s. The hospital explained that Pauly had been picked up by the Los Angeles police for making a public disturbance at the LA Airport during a manic episode. She was impersonating Angela Davis, a controversial African-American political activist, and was protesting loudly in the terminal. This first incident turned out to be the beginning of decades of cyclic states of mania and depression. 

Yet, today, against so many odds, she was celebrating. After a lifetime of heartaches, disappointments, spiritual renewal, self-acceptance, and love, Pauly had now come full circle. At 65, my sister had a bold story, and for the first time in her life, she found the strength and worthiness to want to share it.


Dear Jo,

Greetings from American Samoa. Enclosed is my legacy for your files. If my story can help one person, it would have been well worth it. When I came to live with you in 2001, you, little sister, were the wind beneath my wings. I never dreamed I could soar as high as I am now. Thank you for your encouragement in my life and all the support and love to this day. I love you always,  Pauly

Testimony of Pauline Ann Gabbard 

I was born in October 1954, in Japan, the daughter of a navy man. At the age of 21 in Oxnard, California, I was diagnosed with “bipolar illness,” otherwise known as “manic depression.” I was placed on lithium, considered the “miracle drug” for this diagnosis. I took seven pills a day for 30 years, was under the care of many psychiatrists, and was in and out of mental institutions. I had recurring mania attacks often.  

Despite these events, I was able to have a 20-year career with the federal government. However, my federal career abruptly came to an end when I suffered a manic episode on the job. Fortunately for me and my health, I was immediately retired onto disability. At about the same time, I was also baptized in a Baptist Church at the age of 20. I became a Born-Again Christian. 

My ethnic heritage is Samoan. My parents, both born and raised in American Samoa, had returned to their homeland in 1982 after raising their six children in Southern California. I joined them there in the late ’90s for a short time. I did not work, was very unhappy, and gradually gained over 300 pounds. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I moved back to California in 2001. I lived with my brother and sister in the Bay Area for a while until I finally got my own studio apartment in Fairfield, California. My surroundings were concrete with very little greenery, unlike the beautiful island I had just come from. I lived on my disability check with very little income for rent, food, and utilities. I ate one meal a day and at one point, had to go to the Salvation Army for food. 

One day, I opened my front door, and there was a flyer inviting me to a local church. They provided transportation on Sundays, and so I called and started attending Christian Fellowship. I felt a sense of peace and found a few good Christian friends. 

I lived in Fairfield, California, for two years and gradually missed my family in Samoa. I longed to go back to the islands. I was seeing psychiatrists and taking five different medications, ranging from anti-anxiety to sleeping pills. Once again, I became depressed, and this time contemplated suicide. But in February 2003, I received a phone call that my mother had died of congestive heart failure. My father sent me a plane ticket for the funeral. I knew I did not want to return to Fairfield, so my sister helped me move out of my apartment in one day. A few days later, I was on a plane to American Samoa. 

I attended my mom’s funeral in March 2003 and never returned to the States. My parents owned a six-unit apartment building, and following my mom’s death, I moved into her room. During this time, I felt the need for God again in my life. I soon discovered an English-speaking church right down the street. The name of the church was Word of Life Christian Fellowship, and I have been attending this church for over 15 years now. 

During my stay in the apartment, my sister, who lived next door, hired a Fijian woman, named Sala to do household chores and errands. Sala and I soon became best friends. She stopped attending her church and started going to mine with me. We both continue to go there today. It’s been 15 years.  

Not only did Sala become my best friend, but she became my mentor and spiritual counselor. She prayed for me to get off my medications. I was under a doctor’s care, and over time, he cut my medications down to one small pill a night. This drug is Risperdal. I was no longer taking lithium. 

When I joined the Word of Life Church in 2003, I begged God for healing from my bipolar illness and depression. I repented of my sins and rededicated my life to Jesus. He delivered me. I now go to my psychiatrist once a year to refill my Risperdal. Since the age of 17, I smoked cigarettes—one to two packs a day. Sala prayed for my deliverance from my long-time addiction. I also suffered from gout. This affected my ability to walk. Sala patiently helped me over the years to improve my diet, and I do not suffer from gout anymore. It’s been 10 years since I’ve had an attack. I gave up pork and fatty foods. In addition to my other ailments, I also suffered from sleep apnea and wore a mask to sleep for almost 20 years. I was very overweight, so this was no surprise. In January 2019, I was in the hospital for a leg injury for two weeks. I had left my mask at home. The incident caused me to lose a considerable amount of weight, and when I returned home, I didn’t use my mask anymore. I didn’t need it! 

In October 2014, I became very sick. The “miracle drug” lithium that stabilized my moods for the past 30 years had damaged both of my kidneys. I was placed on dialysis. Immediately, after 43 years of smoking one to two packs a day, I quit – cold turkey. I was 60 years old. 

It will be five years this October that I’ve been on dialysis. I go three times a week to the local hospital, and each treatment lasts four hours. Both my parents have died, and I’ve moved out of their apartment complex. I now live in a beautiful three-bedroom house with my caregiver and best friend, Sala. 

When I started dialysis in 2014, I weighed 285 pounds. Today, I weigh 204 pounds and can’t wait to get under 200 pounds for the first time in over 20 years. Sala cooks for me, and we have a strict food routine. Since being on dialysis and with the help of Sala, I’ve gotten control of my health. I no longer suffer from depression and am on a healthy routine. I now wake up at 5:00 am, shower, get dressed each morning, and give thanks to our Heavenly Father for another day. Being on dialysis and seeing the same people three times a week has brought me out of my shell. I now look forward to seeing what has become my “dialysis family” every week. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get out of bed until noon. I always wanted to lose weight and stop smoking, but now that has become a reality. 

Last year I embarked on a short exercise program while my sister, Johanna, was here. We went to the local swimming pool, and I started using a stationary bike at home. This has helped me lose some of my weight. I continue to use the bike and look forward to achieving my weight goal of 180 pounds. 

This is my life story, and these are just some of the obstacles I’ve overcome. By the Grace of God, I will be 65 years old this year, and I have never been happier in my life! 

God Bless,

Pauline


** Pauly’s return to the water inspired her and Sala towards a healthier lifestyle over the next two years.  Although she finally met her goal of getting below 200 pounds,  the sequelae of medical problems associated with her bipolar illness took their final toll.  On October 14th, eleven days after her 66th birthday, Pauly passed away peacefully in her sleep.

“She Tells Sea Tales” and the Magic of Storytelling

“She Tells Sea Tales” and the Magic of Storytelling

Storytelling is perhaps the most essential human tradition.  By sharing stories, people transfer customs, experiences and knowledge to the next generation. Great stories challenge our perception of reality, and may even change it. This was indeed the case for me when I attended the “She Tells Sea Tales” fundraising event last weekend at the Northwest Maritime Center (NWMC). 

The “She Tells Sea Tales” annual storytelling event invites seafaring women to share their stories relating to their experiences on the water.  The popular event is now in its 6th year and raises money for the NW Maritime Center’s  “Girls Boat Project.”  Young girls learn woodworking and boatbuilding skills. They participate in on-the -water longboat training and overnight sailing and as a result, build lifelong skills of confidence, leadership and a curiosity for what is possible.

To a sold-out crowd in the historic seaport town of Port Townsend, Washington, seven women mariners traveled from places nationwide to share a 15-minute narrative about their maritime experiences.  Their individual resumes were impressive, but their collective skills and achievements made me sit back in awe, even before the show began.  I couldn’t wait to hear their tales.  I texted my friend, Molly Brooks, a Port Townsend resident, to hurry-up. The show was about to begin and I knew she wouldn’t want to miss it.  Molly, after all, was an older version of these women.  She was a trendsetter in her day.  Despite the prejudices and resistance she endured, Molly carved out a career as one of the first female Captains in the Southeast Alaska tour boat industry. 

As I waited for Molly, I wondered how it came to pass that over the last 30 years, life had changed so dramatically for women.   Most of the women speaking were younger than me, and probably knew no other way than their chosen life and/or profession on or around the water.  I was amazed at what they had done at such a young age, and at even what was possible in today’s world.  Molly, and women like her, had opened many doors by their willingness to defy social norms. These young women took it to the next level and continued to pave the way for those following in their footsteps. 

I had come to the event to hear Michelle Boroski speak.  She would be leading off the evening.  Michelle was an experienced boat captain who had delivered yachts around the world and was one of the toughest and fearless women I had ever met.  I knew the story she was about to tell. I was part of it.  Michelle started the evening off, talking about the women of Sistership and their Race to Alaska.  For two consecutive years, she captained the first all-women crew, each over 50, to complete the Race To Alaska, but the inside stories were what held the crowd’s attention.  She described their gritty adventures and spoke in detail of the women of Sistership, all using the R2AK as a proving ground – proving mostly to themselves that age, disease or disability could not silence their life’s quest for adventure.

Hali Boyd stood tall, wearing a tank top, exposing her physical strength and powerful arms.  I thought back to my youth, hiding my muscular arms and athletic physique in baggy shirts, shamed once too often for appearing too muscular “for a girl.”  But times had indeed changed, and Hali was engaging the crowd with confidence and ease.  She improvised to create her story on the spot. “Wow,” I thought.  Not only was she accomplished, but this wasn’t her first rodeo. She had worked the crowd before – many times.  A Captain of small cruise ships and deckhand on tugboats, she was also program director of Seafarer Collective, providing maritime education and opportunities to underserved populations. Hali cleverly used terms thrown out from the audience as a segue into a story of how she found the love of her life on one of her many excursions on the sea.

Margie McDonald, a local sculptor and artist who specializes in using wire as fiber, was nearing 30 years old when she looked at her options for a career.  She could either stay in a traditional job waiting for 30 years for the perks of retirement and pension, or, design her own life’s adventure.  Margie chose the latter, or “30 and Done” option, as she cleverly put it and at 30, the artist went to sea. Admittedly clueless about the basic of boats and sailing, she learned quickly as she traveled across the Atlantic, where she met her future husband. Their love for boats, adventure and the water was their mutual attraction.

Rachel Slattery, a captain from Rhode Island, had sailed on a variety of vessels and tall ships.  She captivated the crowd by sharing an early experience at sea when she was 22 years old. It was 2008, and Rachel had chosen to sail as crew from Annapolis to the Virgin Islands on a 47-foot sailboat with a family she had recently met.  She spoke humbly of her harrowing experience being caught in a giant storm off the Bermuda Triangle.  Their engine and rudder had broken, and they found themselves in 30-50 knot winds with vast curling seas, unable to control the boat.  Using pots and pans as a drogue to slow their descent down the massive waves, they were eventually rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter.

Nahja Chimenti, a tall ship sailor, educator, rigger and dancer, received her 100-ton captain’s license at 18.  As she shared her experience as the Captain of an open training boat for youth, I was struck by her poise.  Nahja was young, late 20’s I guessed, but her orator skills resonated with ancestral mastery.  She described the time she was on a training sail with her students and they had inadvertently tipped their boat onto its side.  With the gunnels filling with water, the mast and sail lay in the sea, weighing the boat down.  Unable to right the vessel, Nahja dove into the frigid water under the sails to release the sheets.  She then delivered an eloquently written poem about the power and strength of her hands which reminded us all of the precious and often overlooked roles our hands play in our daily lives.

Shannon Ford grew up in the Alaska commercial fishing trade. She and her husband, who is also her first mate, run a setnet salmon fishing operation on Bristol Bay from their aluminum skiff, the Paul Revere.   Their business, called “Two If By SeaFood” is a clever play on words from Longfellow’s famous poem about the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  Shannon and her two crewmen had survived a life-threatening experience in 2010.  While out on the water, their boat was swamped by a wave and flipped, emptying the crew into the icy waters. For two hours they kept their heads, formed a human ring and kept afloat by their PDFs and warmth of each other’s body.  After making it to shore and safety, Shannon made it her mission to share her tale and the lessons on boat safety and survival.

Kat Murphy operates a 38-foot wooden power troller, Grace, as a commercial fisherwoman in Southeast Alaska.  Skilled as a woodworker, NW Maritime and tall ship instructor, Kat spoke of her trials and tribulations pursuing her dream as the owner and operator of Katfish Salmon Company.  During her first year in business, she shared the details of a woman entering into the predominantly man’s world of commercial fishing. Despite many setbacks and self-doubt, her perseverance paid off and fortunately for her, she discovered salmon, and all other fish for that matter, have no preference for gender.

As each woman shared their seafaring yarn, they filled the room with a cacophony of laughter, fear, awe, surprise, sadness and suspense, all byproducts of great storytelling. I had come to the event expecting to hear great tales about the sea. Yet, what I learned was how truly far women had come in the maritime world and the world in general.  They stood bold and confident at the podium, voluntarily participating in the most important human tradition we know, and eager to pass their story down to the rest of us.  Not only did their tales serve to pass down lessons and insight, but they also changed perception.  In doing so, they touched upon a deep curiosity of our souls about the wonders of the sea, the adventures she holds and the boldness that is within us all to answer her calling. 

Johanna Gabbard is a Physical Therapist, educator, consultant, writer, professional speaker, and community organizer. She is an avid cyclist, sailor, retired Army Colonel and former professor for Physical Therapy at Baylor University. Johanna is a health expert on musculoskeletal rehabilitation, enhancing optimal human movement and an advocate for active, healthy aging. She is a co-founder of Sistership LLC, a company dedicated to promoting and supporting active women who choose to “Age Proud, Grow Bold.”

Copyright© 2015-2019. Sistership, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Finding Lupe Anguiano. An Unsung American Legacy.

Finding Lupe Anguiano. An Unsung American Legacy.

It was an ordinary morning for me at work in the spring of 2015. My schedule was packed with the names of patients, their age, a brief description of their chief complaint and request for Physical Therapy services.  I perused the summary of each new and returning patient and started my day. Mid-way through the morning, I went out to greet the next person on my list, an 85-year old woman.   After reading her chart, I had already formulated the scenario in my head.   I would go into the waiting room and introduce myself to an elderly woman. She may or may not walk with a cane, and more than likely would be accompanied by a family member or friend. She would be quiet, polite and unassuming and either she or her relative/friend would provide me with a history of her current problem.   Forming preconceptions of a patient from minimal information is a necessary practice for most healthcare providers. Years of experience, patient interactions, and data collection allow providers to formulate patterns quickly with seemingly little information.  Experience also teaches us to be careful.  These preconceived notions could prove to be completely wrong, which was the case today with Lupe Anguiano.

On the front of her shirt, in big bold pink letters, glared the words “Stop Fracking.”

Lupe popped up from her chair when I introduced myself.  Feisty and smiling at me with confidence, she gripped my hand warmly as I greeted her with a handshake.  Lupe had driven herself to this appointment, no one beside her, no cane in hand.  She walked into my office, took off her sweater and sat erect in the chair.  Already sensing I was wrong with my initial expectations of this woman, her T-shirt put the final dagger into my theory.  On the front of her shirt, in big bold pink letters, glared the words “Stop Fracking.”  I chuckled at myself.  Not only was I wrong, I was dead wrong.  There was a big story behind Lupe, and I couldn’t wait to learn more.

At the end of the second visit, I asked Lupe about the shirt she had worn the previous session. Little did I know my curiosity would open up my world to this amazing person and her life of selfless service to millions.  “What’s behind the “stop fracking” shirt you were wearing the other day?” I asked.   She grinned, and her eyes sparkled as if thanking me for noticing.   It was clear this wasn’t going to be a one-line answer. “Well, it’s just one of the issues I’m working on to protect our environment for future generations. I work with the local city officials and state environmental organizations to stop this horrific practice of fracking.  It’s poisoning our water supply and our children’s playground” she answered.  “It’s just one of several environmental issues I’m involved in” she added.

How often does one meet an octogenarian who is actively engaged in fighting for the environment?

I admit, I half expected her to tell me the shirt was a gift from her grandchild and she was just wearing it in support of them.  But I was wrong again and embarrassed that my tendency to trust my stereotypes of age and gender had not yet been tempered.  Lupe’s response was far from the answer I expected.  I mean, how often does one meet an octogenarian who is actively engaged in fighting for the environment?  It was clear I wasn’t talking to an ordinary woman.  This was a someone who at age 75, founded and directed Stewards of the Earth, a non-profit organization committed to protecting the west coast environment from agricultural pollutants, fracking and the downsides of development.  This was a woman who took on the largest mining company in the world, BHP Billiton and Exxon Mobil in their joint effort to bring a liquefied natural gas line (LNG) through her beloved hometown of Oxnard, California.  Lupe devoted three years forming coalitions and alliances with environmental-friendly groups such as the Sierra Club, local and state politicians, and media outlets to build public awareness to the proposal. Opposition spread throughout California, and in 2007, her efforts finally paid off.  The LNG proposal died in the state legislature. Lupe was elated. Her perseverance, despite numerous roadblocks, personal attacks and criticism, were key in stopping the powerful gas lobby.  At 78, she achieved one of the most momentous victories of her career as an activist and proved what one person and the power of persistence could accomplish. After hearing the full story, the gravity of the meaning behind her “Stop Fracking” shirt, skyrocketed in my head to a whole new level.  I was in a state of awe.

Lupe left the Church to advocate for justice and equality for the poor and underserved.

Over time, Lupe modestly shared small bits and pieces of her story with me.  In her earlier life, she was Sister Mary Consuelo, a Catholic nun, who devoted her life to the Church. But over time, Lupe found a deeper calling.  She was drawn to advocate for justice and equality for the poor and underserved.  Dressed in her habit, she would attend public protests and marches.  This didn’t quite sit well with her employer.  Restricted by the rules of the Church, Lupe eventually removed her habit and left.  Without regrets, she knew her mission in life was to serve God and His people.  She also knew the people lived beyond the walls of the Church.  Her calling was to join them.

She schooled me on the pressing need for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Each visit, I learned more about Lupe and I eagerly peered closer into her life window.  As I assisted in her rehabilitative process, she schooled me on the pressing need for passage of the  Equal Rights Amendment. I too shared my past with Lupe, and at one point I spoke how I felt fortunate to go to college on a basketball scholarship, thanks to the passage of Title IX in 1972.  Title IX was the landmark legislation that ensured equal benefits to both sexes in all federally funded educational programs and activities. Most of the time, when I shared that tidbit with others, I would get an “Oh wow, you went to college on a basketball scholarship?” remark.  But not this time.  From Lupe’s reaction, it was clear I had opened up Pandora’s box with the mention of the law.

To me, Title IX was a godsend to my family, and the timing was perfect. Colleges and universities were just starting to offer athletic scholarships, and in 1978, I was one of the first females in my community to receive this award.  However, to Lupe, the law was a shallow legislative compromise. Yes, it benefitted some, like me, but it also contributed to bursting the momentum of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Women were handed a carrot, and they took it, instead of fighting for the whole salad.  She knew first hand, unlike so many others including myself, that for women to obtain full equal rights in all aspects of American life, we needed it written into our constitution.  Equal pay, equal protection, equal access to social and business benefits and equal opportunities could only be guaranteed for generations to come through a constitutional amendment.  Title IX, although a significant victory for women equality, lacked permanence, she explained.  Like all legislative laws, they were subject to change depending on interpretation, the political makeup, and climate.

Lupe Anguiano, UFW, Circa 1968 (PRNewsfoto/Debora Wright)

 

“Oh my gosh,” I thought… Lupe was one of them – the Giants of the Women’s Movement.

“How did she know so much about this issue?” I wondered.  It was obvious the topic hit a nerve.  The top was off the boiling kettle, and I was about to find out why. Lupe began to open up about her life on the national stage.  The reason she knew so much about the ERA, was that she was one of the founding members of the first National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), which included Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, LaDonna Harris, and Shirley Chisholm. “Oh my gosh, ” I thought. She was not only the former Sister Mary Consuelo or the woman who beat down fracking in California,  Lupe was one of them – the Giants of the Women’s Movement. These were the women I grew up admiring.  Betty Friedan, the founder of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and credited for demanding Congress to take up the Equal Rights Amendment in 1970, was instrumental in forming the NWPC.   Bettye and others knew that support for passing the ERA and other pressing issues related to women equality could only come from increasing the number of women in all aspects of politics, on both sides of the aisle.   The NWPC, a nonpartisan political organization for women, was formed in 1971 to achieve these goals. Smaller state chapters began to take root, and the group took on several important issues of the day relating to women equality, with the underlying purpose of passing the ERA.

I always thought the ERA passed in the 70’s

I listened in fascination as she shared her story. Frankly, I wanted to bow at her feet and thank her for everything she had done for me and so many others.  Yet, I was embarrassed to admit my naivety about the law.  Until she spoke, I always thought the ERA had passed in the ’70s and was part of our Constitution. I could barely look Lupe in the eye as she passionately spoke about her work relating to this vital women’s issue.   I did have a moment of reprieve from my guilt when later I read that 70% of people polled thought as I did.  But, it was only a small consolation to know that I wasn’t alone.  “How could this be and how could I not know any of this?” I thought in disbelief.   Born at the tail end of the Baby Boomer era, I spent the majority of my life reaping the benefits obtained by the tireless efforts of many women and men who came before me.  As a highly educated professional woman, I was discovering how highly uneducated I was when it came to many of the issues that mattered in the grand scheme of things.   I spent my career helping people in need, one by one, with the security of a paycheck, a pension and healthcare benefits.  Lupe, and so many others like her, cared less about securing a comfortable future for themselves and more about righting the present injustices that were affecting scores of people across the country. Needless to say, as I learned more about Lupe, I uncovered more about myself and how my scope of the world was narrower than I believed.  Without even trying, she opened up my eyes to what was possible when I looked beyond my comfortable life.

After a few months, our therapist-client relationship ended.  We were friends by then and met several times for breakfast and lunch just to catch up. I would also check to make sure she was compliant with her therapy and stayed active and healthy.  I knew there was so much more to learn about Lupe.  She was willing to talk, but by this time her biography had just been published, and she felt I should read the book first, then she could fill in all the details.  The book, “Uncompromised. The Life Story of Lupe Anguiano”, had just been released in 2016. The author, Debora Wright, met Lupe through her husband who previously worked with Lupe on another project in the Oxnard community.  Debora was a writer and like me, was captivated by Lupe’s story. Lupe liked Deborah and was comfortable enough to invite her to write her life story. Deborah jumped at the chance and ended up taking six years to complete the project.  She devoted countless hours tracking down and interviewing Lupe, her colleagues, people she had influenced, family members and close friends. She combed through Lupe’s vast archives that are now housed under the Lupe Anguiano Papers at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.  In the end, the book was priceless.  Debora had created a thorough and unsurprisingly fascinating biography about this unsung, quiet American activist.

Best known for her work on Welfare Reform, Lupe saw welfare as a “trap.”

Reading Lupe’s life story helped me understand the complexities of her life and the reasons behind the choices and causes she championed.  Beyond the LNG and ERA campaigns she pursued, Lupe is best known for her work on Welfare Reform. A visionary of her time, Lupe saw welfare, not as a social assistance program, but as a noose that ensnared women into dependency.  Minority women were the largest recipients, and welfare stripped them of their self-worth. She noted that white women with small children continued to work and wondered why minority women weren’t afforded the same opportunities?  Welfare, in her mind, was a trap. It kept mostly minority women with children at the bottom rung of the social-economic ladder.  It was a social program designed to help those in need, but in actuality, created a generational cycle of impoverishment.

Lupe spent years working to change welfare policy from a system that enabled dependency to a program that provided education, occupational training, and job opportunities. When she failed to make headway at the national level, Lupe took her ideas to the source.  She moved to San Antonio and lived for several years with women on public assistance.  Lupe knew it was imperative to create a bond with these women and gain their trust. Only then could she educate them about the downsides of welfare.  Lupe gave them hope and empowered them with knowledge and resources so they could pull themselves out of the pit of poverty. When her local efforts proved successful, she set her eyes on the national stage and created the non-profit National Women’s Employment and Education project (NWEE).  This was a novel program designed to provide employment readiness skills and quickly place women into jobs.  It also offered a full year of follow-up and support services.  Interest in the program grew to other cities and states. It attracted the attention of 60-minutes which aired a story in December 1980 about Lupe and her program in a story titled “Getting Off Welfare.”  The exposure pushed her into the national spotlight.  Barbara Bush and President-elect Ronald Reagan noticed and reached out to her.  Even Hollywood was taken by the news and offered to buy the rights to her story, which she eventually turned down.   After years of work and dedication, the program and similar models of welfare reform eventually expanded into New York and Colorado. Lupe and her NWEE eventually helped thousands of women get off welfare and regain their dignity and self-respect through meaningful work.

Can you believe I’ve lived so long? … I’m still here!

Impressive as this all sounds, there’s so much more to the story and this woman.  I am on my second read of the book, and I continue to be amazed at how such a humble, unassuming woman accomplished so much in her lifetime. Granted, she’s had 89 years to do it and hasn’t slowed down yet. Lupe will celebrate her 90th birthday on March 12th.  I asked her about this, and she shook her head.  “Johanna, can you believe I’ve lived so long?”  “I can’t believe it, and I’m still here!” she exclaimed.  “I can, Lupe,” I said, nodding my head in agreement. “How can you not be? Your passion and love for humanity continue to fuel you.” I reminded her.  “And that hasn’t run out yet.” I thought.

“Thank You, Lupe, for Your Service”

Over the past four years, I’ve been blessed to have met and get to know Lupe Anguiano.  She’s been an empowering, influential role model for me as I navigate through my 50’s and the transitions that come during this phase of life. She is the inspiration behind the company I’ve co-founded, Sistership LLC, which started as a group of adventurous women set out to dismantle age and gender stereotypes.  Our motto “Age Proud, Grow Bold” stems from women aging with a purpose, like Lupe.  Unknowingly, she’s raised my understanding of what it means to age actively, proudly and with service.  I’ve given 30 years of military service, yet it pales in comparison to the life of this phenomenal woman.  I think how undeserving I’ve been to the countless well-intentioned people who’ve acknowledged my military career with “thank you for your service.”   I wish I could take every one of those thank yous and redirect them onto my friend Lupe.  They would never be enough, as America owes so much more to this woman, her tireless efforts and selfless service to its people.

Support Sistership by purchasing from our Sistership Store and inviting others to share in our mission. Profits are used to promote and support other women who dare to Age Proud, Grow Bold.
Living On The Other Side of Fear

Living On The Other Side of Fear

Gay Garabedian, the 5th team member of Team Sistership 2016 R2AK lost her 11 year battle with colon cancer on November 11, 2017.  During this final adventure of her life, she held a secret her teammates did not discover until after her death.  Gay, fearful the truth would not be allow her to join the team, hid the fact that she was receiving chemotherapy during the race.  She tucked her chemo bag under her jacket and worked hard to maintain her positive attitude and appearance.  The crew never knew how miserable she must’ve felt, but in the end – she did it.  She checked off one of the last items on her bucket list.

Gay taught us so much.  She left a legacy of inspiration and hope for all those she touched.  Here is her final message to the world with “no regrets.”  Whoop Whoop!

“When You’re Falling – DIVE”

“When You’re Falling – DIVE”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote “fear beats most people more than any other one thing in the world”. Gay Garabedian, couldn’t agree more.  Gay, a 64-year-old native of Southern California and 5thcrewmember of Team Sistership 2016 refuses to let fear define her life.  She grew up watching her Armenian born father and WWII veteran defy his physical limitations as a lower extremity amputee and do things most people would never dream to attempt. He was an avid sailor and taught her about sailing but more importantly, about courage and resiliency, priceless gifts to help in her 12-year battle with colon cancer.  Her motto “when you’re falling – DIVE” was what prompted her to dive at the chance of joining Team Sistership.

Gay and her husband Dean, had spent 3 years cruising with their two young sons, Trevor and Max, along the coast of California and Mexico in the late 90’s. Her cancer had given her a sense of urgency to fill her bucket list. Staying active on the water was high on this list. Michelle Boroski, a good friend of Gay’s, had shared her idea of racing to Alaska and she immediately knew she wanted to be a part of this adventure.  Michelle suggested there might be a chance Gay could participate in the first leg of the race from Port Townsend to Victoria, if conditions were right and her health held up.

Gay remembers her initial thoughts!

“Hey, why not?  What do I have to lose?  I’m fighting cancer so why should I shy away from anything now. I, nor anyone really knows how much time we have on the earth.”

The idea consumed her and shortly after, she was hooked. “Sistership was an exciting challenge and I wanted to be part of it. I didn’t quite know how but it was so inspirational that I wanted to be a part of the energy.  It was so easy to get absorbed in that project.  Everyone needed to get together.  Sistership gave something to all of us.  They pulled the community together and I loved that.  I thrive on that environment of team work. “

By December 2015, Gay started to increase her physical activity and build the endurance she would need to complete the 40-mile journey.  She also became the team’s emotional leader and was instrumental in the team’s fundraising efforts.  Her infectious smile and positive attitude towards life easily brought a community of both men and women together through Sistership’s inspirational message of “Aging Proud, Growing Bold”.

By May, one month before the race start, Gay’s cancer returned.  Not surprising, she wasn’t going to let this stop her.  She had worked too hard and knew this was just another test of her tenacity.  “I bought into the message of controlling what you can, a long time ago”.  To her, the news was just another speed bump. Gay arranged to receive her chemotherapy treatment in Port Townsend 2 days before the race.  She was going to take the chance and pray that the latent effects of the chemotherapy didn’t wipe her out and keep her from getting on the boat.

when you're fallin, it's later than you think
Gay Garabedian, Crewmember – Team Sistership 2016

On race day, June 23rd, 2016 at 4:00am. Gay, the first to arrive at the boat, greeted the rest of the team and shore crew.  Cold, rainy and dark, Gay’s smile beamed a shining light across the dock. She had made it on the boat and life was good!  Captain Michelle handed Gay the tiller.  She would be the one to steer Sistership and her crew out of the harbor into the strait. For the next 6 hours she held her place at the helm with graceful dignity.   Her passion to live boldly inspired all those who followed the team and burned the flame of Sistership proudly into the harbors of Victoria.

Gay Garabedian, Crew – Team Sistership 2016