Month: June 2014

Denise VanBriggle

Photo credit: Erika Dupes, Bliss Images Photography

Photo credit: Erika Dupes, Bliss Images Photography

Denise VanBriggle is an expressive arts aficionado, reiki practitioner, and JourneyDance™ facilitator. She is a teacher, writer, dancer, and dreamer. Most of her days are spent exploring the power of the expressive arts to act as change agents, perspective shifters, and resilience builders. She owns Cityscape Consulting, which is devoted to writing, coaching, and integrative curriculum design. In 2014, Denise opened SHINE, a healing expressive arts studio sponsored by Cityscape. Her first book, Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom – a collaborative venture with Jimmy Santiago Baca and Kym Sheehan – was just published by Cedar Tree Poetics, NM.

Q:  When I search for “Denise VanBriggle” I find both CityScape Consulting and JourneyDance/reiki.  Is all this you?  What is it that you do?

DVB: Yes, this is all me. I retired in July 2011 after a long career in education. When I was still employed—during the years 1997-2011—a series of auto-immune problems surfaced for me. First it was Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, next it was fibromyalgia, and finally Type 2 Diabetes. I’ve always trusted my intuition, and I had a strong sense that my high stress level played a major role in all of these health concerns. Yoga provided relief when I struggled to get my Hashi’s under control. Physical therapy literally cured my fibromyalgia. Exercising and making changes in my diet enabled me to get off many medications and lose the Type 2 Diabetes label. How fascinating for me to experience first-hand movement as medicine.

I’ve always been a writer and understood from a young age the transformational, healing power of writing.  Late in my career I enrolled in a doctoral program in Adult Education to conduct more formalized research, but when I decided to de-stress my life by retiring, I also decided to ditch my studies. What a tough moment for me. Up to that point, I don’t think I had quit anything. As difficult as it was, I truly believe it liberated me.

I know it sounds cliché’, but wonderful things began to happen to me once I let go of what was weighing me down. Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca invited me to collaborate on a book, Feeding the Roots of Self-Expression and Freedom, which was published this year. Simultaneously I rekindled my love of poetry and reconnected with a group of women I had written with over many years of our collective association with the National Writing Project.

Throughout the years of my health challenges, I read voraciously and became deeply interested in the connection between and among mind, body, and spirit. Along the way, I discovered many movement modalities, including JourneyDance™, which I loved so much I became a Certified Facilitator. I also explored a variety of healing modalities, including Reiki. I experienced such a positive benefit from understanding the movement of energy in my own body that I decided to become a Reiki Practitioner.  To me, the body, mind, and spirit represent a sacred trinity. Disturbing any aspect of the trinity is synonymous to an assault on my well-being.

Q: What gives you balance?  How do you find peace?

DVB: Personal balance comes through intentionally carving time in my schedule for embodied experiences like writing, dancing, painting, practicing yoga, and photographing nature’s wonders. I find peace through stillness, such as meditating, praying, stargazing, reading in the sunshine, sitting quietly on the patio with my husband and simply watching the clouds change formation, or catching a full moon rise. A strong sense of peaceful balance comes easily through helping others, whether my own family and friends or the complete strangers I assist as part of my work as an Official Visitor with the Pennsylvania Prison Society. I’ve learned that self-love isn’t selfish and I need to fill myself up so I have a reservoir of energy to give to others.

Q: What advice would you give to a younger version of yourself?

DVB: I’d tell myself to lighten up, already! I am an empath and always way too sensitive and serious for my own good. I always found it easy to forgive others and overlook all of their flaws, but I had a damned hard time doing the same for myself. I’d be kinder and gentler to my young self. I’d stroke my own hair and say, “You are a child of the universe and you are perfectly imperfect just the way you are, sweet girl. And don’t you ever forget it.

Q: Where does inspiration come from?  Who has inspired you?

DVB: Inspiration comes from silence—observing the amazing colors of the sunrise, watching the hummingbirds at my feeders, studying my grandchildrens’ faces, reading poetry. Inspiration comes from sound—enjoying early morning birdsong, drifting asleep to waves lapping the shoreline, listening to or singing my favorite tunes, hearing my family laughing, travelling to places I’ve never been before and experiencing each culture’s unique vibration and resonance. Inspiration comes from movement—dancing my body temple to music that stirs my soul, creating curricula to meet individual or group needs (ideas seemingly spring from a divine source and each idea inspires another), writing is a constant source of inspiration for me. And finally, inspiration comes from resilience—witnessing individuals rising above their own painful pasts, maneuvering around real or perceived obstacles, and ultimately finding their own joy.

I am blessed to have many inspiring men and women in my life, many of them still living and quite a few who have passed on, so this may prove to be the toughest question of all. How to choose? I decided to base my decision on two people whose lives reflect resilience: Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca and my own daughter, Erika Dupes. Jimmy was incarcerated for about 5 ½ years in the early 70’s and he has been a pivotal force in my life since the day we met in November of 2008. And my daughter has overcome some serious medical dilemmas but has not allowed them to define her. Both are a constant source of inspiration to me.


23 April 1977

          Jimmy Santiago Baca

It seems

prison confines and destroys

it does, I know, no need to argue

the point, just look at these

infamous edifices thrashing out,


human beings like bait sardines,

but I cannot stand on this.

Yes, the great iron hand of prison

crushes all in its grasp,

the mind and soul become

feeble sacks

filled with rotten fruits,

a gunnysack crumpled in a dark cell.

but to control your mind and soul

is to become a stronger hand,

embanking gently the loose clods

of ravaged and confused past

so the river of your heart

and clear streams of your soul

may pass,

full and freely, into rich fallow beds

of freedom, waiting for you

even in prison,

even in prison; many will not understand  this,

but I will say that we can


not today, tomorrow, or next month,

but at the very moment

one decides upon it.


Baca, J.  (2001).  A Place to Stand.  New York, Grove Press.  (poem appears on pp. 208-209).

In March of 2005 my daughter Erika lay in a hospital bed recuperating from lung surgery just a few months after the birth of her first child, Max. Around the same time, I had adopted a cell dog and started to correspond with the inmate who trained her. On my way to visit Erika in the hospital one day, a friend gave me Baca’s memoir proclaiming, “This book is a must read for anyone associated with the prison system!”  I thought reading might calm my fear as I sat steady watch over my firstborn.  This particular poem triggered a heart-opening, body-shaking cry, and I vowed to meet the man whose words precipitated such a powerful emotional purge.  You see, on 23 April 1977 while Baca penned this poem from his cell, I lay in a hospital bed cradling three-day-old Erika whose unlikely prison had been her own mother’s womb.  Who knew these wide hips of mine housed a pelvis too small to allow for safe passage through the birth canal!  After a 24-hour struggle, the doctor was forced to cut her free.

Since 2005 Erika has endured a second lung collapse and surgery followed by two high-risk pregnancies producing granddaughters Emma and Avery. Today, I am blessed with three healthy grandchildren and a beautiful, healthy, and active daughter who has not allowed her health challenges to dampen her positive spirit. I met Jimmy Santiago Baca back in 2008, just as I began to heal from the trauma of watching Erika suffer. Jimmy single-handedly reignited my social justice fire and my love of writing. In many ways, words saved me. And the double whammy in my life at that time?  My son was deployed to Iraq. It was definitely a “dark night of the soul” period for me, but I bounced back.

Through their daily resilience and courage, Erika and Jimmy model passionate, compassionate, and purposeful living.  They urge us all to

Be brave. 

Be fearless. 

Decide in this moment.

It’s never too late.


Q: Do you have any pet projects you’d like to share?

I do.

A few years ago Jimmy introduced me to a young film director, Daniel Glick, who wanted to make a documentary film based on Jimmy’s memoir A Place to Stand. I worked with Daniel from the early stages as he criss-crossed the country to learn from experts in the industry. I had the pleasure of introducing him to my dear friend Bill Isler, President of Family Communications (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) who introduced both of us to director Carl Kurlander (St. Elmo’s Fire). I also served on one of the fundraising teams through two successful Kickstarter campaigns. What a rush to know we raised enough money to see the film through to final cut! That milestone was reached on 5/25/14. I personally contributed more time and money to this effort than to any other charitable cause throughout my 59 years on the planet. I’m proud of the small role I played in this effort because I believe the Jimmy’s story holds the potential to change the course of other people’s lives, just as it has mine.

Jimmy also connected me to the phenomenal Penny Alsop when I visited Upaya Zen Center.  Penny was moving through the chaplaincy program there and asked me if I’d be a part of her web-based project  How could I resist a project with such an awesome title? And so began some creative non-fiction writing that set me upon a serious path of self-discovery.

The final project is SHINE, a healing expressive arts studio for adults located at 4400 Linglestown Rd., Suite 101, Harrisburg, PA. It opens today (6/1/2014) and I’m thrilled to kick off the first summer season with three intimate day-long SHINEshops. The initial offering, Exploring Stillness and Finding YOUR Voice, happens on Saturday, June 28th, from 9:30 AM-3:30 PM. For further information, visitors to your site can hop over and visit me at Cityscape Consulting

This is my consulting business and the place where I draw together all of my loves. I’ve given myself the title of Curator of Creativity rather than “owner,” which is a bit boring and doesn’t really doesn’t describe what I do.

Q: Now that the book is finished, what are you currently writing?

DVB: Well, I’ve been a closet poet for a long time, and within the last year I’ve decided to step out into the light. I’m learning to trust my own rhythm and cadence. I always felt pretty comfortable and confident with narrative writing, but less so with poetry. I’ve also learned that the only way to face my fear is to move straight through it. My next project is a collection of my own poetry. It’s a work in progress, so stay tuned.

Judy Dillon

Judy Dillon

Judy Dillon is the community outreach coordinator for the Department of Nursing at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Dillon has been a nurse for more than 30 years and with the Medical Center for 15 years. She was awarded the 2011 Nightingale Award of Pennsylvania for Clinical Practice R.N. This prestigious award recognizes Dillon for her outstanding quality of patient care, superior nursing clinical skills, and extraordinary compassion. She exemplifies the attributes that the Nightingale Awards represents, as well as the outstanding qualities of Penn State Hershey’s more than 1,400 nurses.

Q:  As a longtime nurse, what do you wish people knew about their bodies and their health? If you could change one thing about healthcare or the way people view healthcare, what would it be?

JD: I would like people to take care of their bodies with a healthy lifestyle and good eating habits.  To me the most important health priority is physical activity as part of an exercise routine and portion control in one’s diet.  Walking is a great way to get started.  One should remember that  “calories in” needs to balance “calories out” so that on days that one has an extra treat one should plan to exercise a bit more.

What I would like to change with healthcare is a greater focus on wellness as well as access to affordable healthcare for all.  For Central PA, over 1/3 of our children are overweight or obese and they are expected to have a shorter life span than their parents.  Our children’s BMIs are continuing to increase while most regions the average BMI has plateaued or are beginning to decrease.  Behavior is very difficult to modify but with education and promotion of good healthy habits starting at an early age we can have a positive impact on population health.

I work with the homeless and other families in underserved areas of our community.  It breaks my heart when I hear their stories of their challenges in obtaining even primary healthcare services let alone any type of specialty, mental or dental care.  Our health care systems need to continue to identify the barriers and implement changes to provide better access and better prevention.

Q: You won the Nightingale Award for outstanding quality of patient care, superior nursing clinical skills and extraordinary compassion.  How do you develop outstanding care and extraordinary compassion?  Are those things that can be taught?  What influenced you to become such an incredible nurse?

JD: I feel that most people who select nursing as a profession have innate potential for delivering quality care, developing outstanding clinical skills, and showing compassion.  I was lucky that my mother was a nurse and a role model for me growing up.  In nursing school I had stimulating professors as mentor, and in my professional life my coworkers, managers, and nurse leaders have always set good examples for me to follow. I also love school and am always looking for opportunities for new academic challenges that can serve to improve my knowledge and skills.  Finally, I have been very fortunate in opportunities that have come my way to work with many different people in unique settings and different countries.  These opportunities have certainly given me an appreciation for health and happiness. Over the years I have done mission work in Haiti, Honduras, and India and have held nursing jobs in acute care settings, research programs, schools of nursing, and community health.

I do not think these attributes can always be taught, but they certainly can be encouraged and fostered.  I am a preceptor for nursing students for their community clinical hours, and as part of their time with me I focus on values, diversity, and compassion, especially for underserved populations and minorities.

Q: What brings you balance?  How do you deal with pressure and stress?

JD: Keeping a balance in my life is a constant struggle for me!  My family always comes first and then I prioritize.  I am a list maker and start each morning with some quiet time while making a plan for the day.  I also always have a trip planned!  My favorite sport is backpacking with my husband for 8- 10 days in remote places where we cannot be reached by phone, text or e-mail!

For me exercise is the best way to handle pressure and stress.  I try to exercise every day for an hour.  I also find communication is most important to resolve issues along with the ability to be a good listener with a positive attitude.  When all else fails, then I spend time on our small farm with my family, friends, 3 dogs, 4 cats, llama, and donkey!

Q: What advice do you have for a younger version of yourself?

JD: My advice to young nurses is that they have selected a great profession with many wonderful opportunities, and their future is theirs to shape.  Education is the key for advancement and a successful future.  As nurses, we need to work well together, respect one another, be team players, and always be advocates for our patients.

Since I live in Hershey I can sum up my advice in a pneumonic I recently saw for CHOCOLATE:

C – compassion,

H – heal with humor,

O – open to relationships,

C -cope with elegance,

O – outlast the creeps!

L –l earn something new every day,

A – accept responsibility,

T – take time,

E – engage in life, don’t just show up!

Q:  What question did I miss?  What else should I know about you?

JD: Another important part of my life is my firm belief in giving back to the community.  Over the years, I have volunteered many hours in a variety of capacities to many different organizations – from Boy Scouts to Meals on Wheels to my church.  Not only do I truly enjoy these activities; but I feel so fortunate for what I have and what I can give back.  I always gain much more from these opportunities than I give.

Jessyca Jackson

Jessyca Jackson

Jessyca Jackson is an insurance sales person and also a very good friend. Her daughter is close in age to my son. We met through the MBA program at Penn State University where I first noticed her fantastic taste in shoes, but soon came to appreciate her for her diplomacy, intellect, and great humor. Jessy is and engineer, a record holding pole vaulter, a single mom, an explorer and a dreamer. She also fosters older children, giving them a helping hand before they start out on their own. If there’s a woman who embodies the definition of incredible, it might be Jessy, even though she would laugh and change the subject if you asked her.

Q: Tell me about your experience with Teach for America, especially any stories that illustrate your time with them.

JJ: Teach For America (TFA) was one of the hardest and most rewarding experiences of my life. I knew I wanted to work with children who were under-served in some capacity since I was a young girl. I had no idea how to pursue that career option, however, since my parents were sales people and there were no ‘formal’ educators in my family. So I finished grade school and headed off to Syracuse to study civil engineering – still having a blast when working with youth, but knowing for sure that I did not want to earn an education degree. During the fall semester of senior year when everyone is taking their Fundamentals of Engineering exams, GREs, and committing to employers and graduate school (all of which I was doing), I came across a TFA poster. I knew nothing about this amazing organization at the time, but I did know a lot about Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (the locally renowned restaurant that was catering the event), so I went. After a ’96 corps member (that’s what TFA-ers are called) named Kwame shared his story, I knew to my very core that I would join the organization. Several interviews later (that included designing lessons and teaching to the interview panel), I was accepted as a corps member to the DC Metro region – very urban, very academically disadvantaged – exactly what I envisioned myself doing at least 15 years before!

I have countless stories worth sharing some good and some not-so-good, but I’ll limit it to one. The student’s name has been changed to protect the former adolescent from embarrassment now that he’s older and has a fully developed brain! Side note: Some studies have shown that a person’s brain doesn’t stop growing until 21 and sometimes longer for a child who experienced trauma in earlier years – a potential explanation for why some of my kids did what they did.

So, Jacob was one of the most respectful, reserved and charming students ever – I don’t have memories of him ever being loud or crass. I was an Algebra I teacher to 9th graders (I’m sure you can already pick up on the achievement gap with that fact alone. Many of my kids were taking Algebra I for the first time as 9th graders and many were older than the traditional 9th grade age – their ages spanned from 13 to 16). Jacob could not stand math, in fact, he HATED math – or so he’d say time and time again. Well, after several months of frustration and reminding myself to ‘stay within my locus of control’ and ‘to be flexible like the branches of willow trees’ (popular TFA mantras), I decided to take a concentrated and more holistic approach with Jacob. He showed so much initiative and potential in the classroom, but something was not clicking when left to complete algebraic steps on his own. It wasn’t until after he returned from a 2-month stint in a juvenile detention center (I don’t recall what he did to serve that time) and until I was literally spending most of my time by his side during his class period to catch him up on missed work that I figured out one of his problems.

Most kids have multiple factors that contribute to their less-than-desired academic achievement and one fine day, we discovered something big with Jacob that ended up dramatically improving his grades not only in my class, but in other classes as well – and it had nothing to do with his numeracy skills! So let’s say Jacob was reading from his math or science book – a paragraph with 15 lines of text. Well, after having him read aloud to me, I learned that Jacob was inadvertently skipping entire lines of text. He’d read line 1, then line 3, then line 4, then line 6… Of course, he couldn’t understand concepts in my class or any other classes since he was missing entire chunks of theories and principles when he read this way. I excited shared the news with my team teachers and we gave him steps to reduce and eventually eliminate the ‘conceptual loss’ that occurred when he accidentally skipped lines.

I also learned that even though he hated going to the juvenile detention center, he appreciated the structure that existed at the facility. They were required to rise at 4 AM every morning, but that was comforting to Jacob because he knew that a nice hot shower and meals would follow. He never had to wonder whether he’d have enough to eat at the center. That’s very comforting for a child stuck in a man-sized body. Most of my students were just little kids with tough exteriors. I still love every one of my students, flaws and all. Though I’m no longer a teacher in the classroom, I’m a proud foster parent to older youth. Since so many people blame under-performance on the home life of children, I’m now working with the same under-served population but from the other side – the home life side and it’s just as rewarding and fulfilling as being in the classroom. I often learn more from my kids than they learn from me.

Q: Do you feel like you are treated fairly as a black woman?  Do you feel like there are more opportunities (or limitations) that come with race and/or gender?  Tell me about your vision for gender and race equanimity. How will your vision come about?

JJ: This is a good question and you probably already know I can only speak about my experiences. I can only count a few times when I’ve overtly been marginalized by my brown skin – a couple times by kids when I was a child and once by an adult when I was an adolescent. If I was treated unfairly at other times because of my skin and/or gender, it was much more covert. One example is how a guy I knew in undergrad (he was a fellow civil engineering major) would insist on using ‘broken’ English and slang whenever he would talk to me. It was much more bothersome than inhibiting, but it’s something that definitely stands out in my mind when I think back.

My vision for such topics would be for the world to see color, but then quickly become colorblind – to remember that an overwhelming bulk of who we are falls into our ‘human’ category rather than in our subcategories like gender and ethnicity. The full spectrum of our experiences – from true love to detestation – have more to do with the fact that we are people and very, very little to do with our anatomical make up and skin tone. In my opinion, that would make the scale of this beautiful and broken world tip more on of the end of beautiful.

If I’m understanding your final question correctly, in addition to indefinitely working with youth who are underserved, underprivileged, and under exposed to positive experiences, I feel a personal obligation to do my part to dispel the myths and stereotypes associated with Black American women and families. Whatever ideas immediately pop into a person’s head who is not a Black female, that’s what I try to counter with my disposition and interactions with others. Hopefully, I’m not too obnoxious about it, but I’ve literally had folks yell at me for being too pleasant, as well as being so intrigued that I’m asked where I grew up and then told that I’m not like the other Black people they know – literally.

Q: How do you make time for yourself?  What gives you balance?

JJ: During this season of my life, I value true rest. In addition to sleeping (a usual favorite, though I don’t get as many hours as I’d like), there are amazing regenerative powers in just being. Sometimes that involves just sitting and intentionally breathing, sometimes it’s catching a power nap, sometimes it’s meditating/mindfulness, and sometimes it’s being in great company (my daughter, my family, a love interest). Rest comes in a variety of forms for me now and I get it where I can. Sometimes I even use it as a reward during particularly mentally strenuous days. The balance comes when I accept whatever circumstances are in the present, evaluate all my options and select one – the balance is typically acted upon when I use some form of rest – even if its brief. Does that make sense or just sound mystical?

Q: What is something that the world should know?  Maybe the best piece of advice that you ever received or the message you have for others.

JJ: My mentor often says ‘everyone has a story and we don’t what that story is.’ I always take that to mean that no matter what a person does – good or not-at-all-good – a person’s actions are justified in their minds, it usually makes sense to them, even when it may look and sound senseless to us. That understanding has given me more patience in every single relationship in my life (significant other, my biological child, my  family members), but especially with the children I invite into my home through foster care. It literally helps me live out not sweating the small stuff because it’s a constant reminder to deal with the person, not the action, and that honey is sweeter than vinegar when it comes to addressing the root of the matter. We’re all kids in bodies of various sizes and, without excusing bad behavior (or not acknowledging good behavior), I’d like to say that when those times arise when I must have healthy confrontations with folks, I’m well-received because I’ve been respectful to them in the past, regardless of what they might’ve done.

Q:  Who is your role model and why?

JJ: I have so many, must I choose? I admire anyone who lives with intention and according to what they profess – so long as others are not put in danger. I have my amazing parents and grandparents, of course, but the person who’s had the most influence on my life as a working professional is a dear woman named Viola. She lives a very unassuming life in a Maryland town minutes from both DC and Virginia. She is the most sprightly 70-something I’ve ever met and I usually tell her I want to be like her when I grow up. Every encounter with her, whether over the phone or in person or in writing, is oozing with brilliant practicality. She has a gentle way of reminding anyone not to take themselves too seriously, while reminding them of their exclusive talents. I love her and that reminds me that I’m due for a visit..

Q:  What is the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done?

JJ: Being a teacher and parenting. Now I’m immersed in both for life and I’m thankful for regular opportunities to become greater at both.

Cinda Doggett

Cinda Doggett

Cinda Doggett was born in Hawaii and journeyed through Kentucky, Iowa, and Illinois before going to Atlanta for art school. Always athletic, Cinda studied Fashion Merchandising and Design at the American College for Applied Arts (later AIU), but after two years had to go to work. She jokes about being on the “ten year” college plan, but in 1996, Cinda graduated from Georgia State University with a Bachelor’s in Management. Today, her passions are scuba diving and travel; she says, “when we combine the two, it’s like heaven.” Cinda was also described as a “volunteer extraordinaire” for her work as a military wife in Okinawa and abroad.

Q:  It looks like you had a long career with Experian before becoming a scuba instructor/military wife.  Can you tell me about your path?  How is your life different than you expected?

CD: I had a great career with Experian.  I moved to Atlanta to go to college but ran out of money after two years.  I had the option of going back to Illinois, but I really loved Atlanta, so I decided to stay and work and finish my degree later.  I went to a temporary employment agency that I had used before.  They had three temp-to-perm jobs available, and though I wanted the one that paid the best, my agent convinced me to take a lower paying job because she knew I would really like my boss and the people there.  Well, that turned out to be true.  I started as a temporary receptionist with Experian, and 12 years later, I left as a Solutions Project Manager with another promotion offer on the table.  (And, yes, I did finish my college degree by going to night school).

Why did I leave Experian?  Honestly, the next promotion they offered me was a great opportunity, but I just felt it was time for me to expand my experience outside of a single company.  I decided to take a break first.  I had been using most of my vacations in the previous years to go scuba diving, so I went to Grand Cayman to earn my Divemaster and Instructor certifications.  I didn’t have a particular intention to change my career.  I thought I would take a break and then maybe teach scuba as a side job.  But, after over a month in Cayman, I decided to try to stay and teach.  It actually took me a while to find a job there, so I ended up with a short stint in Florida first, but eventually I ended up working at Bob Soto’s Diving in Cayman.

It was a great job, as dive jobs go.  I did a bit of everything – teaching scuba, driving boats, conducting maintenance on boats, filling tanks, driving busses full of customers, and before the first year was over, I was promoted to Assistant Operations Manager.  I still performed all of those other activities, but I was also in charge when the manager was out.  I worked six days per week, 8-10 hours per day for the Cayman equivalent of minimum wage, so it was not just a “vacation” like many people think.  The trade-off was absolutely world-class diving, of course.  But, finances won out for me.  When I left, I was 34 years old (when most of my colleagues were closer to 20), and I needed to either buckle down and make it a career, or go back to corporate.  I decided to return to corporate.  I moved back to the States at the end of my contract, and I ended up in Florida, working for a mortgage lender as Operations Director.

The key change in my life during these years wasn’t necessarily my career.  While in Cayman, I met my husband, Mike.  He was in Cayman for essentially the same reasons I was – he had left his corporate career to take a break, had become a dive instructor, and then went to work there.  The twist is that after we had been dating for a while, he decided to join the U.S. Army.  So, he left while I was still in Cayman.  We stayed “together” over the coming years, though I was in Cayman and then in Florida while he was based elsewhere.  We got engaged in August 2006 with no real intention of when we would get married.  We still weren’t living in the same state but just seeing each other whenever possible.  However, we found out that he would be stationed in Okinawa, Japan by December.  While I didn’t particularly want to live in Fayetteville, NC (his previous station), I said “heck yeah!” when it came to Japan.  He had Leave before his move, so we took a vacation in Honduras and got married there!  Yes, my marriage certificate is in Spanish.  Mike left for Okinawa about two days after we returned from vacation, and I didn’t follow until almost a year later (though I visited once in between).

I loved Okinawa and Japan in general.  It also turned out to be a spectacular place for me to be introduced to my military life.  Despite the great distance from home and the traditional support network of family and friends, or maybe because of this, the spouse network in Okinawa had developed into a really great organization.  Even though I didn’t have a traditional corporate role during my time in Oki, I was busier than ever – volunteering for military organizations, volunteering for Okinawan organizations, learning Japanese, teaching English, working as wine consultant and again as a scuba instructor, and exploring Japan and the surrounding Asian countries.

One of the biggest benefits was the travel.  Every time my husband had Leave, we travelled.  We went to China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia…and so many other places.

Q:  What makes you passionate about diving?  Do you have a favorite dive experience you’d like to share?

CD: I was encouraged to dive by a good friend and business mentor of mine.  I was already a huge lover of water.  My Mom is the same and my Dad was a Navy salvage diver when they met.  I didn’t grow up with him, but who knows, maybe genes are involved here!  Anyway, I think my passion stems from that love of water, but it is reaffirmed every time I’m diving.  Being under water is so completely peaceful and yet exciting at the same time.  No matter how many times I dive, even at the same site, I always see something new.  As for a favorite experience, I don’t know that I could narrow it down; there are so many!

I will say that my first experience in Okinawa was pretty great.  It was a shore dive, and on the snorkel out, it didn’t look like much….sand, rock, and dead coral.  I later figured out that this occurred out to the low tide line because people would walk on it during low tide.  But once we hit the actual reef, I felt like I was in Finding Nemo.  It was all soft flowing colorful corals and beautiful tropical fish.  Just amazing.

Q: You were also a “Wine Promotional Consultant.”  How can I get that job?  😉  What stories do you have from that role?

CD: The getting of this job was simply a matter of knowing someone who worked for the company already and her knowing that I loved wine.  I was able to interview with the regional boss when she was in town, and that was it.  Our company was intent on customer service, so we spent a lot of time learning about the wineries and the wines.  This allowed us to talk about the wines in an educated way rather than just pouring a taste.  This education was key for me in keeping the job challenging and interesting.  Though I really enjoyed the big festivals that were crazy-hard work but so much fun, I think my favorite experiences were just in the shop performing wine tastings every weekend.  It was on a military base, but we had a really great variety of wines.  We had customers that knew all about wine and those that were trying it for the first time.  I loved being able to explain the difference between a cheap but good “starter” wine and a bottle of Boone’s Farm (or similar) that might include wine in it but has other stuff as well.  I also loved that a favorite of the big burly tough Marines that came in were the Italian sweet wines! ha

Q: As a nonprofit volunteer, what organizations do you work with?  What do people need to know about nonprofits and their needs?

CD: I started volunteering when I was working in Atlanta, and I loved meeting the people I was helping and the people who ran the organizations.  I was continually amazed at how much time and effort people would give, how much they cared, and that they were from all walks of life.  These charitable organizations do such amazing work, and it’s even more amazing when you realize they depend largely on volunteers and donations.  When I ended up in Okinawa, I had much more time to volunteer and I loved working with on-base organizations that supported military families.

I volunteered extensively for Army Community Services (ACS) and for our Family Readiness Group (FRG).  I also volunteered for the Army Community Group of Okinawa (ACGO) which worked with other military organizations to raise funds for needy organizations, both on-base and Okinawan.  One of my favorite organizations was working with Okinawa International Women’s Club (OIWC), which was actually started by Okinawan women after the war as a way to achieve cultural exchange with the Americans and to provide funds and volunteers for needy Okinawan organizations.  Both ACGO and OIWC gave incredible amounts of money, and their volunteers gave incredible amounts of time.  Since I’ve been back to Washington, I’ve continued to volunteer with ACS and our FRG, but I’ve also expanded to some political activities such as voter registration drives and other causes I believe in.