Debbie Hough

Debbie Hough

Debbie Hough is the Director of Christian Education at Derry Presbyterian Church, in Derry Township, PA.  She earned her M. Div from Princeton Theological Seminary and if you line up the accolades behind her name, you get a proper alphabet soup – M. Div, M.A., M.Ed., B.S. – and she’s worked in Presbyterian churches across the country before returning back to Pennsylvania.  I love knowing that among her favorite books are A Prayer for Owen Meany and Harry Potter.  She seems like a “salt of the earth” kind of person, one that you’d want to share a cup of coffee with, just to soak up her wisdom.

Q: As the Director of Christian Education at Derry Presbyterian, what is something that you want all people of all beliefs to know?

DH: I believe there is room on this planet for people of all faiths. And, I would love to listen to your story of faith and only ask that you listen to mine. We are all people of stories who may find our stories intertwined and a part of a story much, much larger than any one of ours as individuals.

Q: Is there some place that you feel most at home?  A place that your soul knows?  Tell me about it.

DH: I have been privileged to find a home nearly everywhere I have ever lived. Right now, I feel most at home at my little house, with a cup of coffee in my hand, a cat in my lap and looking out into my garden. This place gives me a grounding of body and soul, and a peace of mind that is hard to come otherwise. It is nothing fancy, but I love being home and coming home after I have been away.

Q: What inspires you?  Where do you find your greatest joy?

DH: I am blessed to find inspiration in so many ways – through me eyes looking at art; through my ears listening to all kinds of music; through my mouth enjoying a good meal with family and friends; through my hands as they hold a child or dig in the dirt planting a flower which I then can enjoy with my nose through the smell of it’s fragrance (especially lilacs!).

My greatest joy comes from spending quality time with my women friends and my women cats!

Q: What defines who you are?

DH: I suspect I am defined by numerous things, but clearly, I have been defined by my family of origin and the place where I grew up. My family was most likely of British descent, but we grew up thinking we were Pennsylvania Dutch. My last name is a perfect example of the confusion. It is not an easy name to pronounce, since “ough” can sound very different in different words. I suspect it should be pronounced “Huff” (British), but my family in the corner of Western PA says it is “Hoke”  (a harder, more German sound). As has been true, if I meet someone with this last name somewhere in the country who pronounces it like I do, then we will be related. The last time this happened with at a conference in San Diego. The result was the gift of a genealogy to prove we came from England (with a little dash of Welsh thrown in). My family were devoted church-goers (of the Presbyterian variety) and loved to sing, play, and follow Pittsburgh sports teams.

I grew up in a rural, farmland, and coal mining region in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Folks worked hard and stayed put for generations. Mine was the first generation to attend college and I am one of the few from my family who left the area. But, it is still home!

Q: Who shaped you the most or influenced your life so that you ended up where you are?

DH: The big picture answer to this question is God. The smaller answer are lots and lots of faithful women and men who taught me Bible stories and allowed me in turn to teach others in my home church. This was a one-room building near the one-room school on a dirt road (now paved). It provided me with a wonderful model of what the church is and can be which I have carried with me in my professional life as a Church Educator. The biggest differences are these places are much bigger and I have the privileged of being paid to do what I love to do.

The older women in my life had profound influences on me. My mother taught me to be very creative at an early age. My grandmothers taught me how to laugh, watch strange television shows, and work with my hands. My aunts taught me to be an active church leader, a thinker, a student, and not be afraid to engage in a good argument now and then.

Tanya Gordon

Tanya Gordon

I met Tanya Gordon when I started volunteering to teach yoga at a community center in Allison Hill in Harrisburg, PA.  Allison Hill is not the fanciest part of town, but I found some treasures there, like Tanya, who was the Executive Director of the Allison Hill Community Center.  Tanya also has a non-profit called Empower Ink, which works with teenage girls to empower them and expose them to a wider world.  I really admire Tanya’s work, her wisdom, and her dedication in spite of community dysfunction.

Tanya exemplifies tolerance and the ability to consensus, focusing on what brings us together rather than what divides us.  She is Canadian, blank, raised by a Jamaican mom and beautiful proof that the color of your skin is only skin deep.  She tirelessly works behind the scenes with youth of all colors, to show them that there are lots of opportunities in this wide world to follow your dreams.

Q:  I know you moved from CT to PA to follow a dream.  Can you tell me about your vision?

TG: My vision was to create a community center that was state of the art and addressed all the disparities a neighborhood/City was facing. I wanted to create a place that could guarantee change. My vision evolved into creating a program that helped our young ladies realize their beauty and strength through service and leadership.  We all need help in transforming and finding our “why”.

Q: What do you think that everyone should know?

TG: You cannot change people, you can offer opportunity for change BUT change is a choice.

Q: Where do you find inspiration?

TG: I wake up every day knowing as long as I am here I can make a difference.  I am inspired by small things.  The girls I work with inspire me. When I see them apply something I taught them they inspire me to not give up on my dream.

Q: What scares you?

TG: I am scared that our young ladies will never understand their value.  There is only so much of me to go around and I am scared that we will spend so much time throwing money at society as a small fix instead of realizing the truth strength is in our girls, our youth, our future.