Forrest Gump and Wendy Peltier grew up with one thing in common. Neither one of them ever knew their father. Forrest, however, had a sober and attentive mother who nurtured and cared for him throughout his life. Wendy’s mother was addicted to drugs and left her with a heart aching for a loving family. Another similarity between them; like Forrest, Wendy Peltier has admirable character traits that we call Gumption. In Wendy’s case, her Gumption allowed her to first survive, then break the chains of addiction, break the chain of substandard education, and finally break the chain of unfulfilled family love.
During my trip to Hawaii, I had the honor to be a fellow speaker with Wendy at a dinner supporting families of the Foster Care Alliance of Hawaii. Wendy related her story to the Foster Family kids and parents, and brought copies of her book Breaking Chains (authored by Wilma Friesema; One Voice Publications). Breaking Chains is Wendy’s story of growing up with an addicted mother, suffering physical and emotional hunger, being shuffled in and out of the Foster Care system, drinking and doing drugs herself starting at age 13, and eventually breaking the chains that otherwise would have bound her to a life of addiction and misery.
Wendy definitely has Gumption. Here is more of Wendy’s story and how she eventually broke those chains.
One day, Wendy’s mother simply didn’t come home. At the tender age of 7, Wendy assumed the role of ‘mother’ for her 3 younger siblings. After a few days Child Protective Services were called and the 4 kids were placed in the Foster Care system. Fortunately there was extended family available so Wendy lived with Great-Grandmother, but as any child would she missed her mother, and her heart ached. At age 10, Wendy’s mom returned home clean and sober, and for a time there was joy. But as so often happens in these tales, mom went back to using and the bad news continued: electricity and phones turned off; TVs and wedding rings sold for drug money; lack of food as the month came to an end.
Mom rehabbed again but the pattern was set. Let’s just say the cycle continued and it wasn’t good for Wendy or her siblings as they bounced in and out of different Foster family settings over the next 8 years. Again, as so often happens in these situations, Wendy started using drugs and alcohol in her teen years, knowing it was wrong but hoping it would help her fit in, help her numb the hurt. She nearly killed herself binge drinking at age 17. Her grades suffered and flunking out of school became a real possibility.
And then one night when Wendy was a junior in high school, a change and a choice presented itself without warning. She experienced a dream – a vivid, frightening and alarming dream. That dream terrified Wendy into making a decision: she decided then and there that she was going to break the chain. And she did indeed follow though; she quit drinking and stopped using drugs that very day. The Gumption she demonstrated that day was in getting present to the reality of the choices she had been making. She made a new choice.
Wendy also made the decision, or the choice, to graduate on time from high school – it would be a first for her family. Wendy’s Gumption had her arising at 5am, attending school, playing basketball, soccer, running track and boxing. She purposefully kept very busy to avoid the previous temptations and wrong choices, and to avoid the hurt of a disconnected family. Wendy did graduate with her class and with honors to the wild hoots and cheers of her family and friends.
At about the same time, Wendy got involved with the Hawaiian Foster Youth Coalition (HFYC). HFYC changed her life in a critical way – it was an opportunity that presented itself and by being receptive she grabbed it. She was now with other people who shared the same story; they were all strong-minded souls and were all survivors. Now they became a support for each other. In short order, Wendy’s Gumption propelled her to become one of HFYC leaders.
One of her greatest acts of Gumption occurred at age 19 as she used her communication skills to convince her sister and brother’s social worker that she was mature enough to became the Foster Parent for then 16-year old sister Emaline and younger brother Joseph. She was working 3 jobs, attending college full-time and being a parent to her siblings.
Today at age 24, Wendy is still the Foster Parent of Joseph. Wendy plans to attend law school and become a judge in the future. She may even run for governor of Hawaii! I see Wendy as a young lady who has learned that anything is possible; she’s experienced hard times and she understands turning adversity into opportunity.
Wendy has demonstrated tremendous Gumption throughout her young life. It all started the day she had an awakening and took personal responsibility. She decided to break the chain.
Wendy continues to support Foster kids and parents by sharing her story of courage, and giving credit to the Foster Agencies of Hawaii for the support they gave and continue to give. Her story is a great reminder that bad things can happen in life, bad things that are not our fault and that we have no control over, What we DO have control over is our own forward actions.
What do you do when faced with difficult challenges? Are you willing to make tough choices to break the chains holding you down like Wendy Peltier has done? Are you willing to take Personal Responsibility? Are you willing to live and act with Gumption?
Next Blog Title: A Report from Sunburst 2010
Next Blog Date: September 27, 2010