The Gift of Mentoring

In the fall of 1996, at age 19, I was a former foster youth and freshman at college. I knew I was financially on my own  but was scared about navigating life and so much more. There was so much unknown and I wondered many times, “Will I make it?!” In my first semester, I was designated a federal work study (FWS) student in my financial aid award package. I was offered a job in the college cafeteria and met my first job supervisor, Crystal Browning. She told me about my job duties; I was required to clean the waffle bar every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as well as, serve food in the buffet lines during the evenings. I remember being a little pessimistic- I knew there had to be better jobs on campus, but it all worked out! I am thankful that my student employment job led me to my life-long mentor and friend. (And I loved my job so much, I worked in the cafeteria all four years during college!)

My college didn’t offer a mentoring program, but I remember all the times that Crystal asked me about my goals and what I wanted to accomplish. I told her that I always wanted to get my driver’s license but didn’t have a car or lessons to drive. Crystal not only heard me, she responded. She taught me how to drive, with her three-old daughter in the backseat! When I look back over my time in college, Crystal was my “unofficial” mentor.

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I remember when Crystal got another job on campus and she made sure to let me know that I was welcome to visit anytime. That might be an expected statement, but it meant a lot. No matter what story or experience I shared, she listened. During college, Crystal was more than my mentor and ally, she was my family. She not only taught me how to drive- she taught me how to believe in myself. Her faith demonstrated so much love and compassion. I have always admired how she lived with purpose and faithfulness. She is an example of a strong Christian woman and want to follow her lead and walk worthy in my own life.

Twenty-one years later, we still have a strong bond. Over the past seven years, she has helped me grow as a new parent, and has always welcomed her home to my son and I. In 2015, she nominated me for a Survivor’s Award from the Survivor Foundation. I was awarded the winner of the Foster Alumni and Educator Award. Once again, she impacted my life. Her simple affirmation helped me to actualize my purpose in life. I am an educator and advocate for foster youth.

(One more story, I promise!)

In January of this year, after a short battle, my biological father passed away from Kidney Cancer. I began a relationship with him at age 14, after I went into foster care. My dad didn’t gain custody, but we became a family, one day at a time. During my dad’s funeral, Crystal came up to me and hugged me. During my dad’s eulogy, I spoke about a gumball machine that my dad gave me for my birthday and how my dad visited my office every semester and dropped off gumballs. He was always being thoughtful. I spoke about how I recently visited the office and noticed that the machine was completely empty- which led me to tears. It also inspired me to ask everyone to honor my father by sharing a random act of kindness. When I returned to my office later that week, I found a package on my desk. I opened it and saw a box of gumballs from Crystal! She shared, “I hope these gumballs serve as a source of joy, rather than sadness.” Her act of kindness transformed a moment of ache into a memory of love. I am so incredibly thankful for Crystal and her role in my life. She made a heartfelt choice to support and guide me towards my dreams. She continues to be in my life and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her mentoring and care!

Thanks for letting me share my story of mentoring. I hope that others will be inspired to think about the gift of mentoring and how we can make positive change in each other’s lives.

crystal

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Making My Mess, My Message

As I near a milestone birthday this month (the big 4-0!), I want to share some personal memories from my life journey…I am going to quickly review each decade and close out this blog with a reflection & lessons about my story progressing this year.
My Journey: 1977-2017
Decade 1:  1977-86
Memories: Little sister, only daughter, foster care child, abused, beaten, survivor, moved three times in first grade, speech impediment, dyslexia, held back in third grade, constant earaches, trouble-maker, talker, class-clown, budding artist, class council member and spelling bee finalist in 4th grade, started a food fight and read 501 books in the summer after 4th grade.
Decade 2: 1987- 1996
Memories: 5th grade crossing guard and kindergarten class volunteer, sexually abused, emotionally abused, loved art and volleyball, science fair winner, artist and creative spirit, loved riding my ten-speed pink and teal huffy bicycle, started my eating disorder, wanted to die, wanted to disappear, moved four times and changed schools three times, began to love school and writing, developed my artistic skills, went into foster care again, never went home, abandoned and rejected, became a Christian, found my strength in Him, blossomed into  a beautiful butterfly, honors student, almost quit art, still a class clown, selected by peers to be the yearbook editor-in-chief,  voted most likely to cheer you up for senior superlatives, graduated from High School  in the top 15% of my class, and was accepted to college!
Decade 3: 1997- 2006
Memories: Attended college, worked in the college cafeteria, learned to roller-blade, had my gallbladder removed, volunteered each summer in DC, brooklyn and San Francisco, visited Italy, completed my senior art show, served with AmeriCorps, rejected from grad school, went back to college,  my maternal grandmom passed, accepted to three graduate schools, moved to New York with $100, baptized, participated in a graduate assistant-ship, lost my virginity, dated with a hole in my heart, walked away from God, and graduated with my MA degree in Creative Arts Therapy, landed a job in NY and stayed.
Decade 4:  2007-2017
Memories: Made art, made a difference, lost and dying inside, wore a mask, lied to everyone about my struggles, raped,  pretended I was okay,  unplanned pregnancy, became a mom, moved home, wasn’t received as a prodigal daughter, homeless-lived with a friend, got fired from a sales job, cleaned houses, my paternal grandmother passed, landed a job at a college, found my passion & purpose, received a $60,000 grant to support foster youth, became an advocate, accepted into four art exhibits-two with my son, my brother, mother and father died, depression and anxiety, assaulted, survivor, trainer and speaker, motivator and mama bear, became an entrepreneur, and resigned from my job a month before turning 40.
Reflection and Lessons: My progression in 2017…
A little over two months ago, I had this amazing experience in March of 2107. I presented a Pecha Kucha at the National ACPA Convention in Columbus, Ohio. PechaKucha (Japanese: ペチャクチャ, IPA: [petɕa ku͍̥tɕa], chit-chat) is a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). The format, which keeps presentations concise and fast-paced, powers multiple-speaker events called PechaKucha Nights (PKNs).
My Pecha Kucha was called “Never Never Give Up: The Resiliency of Former Foster Youth” (visit the link to view the video).
I experienced something very empowering and had a “mountain top experience.” I  had the unique opportunity to live out my passion and purpose. The evening was extra special because I had two former supervisors present and two mentees present. I didn’t know then, that this precise moment would allow me to step into my future and fulfill a revolution (new chapter) in my life.
Just days ago, I returned from a conference in Henderson, Nevada. I attended a conference calledYour Real Success: Your Message, Your Brand, YOUR BOOK with Rhonda Sciortino! I have so much I want to say about this experience!!! We were a small but mighty group of women. I am so blessed because of this circle of visionaries and leaders. This retreat/conference truly impacted my message, brand and book. My purpose for going on this trip was to develop myself professionally, but I grew in confidence, self-awareness, purpose and wisdom.  A very special thanks to Diana Bowen-Moshier, Cheryl Alexander and Crystal Van Kempen-McClanahan! Thank you so much for sharing God’s love with me and your affirmations, gentle support, laughter and positive messages. I gained so much from being in your collective presence! I definitely feel called to help others step into their future!
Over the next 6 months, I will be writing My Soul-Inspired Story and Journal for Foster Youth and Survivors. During all three-days of the conference,  I gained traction to  fulfill my personal purpose; I was given tangible tools to implement practices to realistically reach my goals. I am ready!
At the last moment, I added two days to my trip and decided to visit the Grand Canyon. As I stood at the South Rim, my heart looked out over the canyon with a heart of gratitude. I saw the depths of the valleys and I was reminded about my journey in life… I survived and thrived throughout four decades of trauma, lessons, and blessings. As I stood on the mountain top, my eyes teared up.  I realized how the valley transformed my mess into my message and I will not be ashamed of my story! My life has a purpose and so does yours! Are you ready?
Join me! Learn how you can map your revolution and step into your future. Contact me at Kimberly.C.Rhyan@gmail.com or Facebook.
In closing, I am truly thankful for all of my supporters. I wouldn’t be ready for the next chapter without you. I appreciate y’all!

Self-care and so much more…at Ohio Reach’s first College Retreat!

I have attempted to keep my writing separate from my work, but this week,  my professional career and personal journey of transformation blended.

This week, we conducted a week-long conference and  inducted new Scholars (former foster youth) into the Columbus State Scholar Network. We have nearly 20 students this semester! Yesterday, Columbus State Community College also hosted the first State-wide College Retreat coordinated by William Murray IV and Ohio Reach.


Ohio Reach improves post-secondary outcomes for foster care youth and alumni through leadership, empowerment, advocacy, research and networking (L.E.A.R.N.)


Thanks to William Murray IV,  Ohio Reach had six colleges in attendance including Clark State, Cincinnati State, Ohio University, Central State University, Columbus State, and Cuyahoga Community College.

In my own words….

Yesterday, I was honored to speak about practicing self-care while also sharing my story as a former foster youth.  Self-care is so important….there have been times that I wanted to give up but did not because I implemented practices in my life that sustained me and kept me on the right track. I focused on meditation and journaling as key ways to cope with stress.  I shared specifically about my journey, not just my life in foster care. I spoke of my desire to reconcile with my biological mother and the day I introduced her to my son. I shared about my emotional path from hate to love, and ultimately about the process of developing empathy and unconditional love for my mother- who died in 2014 from brain cancer.

As I opened my heart to future leaders, I felt this amazing energy in the room and it propelled me to push through to be open and vulnerable about my journey of transformation and impact.

Over the course of my life, I never once imagined I would be working in Higher Education – and I never ever thought I would be supporting foster youth. I always ran from my identity as a foster youth. I wanted to be more than a foster kid & I believed that I would be the one person in my family to change to cycle of abuse. And when I had an unplanned pregnancy….so much of my fear and denial made me come face to face with my past; I made a promise to myself to build a better future for my son and I.

So here I am…

I am blessed to be a collaborative partner in growing the next generation of foster youth into scholar leaders; I seek to cultivate a culture of mindfulness so they can make their dreams a reality!


Today’s retreat was a reminder that no matter life’s barriers and obstacles, we can all aim higher via education,  reflection and action. All of the speakers focused on moving forward, purposefully! Speakers for the College Retreat also included, Genesis Shine and Nikki Chin (Columbus State Scholars), Rayshawn L. Wilson, “LionHeart,” and Dr. Stephanie Krah (Central State). All of the students also received 10 Ways Anyone can Graduate from College Debt-free, by Kevin Brown (former foster youth), Amazon Fire tablet and a twin-sized quilt from My Very Own Blanket.


FINALLY, I am so incredibly thankful to be a member of the Scholar Movement that is spreading across Ohio!

The challenge of compassion…and a few lessons along the way.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
― Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

Within the past year, I have been asked, “How did you find the strength and courage to love your mom?”

When I was fifteen years old, my mom gave up her parental rights to stay with the man who molested me. As a teenager, this reality broke my heart. My mother and I never had a very close relationship; I felt like a burden, rather than a blessing. I have referenced these feelings before, I felt worthless and rejected; the pain I endured, left an imprint on my life. I spent a lot of my life struggling to overcome the odds of feeling less than, rather than greater than these emotional hardships.

I worked incredibly hard to graduate college, participate in AmeriCorps, and attend graduate school; I transitioned from my own personal struggles to focusing my energy on making a difference in my community.  No matter my professional accomplishments, my heart was still fractured and all of my relationships suffered. So, when I reconnected with my mother two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Throughout life, I learned to have zero expectations; but this time, I earnestly hoped for reconciliation, but I never imagined  that we would have so little time to overcome a lifetime of ache; the challenge of compassion revealed the possibilities, including forgiveness.

All along the way, I felt an ever-present peace and abundance of hope through my faith. This abundance made itself known when I became a single mom a couple years ago. Hope was the ultimate message communicated to me and I learned that everything, is indeed possible. I was strengthened most by the people who came beside me and loved me—without judgement. God essentially prepared my heart to love my mom, by blessing my life with a child. It was through the process of becoming a mother, that I surrendered my heart to my creator. In this context, my heart was prepared for the challenge of compassionate action; this was the path to loving my mom.

My mother was adopted; as far as I know, I know she was loved, but she always felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mother came into this world feeling unloved and throughout my mom’s life,  she sought love in all the wrong places; after three marriages; she ended up very alone. Seven months ago, when my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer, I made a promise – I wanted her to know she was loved. No matter the struggle, I chose to stay and be present with my mom, offering my time (and as many milkshakes as possible)!

Loving my mom was a process and gradual evolution of my heart progressing towards loving authentically. In the beginning, I was angry and frustrated; especially when my mother refused to get the care she needed or when she refused to tell her children the truth we deserved to know. We had questions and wanted answers. Over time, I learned to shut up, let go and be open. I think that’s an enormous lesson to practice…the art of learning to listen; listening requires that I purposely let go of my agenda. It was important for me to step into her experience and feel a fraction of her ache; this didn’t excuse her from the pain she caused in my life, but my heart surrendered my resentment and hurt.  I relinquished my demands, questions and anxiety to know peace that passes all understanding. I forgave her and I believe that forgiveness set her free and helped us to understand each other better. Forgiveness didn’t erase years of disappointment and estrangement, but my pain was eased and I was able to let go and finally  love without creating conditions or rules; the process of surrendering created a safe space for love to grow.

There were other key influences in my life; I definitely drew strength from my faith and people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen. I have always had people in my life who offered their support. Their acts of kindness kept me from diving into depression, they motivated me to keep my chin up, and inspired me to accomplish my dreams.  I attended a Christian college and had mentors and volunteer experiences that changed my heart. I learned about living compassionately and love in action. Those lessons and influences are integral to the woman I am today. I experienced generosity and was inspired to pay it forward; my heart experienced growth because seeds were sewn into my life. Those folks were mostly women, who I still have connections with today; my elementary art teacher,  high school english and spanish teachers, my foster family, job  supervisors, mentors, roommates and classmates.

My heart was prepared/cMom_9onditioned for healing; whenever I found myself in the same room with my mother, I wanted to find the nearest exit. I didn’t know what I could offer, but I learned to offer simple things, like a milkshake or smile. After my mother’s diagnosis, during the first few months, whenever I sat with my mother, I saw her as a person first, and a mother last. For years I suffered a great loss, because she gave me up. There is a unique irony to our stories, because we both felt discarded, unlovable and rejected. My mom never took responsibility, she never apologized, she never acknowledged my experieinces with her understanding, until this past October. During my childhood and adolescence, she ignored my suffering and disposed of me, when she should have fought for me. This stung a thousand bee stings (and I am allergic to bees). Ultimately,  this painful cycle convinced me to be the best mother I could become; I’m thankful for my son and the lessons I have learned over the past year.  I focused on letting go and actualized forgiveness; as a result, I became my mother’s daughter; we were no longer estranged from one another. My mother and I learned how to be family once again. That transformation changed our lives forever.

Over the past two weeks, I have had time to reflect and recognize the power of moments; some of them will always be indescribable, but I’ve attempted to encapsulate them into 5 challenges/lessons; I’ve written them as as a way to honor my mom; I am thankful for the gift of transformation….

The Challenge of Compassion, #1- Approach forgiveness as an opportunity to help, rather than be helped. In the process, all hearts have the opportunity to be changed.

The Challenge of Compassion, #2- Hope despite all impossibilities; healing is possible, when you stop giving the past power over the present; forgiveness truly mends the broken-hearted; fragments are sewn into wholes, the empty spaces are filled with love.

The Challenge of Compassion, #3- Simply being present is a gift. Kindness isn’t about what we can give, but it’s about how we give- it’s about the quality of presence, not the quantity or value of many presents. The worth of our presence will always surpass everything else.

The Challenge of Compassion, #4- A small gesture of kindness can be monumental; live graciously—

The nurse who took care of my mom, came to the nursing home and was by her side during her last moments. During the past 7 months, she was very supportive to my mother.  She eased my mother’s pain with her presence; she always appeared to offer her help, especially when she wasn’t working. She made the choice to be with us. In one minute, she was getting us coffee and the next, she was listening to my mother’s last breaths. No one that morning at the nursing home took care of us. They had other things to do, I suppose. My mom’s nurse totally went out of her way, many many times and never asked for anything in return. I am so thankful for the gift of her caring presence (#3); it was beyond comforting. Since my mom passed, we have told one another, we would be friends for life.

The challenge of Compassion, #5- Don’t wait. Make time in your calendar to love without reservation. Don’t wait for the ah-ha moment when things make sense. Chances are, none of it will make sense. People don’t always make sense; cancer doesn’t make sense, but we deal with the nonsense, by doing something as simple as making time to love without reservation. We can’t say we cannot love because….we must say, “We must, we can and we will love because of HE, who entrusts us with His love—

Two years ago, I didn’t know I would lose my mom this January. I can’t change the past. Honestly,  I spent the first year and five months, being distant and reserved. I was taking baby steps, trying to play it safe; I justified my actions;. After all, I did not have a relationship with my mom for 10 years. I was careful yes, and I should have been, but looking back, I could have done more to express my desire to get to know her again. All and all, I didn’t think I was ready. And I wasn’t. But if I had pushed myself just a little, we might have had more time together in the beginning. I am very thankful for the past seven months and for what happened between us- our hearts aligned in a beautiful constellation of understanding. Courage provided the strength, but I could have done so much more.

So? Increase your measure of knowledge  by implementing these challenges in your life. Reach deep within and reach out and around, you just might feel a squeeze in return, but don’t give up, “just keep on, keeping on.”

Remembering Crispin Webb

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Tonight, I came across a flash-drive and found so many images and memories of a friend of mine, Crispin Webb; he died on Thanksgiving day, on November 23, 2006.

A few years ago, my son was born the week before Thanksgiving, so I am reminded each year of how life miraculously comes into the world, and how quickly, a loved-one can be gone from our lives. This year, I had my son’s birthday party on November 23rd; even though I didn’t write about Crispin a few weeks ago, his  memories are kept on a bookshelf in my mind,  they wait for my heart to open them…..

It’s been 7 years since he left this world to meet Jesus. I am thankful for Crispin and everything he taught me. I have keepsakes and artwork that he gave me and I cherish them, but I also cherish the way he lived his life and how he expressed his faith and beliefs; he had a radiant soul and gentle spirit.

Crispin would have turned 36 on December 12, 2013; I am posting this to remember, celebrate and honor his life and legacy. Over the past ten years, a group of artalum  (art alumni) have been hosting a silent-art auction to raise money for art scholarships; Crispin was very integral in launching artalum in 2003.  A few years ago, we named the fund, the Crispin Webb Art Endowed Scholarship.

I would like to challenge folks to remember him this year by donating $10  (or more) on December 12, 2013. A little can go a long way…and all of the proceeds will help provide scholarships for MVNU art and/or design students. The Crispin Webb Art Award is awarded to students with Senior Art Projects for the academic year, have a 2.5+ cumulative GPA, have art declared as their first major, and remain an art major for the entire academic year. Students must apply through the art department.

To learn more about Crispin or make a donation please visit MVNU’s website and make a donation online; make sure you click the drop down box “My gift is designated to” – click the drop down box and choose Endowment AND then below that is a text box “Gift to be used for” . Here you must type in Crispin Webb Art Scholarship. This will ensure you gift will go specifically towards Crispin’s fund. Thank you for keeping his legacy alive and for helping current and future art students at MVNU.

You can also google Crispin’s name! There is a beautiful tribute on wordpress and Crispin had a blog on blogspot that is still up. I hope you explore his legacy and leave comments about how he touched your life on his tribute page.

P.S. I still remember when Crispin told me that he wanted a book of his artwork to be in every library; if anyone would like to collaborate with me to work on this endeavor, let me know. I want to make this happen next year!

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Learn the facts & take action now

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In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I wanted to share this online article:

Five Facts To Remember On The UN’s International Day For The Elimination Of Violence Against Women

I did this painting (below) over three years ago, it illustrates many things, but I believe that it captures the transformational process required to heal; there is chaos and cosmos that forges a path to understanding. It’s never easy and always difficult to overcome; I do believe that survivors of violence and abuse can find healing in their lives. I hope the world becomes more aware and learns to do more than we are doing now, to take action and prevent violence from happening within our country and around the world…

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