Thursday, November 14, 2013

Surprises

Everyone loves a good surprise, right?! Well this past week has been filled with surprises. Let me give you a little background information first...so, several weeks back I'd seen a clip on the news as I was getting ready for the day - one of the local news stations did a spot called "Excellent Educator" where they popped into an unsuspecting teacher's class and awarded them the "Excellent Educator" title for that week. Not gonna lie, the segment I saw made me cry - it was about an art teacher who had been nominated by a former student {who's now an adult}. This former student had been significantly impacted by this teacher and he wrote a very touching nomination letter. I quickly dried my tears and headed out the door to accomplish the flurry of activity I had on the agenda for the day. But all day long I kept being reminded of that news segment I'd seen. There was someone I know who has been such an inspiration to our family and has really walked with our family as we've sought to be an advocate for individuals with special needs. Her name is Jenny Hill, and she's the media specialist at our kid's school.

The next morning, I sat down, reflected on the past few years as we've gotten to know Ms. Hill better and I wrote this nomination letter:

Hello,

My name is Aimee Libby and I have two kids who attend St. Michael Elementary (STME) in St. Michael, MN. My oldest child (Peyton) has special needs from an injury at birth, and is in 3rd grade at STME. Peyton struggles with Expressive & Receptive Language Disorder and Global Apraxia (both neurological planning/processing disorders). We have been at STME for three years, and while we have met and interacted with countless amazing staff members there both in the regular ed and SPED classrooms, there's one person in particular who has had a huge impact on our family – and who is making a HUGE impact on our entire community. Her name is Jenny Hill. She is the Media Specialist at STME, and she was born at 29 weeks gestation with Cerebral Palsy. The very first week our daughter, Peyton, was at STME, she came home raving about "Miss Hill". I had no idea who she was, so I looked her up on the school staff directory online. I remember thinking, "Weird, she's just the librarian". When my husband and I asked Peyton why she liked Miss Hill so much, her response was, "She's different. Like me." Little did we know that Ms. Hill was very actively teaching so much more than simply how to check out a book.

Over the past few years, we've gotten to know Miss Hill and have been amazed at what a great asset she is to STME and to our community. She's very open with the kids about her disability. In talking with her, we have been so encouraged to hear her mission as an educator - to make sure every student knows they are loved, appreciated, and respected. I once asked her how she's able to so freely discuss her disability after having such a difficult time growing up, feeling as though she was alone and without any friends. I know for myself, it's often difficult to talk about or explain my daughter's disability to others, but Jenny does it with grace and ease. Her response blew me away, she said, "I have seen that sharing my story has the power to provide hope, inspiration, and encouragement to others who are struggling". Wow.

About a year and a half ago I helped start a Special Olympics team here in St. Michael-Albertville…and Jenny has been one of our biggest fans! She invited my daughter and I to be a part of the daily "morning news" at STME during "Acceptance Week" last April to help inform the kids what Special Olympics is all about, she has helped promote fundraisers for our team, she has also been doing an amazing job encouraging kids to look beyond people's disability (whether physical or cognitive). Through sharing her story and being transparent to both students and staff at her building, she's trailblazing a beautiful path for all current and future students with special needs/disabilities to walk down – one that is filled with cheerleaders along the way and even friends walking ON that path with them, hand-in-hand. Jenny is promoting acceptance, but more importantly, she is working so very hard to teach each student she comes in contact with that "different" is good. Because deep down, we're all "different" in one way or another.

We can't say enough good things about Miss Hill! And we'd love for her to be recognized for all that she's doing (much of which she probably doesn't even realize) simply by being herself and being open with everyone regarding her disability. She is truly one in a million and we're so lucky to have her at STME!

Thanks for your time and consideration!

Sincerely,
Aimee Libby
Honestly, after I sent my nomination letter off, I didn't think much about it...until I got a frantic phone call from our kid's school one afternoon. I answered the phone thinking, "Great, someone's sick", but instead I was met with the Principal's voice as she excitedly screamed, "AIMEE, WCCO IS COMING TOMORROW TO PRESENT JENNY HILL WITH THE AWARD YOU NOMINATED HER FOR!!!". Oh the excitement! The Principal went on to insist that both myself and my husband make plans to be there for the big surprise. We adjusted our schedules and made it happen. One other cool detail – my husband happens to work in the same district as Jenny's mom {who we've also gotten to know a bit}, so he made arrangements for someone to cover her classroom that morning so she could be a part of the fun! The next day we arrived at school, both of our kids were pulled from class, Jenny's mom Christine snuck in the side door so she wasn't seen, and we met up with the news crew in the school office. Then it was time – time to march down the hall to the media center. It was pretty exciting...almost as if we were going to inform someone they'd won the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes {my Grandpa Pete was confident every time a PCH postcard came in the mail that HE was the winner...sadly, never happened}  – only better! :)

Here's what happened next:



What a fun thing to be a part of! After the excitement of the day died down a bit, I got a call from Jenny saying thanks and asking if she could share the letter I wrote about her with some people. I told her oh sure, no problem! It never ceases to amaze me how God uses something you think of as fairly insignificant to impact others. It was just a letter...but Jenny's pastor {Steve Wiens} saw something in it that he felt warranted a spot in his sermon this past Sunday at Church of the Open Door {feel free to skip to about the 20 minute mark if you don't have time to listen to the whole sermon – although I highly recommend listening, it's a GREAT sermon}:

November 10, 2013 An Unlikely Joy from Church of the Open Door on Vimeo.

Yesterday Jenny tagged me on Facebook when she posted her latest blog post...I read it, and again smiled, amazed at how God was using a measly letter to have a ripple effect. Jenny also mentioned that she's passed on "the letter" to be used over at the United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota blog. My prayer is that God continues to use Jenny to spread His hope and love to those she comes in contact with – I know this is just the beginning, and I'm excited to watch how He uses her from here on out!


Jenny, you're an inspiration to SO many, and I'm blessed to call you my friend! Thank you for everything that you are to our family. We so enjoy our Saturdays/Sundays when you're able to join us for a service at our church...and then there's always a meal afterwards if Peyton has anything to say about it! :) Thank you for wrapping your arms around our kids and loving them. Thank you for not missing a beat when Peyton insists that you head upstairs to her bedroom to sit on the floor and play cards {I know that's not the most comfortable spot for you}. Thank you for not being phased by Peyton's often very personal questions about your disability. Thank you for being such an awesome cheerleader for our newly formed Special Olympics team - it means so much to see you involved with each fundraiser we have! Thank you for being you, and being open and honest about your disability so that others can learn the best way to interact with and love on others who struggle with disabilities. We love you, Jenny! And although it may have come as a surprise to you, you are respected and valued by countless others beyond just the Libby family! God really created something special when He created you.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  • Jeremiah 29:11 •

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Every Heart Needs A Home



Hey Friends!

Hope your November is off to a great start! Quick question for you - did you know November is Adoption Awareness month? Super cool. And remember my friends Heidi & Andy? Well, as they wait for baby #3 to arrive via adoption, they're also pursuing a dream to help educate others about the beauty of adoption - in a pretty cool way. They've launched a t-shirt campaign and are selling t-shirts with the hope to spread the word. I have to say, the shirts are pretty cool...but not nearly as cool as the message these shirts are sending to each person who sees them.

Take a peek...

Here's the catch, though - they need to have at least 50 shirts ordered in order for the fundraising company to print them. So, if you'd like to join them in their mission to help spread the word about adoption you can go here to purchase a shirt...only $15, what a steal!!

Thanks in advance for supporting Heidi & Andy - we'll be sure to update you as soon as God is ready for them to bring baby #3 home. We're all anxiously waiting!!

"And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world."  John 11:52
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