The Women Shaping Coastal Alabama In 2019
Our Southern Souls tells the stories of women in all stages of life and we are recognizing some who have made a difference in Coastal Alabama this year. Over the next few weeks, we are presenting our second annual list of “The Women Shaping Coastal Alabama.”
***Tiffany Reed, Mother
“I have five kids. Four girls and a boy. I had my first child when I was 14 and got married at 16. I wasn’t ready, but I had to grow up quick. My mother was on drugs and wasn’t around. I was my brother and sister’s mother, too. I was five years old standing on a chair making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because there was no one else to take care of us. Mother has been my role my whole life and it is an instinct for me. I am a survivor by the grace of God. I taught my kids there are consequences to sex and not do what I did. They are choosing careers and college. One of my daughters is about to enter the nursing program at South and another is a dental hygienist. My son is graduating from high school and about to start at UAB. I broke the cycle because I don’t my kids to endure the abuse or neglect I went through. It has been a journey to get here, but I am so proud. There is hope and light at the end of a dark childhood.”
***Maura Coley, mother and owner of We Rock the Spectrum, a sensory-smart outlets and activities for children of all abilities
“I was in a wreck when I was 17 and a senior in high school. It was raining and I hydroplaned and was thrown from the car. When I landed, I broke my back and I have been in a wheelchair ever since. I lived Atlanta and was fortunate to go to the Shepherd Center where they were ahead of the curve in understanding life after wheelchair. They believe anything is possible, including a normal life. I was in a group environment with others going through the same recovery. I went to the University of Illinois to college and where they have one of the largest wheelchair sports programs. I was an athlete and played basketball, soccer, track, swimming, and cheerleading, so I jumped into wheelchair sports. I met many good people with disabilities who helped me through. Physical fitness helped a lot. The stronger I got the more confident I became and I started having fun again. I learned how to have the normal life I wanted. It was a hard struggle but I had so much love and support. This was also at a time when people with disabilities were hidden from view. I was the only person I had ever met in a wheelchair. This should be a world where people with all disabilities are in it.
God has given me a spirit of hope and positivity. I have also been blessed with children and a husband who never thought my disability would hold us back as a couple. I knew him in high school and was driving to meet him at a football game on the night of the accident. He visited me in the hospital, but I told him I wasn’t ready for dating or anything. It would be a long time before I was ready. We met again when I was 33. I was out with my sister on a Friday night. He walked in the door and up to us. He got my number and we were engaged three months later. Neither one of us had been married.
There was once a time when I thought everything was so much easier when I could walk. That is gone now and the wheelchair is second nature. I have the same worries every mom has. I don’t have enough time. I lost my patience or could have done something better. I just want to watch my kids grow up happy and become the amazing people I see in them. I want to grow old with my husband and have many more adventures with him.”
***Molly Thomas, musician
“I grew up listening to the Delta blues. My first concert was Willie Nelson with my dad who grew up on a small farm in Woodville, Mississippi. Their property backed up to Kaigler’s Bottom, where the black people lived. His house had no air conditioning so he slept with the windows open and listened to the music coming up from the Bottom late at night. My dad grew up poor, but my mother was the daughter of a university president. She started the Mississippi Boys Choir. My grandmother studied classical music at Columbia and she was a big influence on me. I often question my journey because it is hard being a musician but I keep getting lured back because it has always been a part of me. Music has always been a part of my family.
Most days I a comfortable with who I am. The things that once devastated me are now things I can work through. 2019 has been a great year and it feels good to let the past go. My favorite quote from my mother is ‘it takes a lot of living to learn to live’. I understand that much more now.
The album’s name, Honey’s Fury, is possessive and I am Honey. Bees create chaos and out of the bitter comes the sweet. Out of the fury in my life came honey and the sweet. I had good family and friends and the tools to pick myself up. I am very grateful for this outlet to write and create music from my pain. It has also become like a ministry giving a voice to others going through the same thing. I want to write songs that people can heal from, even if it is years later. I believe in the power of music.”
***Custodians at Old Shell Magnet School
“I worked in the cafeteria for 25 years and retired last year. I can’t leave this Old Shell Road Magnet School. I do the morning care and keep the children in the evening times. I come in early, make the coffee, and do anything they need me to do during the day. I love the kids and the environment is so good. The children learn better in an environment of love. We tie shoes and fix shirts and belts all day. They know we are going to take care of them and not hurt them. My best friend and I cook the whole meal for Thanksgiving lunch. All parents and grandparents are invited. We fed 900 last year. I made 18 pans of homemade dressing.”
“I take pride in cleaning the school right and good. If we don’t care, who would? The little ones don’t know any better. We want to make them comfortable. The parents get used to seeing us around and they respect us. They don’t treat us like custodians and whatever they do for the teachers, they do for us. They help us clean up, too. The kids get brooms and try to help. They try to share their birthday treats with us. This job isn’t for everyone and there are some days we don’t feel like cleaning up, but we do it with a smile anyway.”
“I run into some kids at the store and around town and they are so glad to see me. Kids always ask if I remember them. Oh, baby, I remember you too. Some of the guys are way up in the air today and I have to look up to them. The kids at our school are so smart. If we see them being a little mischievous we have an eye on them and talk to them about it. We are mamas first and all have grown children we are proud of.”
“These kids love us and we love them like they are our own. That is the moral of the story.”
***Emma Field, student, restaurant server, animal lover
”I work at Panini Pete’s and Sunset Pointe. I like being close to the beach where the ocean is moving and you can smell it. Moving cross country from Colorado was hard because of getting rid of everything and starting over. I am into fate and everything happens for a reason. I believe one little thing you do today can affect what happens in the future. Think of all of the things in the past that lined up for you to be here right now.
I like to come out here every morning and visit GiG. I draw her and read to her. We are on chapter seven of Alice in Wonderland. My mom and I started coming to the duck pond and established a friendship with Garfield, GiGi’s boyfriend, and were heartbroken when he disappeared. After that, we noticed GiGi wasn’t eating and was becoming antisocial. Someone said GiGi was like a woman waiting for her husband to return home from war. I am trying to be a friend to her.
I like to pen pal. I have pen pals from Nebraska, Florida, Maine, Germany, France, China, and Hong Kong. It is fun to get outside of your bubble and get to know people from other cultures and backgrounds. One of my pen pals writes the letters in Korean on one side and the translation on the other. Just think how many miles those letters come to get to my post office box. ‘Have courage and be kind.’ I love that quote from Cinderella. I like helping people and want to be a physical therapy assistant or work with an animal rehabilitation center. I also want to be in the Peace Corps.”
***Christian Killings, RN and visionary
“I was a single mom for ten years and had three kids. I got pregnant when I was in high school and my life went down from there. I lived in public housing was on food stamps. I grew up in a two-parent home with a father who had his own business and provided well for our family. The way I was living was not how I was raised. My family loved me anyway and they were the only people who didn’t judge me. People see you using food stamps and think the worst of you. I didn’t want to depend on the government but I didn’t know how I was going to make it. Public housing and food stamps were the stepping stones that helped me out. My daughter was diagnosed with cancer when she was two. She is 12 now and in remission. After all of the doctor visits with my daughter and the miracles we had with her, I wanted to become a nurse and care for others going through hard times. I also wanted better for my kids. It was going to be hard to get there from where I was.
I created a vision board with pictures of where I wanted my life to go so I could have goals and a vision. There were pictures of a nurse in a uniform, a house, a car, a bank account, a husband with a job, a wedding, and a family. There were days I was so down that I didn’t want to wake up. The vision board became the reason to get up and every day I prayed for them. I got pregnant and that set me back a year. Slowly the vision board came to pass. I became an LPN. I got a car. I thought finding the right man would be hard because what man would marry me with three kids? My best friend introduced me to a friend of his and that was it. We connected from the day we met in December and married in March. I had been in domestic violence relationships and he took all of the pieces of my heart and put them back together. We have been married for a year. He treats me like a queen,
My husband made his own vision board and put twins on it. I tried to fold it up and lose it. He wants to be a preacher, so he put preacher on his. I made a new board and put preacher’s wife and RN on mine. I also put music notes on mine because I want to join the choir and sing a solo. We put a house on both of our boards, too. All of these things will come to pass. I believe he is going to get those twins. I learned not to fret over the small things in life. The trials and tribulations are so hard for single mothers trying to raise kids and make it on their own. Don’t give up, you are going to make it.”
***Jackie McMillan, artist
“I got Sepsis ten years ago. It was an overreaction to an infection in my body and made my vital organs want to shut down. It happened so fast. I was a restaurant manager at O’Charley’s. I couldn’t go to work one day and passed out. They took me to the hospital where doctors shut off circulation to other body parts to keep me alive. I woke up with no hands and no legs. I am a quadruple amputee. I was 35 at the time and it was months before I came to. I just wanted to get back to work. I was a determined person and very independent. I still am. I tried to go back to the restaurant business but that didn’t work. I met my husband online and we married two years ago. I started making these wooden flowers. I made the flowers for our wedding and catered our wedding. I work from home and use a cuff and a bamboo stick to make the flowers. It is intense work and the flowers are very delicate. I love designing them and making them as real as possible. I have only been in business for a year, but I now do custom designs and weddings. These flowers make people happy and it is all I want to do. The name is Love by JM and the motto is share the love. These are hands-free crafts made with love.
***Alexandra Pinzone, Air Force Reservist and owner of Evelyn Bay Boutique
“I am in the Air Force Reserve and was supposed to be leaving on deployment in Southeast Asia in March. I was active duty for four years in have been in the reserves for five. I was looking forward to this deployment and quit my job and put everything in storage. They called it off a week before I was supposed to go on orders. I started applying for a new job and nothing was happening. I drove past this building on Joachim Street in April and saw the sign. A week later, I signed the lease and opened Evelyn Bay Boutique a month ago. Life changes fast.
I went to Murphy High School and decided to go into the Air Force the summer before my senior year. No one in my family had ever served. I wanted to be a part of something that made an impact on the world. Every day during my senior year I went back and forth between going and not going. I went and it changed my life. I had no idea how strong I was. You can do anything for 10 seconds. Then you go to the next 10 seconds and the next 10 seconds and it becomes a day, a month, a year. On the cap at the end of my bed, someone wrote in maker ‘Take everything a moment at a time.’ I held on to that. You can’t look at it as eight more weeks of basic training, you survive the minutes.
Making a difference is my goal. My parents once had pizza restaurants at the Holiday Inn and where Buck’s Pizza is today. Downtown Mobile is growing so much and I wanted to be a part of it. Having a boutique had always been in the back of my head Clothes are an empowerment tool for women. It means a lot when you can put something on and feel like you can take on the world. I try to stay as reasonable as possible with prices.
Evelyn was my great-grandmother. This boutique encompasses the strength of the women in my family. Opening this store was such a risk. What if no one likes my style or clothes? I have been surprised by how supportive and positive people have been to me. I want to have some kind of club with women to get them together once a month. Eventually, I want to give women clothing who need it and help them dress for an interview or important events in their lives. I want this store to help make Mobile a little better.”
***Holly Kraus, artist
“Everything I do is upcycled from trash pile finds. I live differently than most people and make uses of things others toss away. I don’t have air conditioning and haven’t had a TV in six years. I don’t require much so I can live simply and do art full time. My mother and two sisters are artists. Mobile is supportive of the arts and the people have been good to me. If I need something, I post it on Facebook and people drop it on my porch. I trade art for work on my car or ways other people help me. I can’t afford tickets for music shows and sometimes trade artwork with the venue for a ticket. Or I am a sober driver and will drive a group for a ticket. I have been doing that since I was 17 when I was pregnant and couldn’t party like everyone else. When you are poor you do what you have to do. I have nothing, I am not ashamed or embarrassed. I like the freedom and live this way by choice.