This blog you are about to read is very raw and personal. Anyone who has ever had any type of insecurity should definitely be able to relate to this story…My Story! To really get a handle on this, it means I need to start from the beginning…
As a child I was being pulled out of classes to attend speech therapy sessions and I was constantly in and out of doctors appointments. So, I learned at a very young age that I was different from all the other little kids around me. In every school that I attended, there was no one that had Cleft Lip & Palate… EXCEPT ME!!! I felt very alone on this journey. Every year I had to attend a cleft palate clinic with the Jacksonville Cleft Lip and Palate Assn. At the visit I would see numerous doctors about 15 or so. Including the most sweetest doctor of them all Dr. John Obi. Each doctor would come in and examine me based upon their field. They did this so they could later determine what procedures would need to take place over the course of the next year. To be honest, it was a grueling process. Sure, other kids were there on clinic day but most were too shy to talk and would just stay in their rooms anyway!
As I got older into my teenage years, my life was a wreck!!! I felt so awkward… I was having sooo many surgeries and having what felt like a million “extra” teeth removed. And then… the dreaded braces. Do you know I had to wear those suckers for 8 years.. let me say this again, 8 YEARS!!! It was honestly, at this time in my life, that I was so mad at God. I couldn’t understand why he wanted me to be so ugly. My mom would always say… “Mandi, God doesn’t give us anything that we cant handle, so he must think you are one pretty tough chick.” She would say “There is a reason you are having to endure these things and it is not for us to understand … only to have faith!” I find this next one comical because she always said that one day I would be able to use my story to mentor other girls just like me! I thought to myself.. ME???? What would I have to offer anyone? I just couldn’t understand why I was having to deal with this. What is she talking about? I just wanted to be one of those carefree girls. You know, the ones that didn’t look in the mirror and think, “Well, it could be worse”. I struggled severely with my self esteem. I wouldn’t even wear lipstick because I was afraid it would draw too much attention to my face. Every time I laughed I would even cover up my mouth. I still do that out of habit …to this day!!! Funny how old habits die hard, huh? At times, I was teased so badly that going to school felt like torture. Good thing I had a few friends that didn’t mind sticking up for me! Whew! Without them, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it! Anyway, it was at this time in my life that I was trying to figure out who I was and what was I about…. more importantly, I needed to decide if I was going to let this facial deformity define who I was. My parents always taught me to take the negative and turn it into a positive. “Look at the glass half full.” However, this is ALWAYS easier said than done! But I was determined to NOT let it stop me from reaching my goals! I fought so hard to Not be known as Mandi, that girl with the messed up lip, that I didn’t even realize I was actually becoming that person who was helping other girls around me. Helping them to be defined by who they truly are and what they have to offer and not by their own insecurities!
And that is exactly what I plan to accomplish with the Just For Grins Foundation!!!
I first started this foundation because I wanted to help create awareness. Then I realized there was an even deeper need to help girls connect with other girls who were facing the exact same obstacles in their own lives. I’m talking about a support system… full of girls who know first hand the daily challenges of being born with “CLP”. Having a family, and even friends, that support you is a MUST, but there is just something extraordinarily comforting about being able to share your thoughts and concerns with someone who is walking down that same path along side you… or better yet, has already finished that walk and can help guide you through the obstacles you may face on your journey! I have found that establishing these connections, allows us to gain strength from one another and it also gives us the boost of confidence SO DESPERATELY needed. Who can better understand your pain, than someone who has already overcome the very obstacles in life that you will ultimately face yourself? As I previously stated, since I found that I was the only one through all my years in school with “CLP”, loneliness had been no stranger to me. I found this to be a common theme in Jacksonville. This is why I made the decision to change that, and created an event known as the “4 G Event”!
The 4 G Event *Girls*Glitz*Glam*Gab*
Here’s a clip of last years event: http://www.firstcoastnews.com/news/local/story.aspx?storyid=204999
The purpose of this event was to get girls together to offer a self esteem/motivational workshop with them. On this day, these ladies get make overs, including hair and makeup, and a professional photo shoot. I wanted to give these ladies one day that they could feel like the princesses they are! I also used this time to have small groups, where we discussed daily obstacles that each girl may be currently facing. In these groups they learned that they weren’t alone in their struggles and were able to lean on one another for support and encouragement. Remember, I felt so alone on this journey growing up and I learned that day, that these girls felt the exact same way! My mission to change the status quo begins here.
My heart longed to see girls who were going through these self esteem challenges find strength and acceptance, along with a few friends to draw support from. I wanted girls who were in those rough ages, where all the “normal” kids were at their least compassionate stage. However, after my first 4G Event, it became clear to me that the challenges started much sooner and if we could catch these girls at an earlier age, and get them connected sooner to their support system, we could alter the course of their lives forever thus, reversing the insecurity process and increasing the impact they will forever have on their friends, families and communities!!! Sounded like a huge undertaking and an extremely long term commitment, but since I was up for the challenge, gaining the support of my friends, family and community would prove to be one of my most rewarding challenges yet.
My ultimate goal is to develop an after school recreational facility where kids can come to receive routine check ups, connect with friends and find necessary resources. Not only would they be able to maintain friendships, but they would be able to establish new ones. They would be inspired and encouraged to share their fears and their struggles with each new friend, but gain hope and strength as they hear the fears and struggles of others. I would also hope to provide things like hearing tests and speech therapy and even classes that will help these children get a fresh perspective on their lives. I believe it is imperative in their growth and development process. The main objective is to afford these children the opportunity to form relationships in a non-judgmental, non-critical and a non-threatening environment. I believe this is the first and MOST important step to changing their future!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read as I continue on this journey!!! Feel free to comment and share your story… you never know who it just might touch! I would be so honored if you would click like on the Just For Grins Foundation Facebook page and share with your friends and family. Your support is greatly appreciated and if you would like more information on how you can volunteer your time, resources or simply make a donation, you can contact me through this website or our Facebook page. Our next 4G Event will be held on June 24, 2012 at the Paul Mitchell School- Town Center.