March 8th was International Women’s Day, and Vita is proud to celebrate the dedicated women who lead our agency’s efforts as program directors. Kathy White, Karina Wegelius, and Gail Huber have given Vita years of faithful service, and together have helped Vita grow and expand to better serve the community. It’s no secret that nonprofit work often involves long hours, so what motivates them to put in the work?
“The first time I taught was while I was in Haiti,” says Kathy, Director of Literacy and High School Programs. While she initially went to help residents establish self-sufficient agriculture, it became clear that many of the Haitians she was working with needed to learn to read and write so that they could record information and organize effectively. Seeing a job that needed doing, Kathy soon found herself teaching. When she returned to the United States, she pursued a Master’s degree, and that eventually led her to Vita.
Asked what keeps her going, Kathy cites the students and teachers she works with. Many students face difficult life circumstances, “but they don’t let things beat them down,” she notes. “They keep moving forward, they keep things in perspective and focus on the good and what they can do.” Among her teachers, Kathy sees a similar persistence, as many are dedicated to service. Recalling a former teacher, Kathy remarks, “She gave honest feedback, but she had compassion.”
Karina, Director of ESL Programs, also looks to her students for inspiration. “They juggle so many responsibilities. The women in Family Literacy have multiple children, sometimes jobs, but they show resiliency and resourcefulness.” Karina recalls one mother who went through the Family Literacy program and ESL. She hadn’t finished elementary school in her own country, but she was determined to learn now that she had the opportunity, even while working two jobs. That attitude helps inspire Karina to keep going, too.
Gail is Director of Cognitive Skills Programs and works with men and women in the county jail. Like Kathy and Karina, it is the people she works with who inspire her to continue. “They’re almost all in the program because they want to be,” she notes. “They’re engaged, motivated.” Teaching cognitive behavioral skills is special, Gail says. “It’s very positive, hopeful. You’re helping people overcome their issues and reach their goals. They realize that even in jail, they have choices, and that’s freeing.”
Some might expect her clients to be very different, but Gail finds the opposite. They are people just like everyone else, and they want the same things as everyone else: a good home, their children to be healthy and happy, a job that will support their family. Gail remembers one past client, a healthcare professional who was jailed due to addiction. “She was worried for another inmate, one having mental health problems,” explains Gail, who has degrees and experience in Psychology. “As she talked about it I could see she was smart, really perceptive. She was able to diagnose the problem and explain, and I could tell she knew what she was talking about. After she got out, she started advocating for people with mental illness.”
Vita thanks our Program Directors for their hard work and for sharing their insights. We also want to recognize the other women who are part of our programs – whether they are refugees or American-born, employees or volunteers, students or supporters. Community service is about people, and we are privileged to know amazing, wonderful people.