STARS – Igniting Their Own Light and Energy

Shining STAR Galynn Lindemann

It’s Never Too Late…..You’re Never Too Old

By Bette Price

By all accounts Galynn Lindemann was a successful woman business owner.  In the early 1980’s she took the concept of artificial nails (acrylic nails) to Europe and for seven years operated several spas and salons throughout Holland before selling the business and returning home to Wichita Falls, Texas.   There she re-established her business until her life suddenly took a dramatic turn.

In the spring of 2001 Galynn was diagnosed with Cancer and was immediately scheduled for surgery.  The follow-up treatment required daily pumps of nuclear medicine at a cost of $1,000 a day.  “It depleted all my funds,” said Galynn.  “I had to sell the business; I lost everything I had.”  It was an emotionally, physically and financially draining time for Galynn.  But the goal, of course, was recovery—remission.  Beyond that, was uncertainty.   Then one day during a check-up the doctor told her that although she was not yet in remission, she was looking good.  “You need to do something to keep your mind busy,” he urged.  “Like go to college.”

Without a college education she had built a successful business, but life was different now.  Having gone through her own life-threatening situation, Galynn was determined that if she was going to do anything with whatever time she had left on earth, it would be to help others; to do something meaningful.  So, one day after she found out her Cancer was in remission, she headed 100 miles from her home to Texas Women’s University,  because TWU was known to have a premier social work program.  There she interviewed with Dr. Linda Marshall and made application to begin pursuing a degree in social work.  During the next two weeks she looked for an apartment and from there, as she says, “the rest is history.”

At age 46, Galynn’s life was starting over.  And did it ever.  She completed her degree within two years and nine months and graduated magna cum laude in May of 2006.  But to get there, she needed help.  That’s where Empowering Women as Leaders (EWL) came into her life.

During her senior year Galynn had student loans and was just surviving.  She had an internship but couldn’t work during the internship, so she needed financial help.  EWL was in its first year of existence.  Being a new non-profit that had formed its first relationship with TWU, it had intended to start out by providing one scholarship.  But when they met Galynn and heard her incredible restart story, it became clear that they simply had to give scholarships to two deserving women—Vanessa White and Galynn Lindemann.  Thus, at age 48, Galynn became one of EWL’s first scholarship recipients which enabled her to complete her senior year.

“I’ve always had a sense of pride for being one of the first recipients,” she says.  And she praises EWL for its unusual benefit of also providing mentoring as part of its scholarship.  “Without EWL I don’t think I would have had the support,” she says because her mentors were “priceless” when she needed help.   “You can bounce things off them when you’re green as grass.  They look at things through an experienced set of eyes.  They believe in you.  They make you feel like you matter and for that I am always indebted.  They are so invested.  That just doesn’t happen; that sense of genuineness.  You can’t make that up.”

It was in part the mentoring that enabled Galynn to pursue her new dream she says, noting that her mentor was wonderful about supporting her pursuing a dream but also encouraged her to pursue a higher education to achieve that dream.  Thus, not only did Galynn earn her Bachelor’s degree, immediately after graduating she started an MBA program.  Since then she has become a licensed social worker, earned a Masters in Business Administration from TWU, earned a Masters in Social Work from Texas A&M, and became certified in Conflict Resolution.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, she decided she wanted to learn about forensic social work so she became certified by the American College of Forensic Examiners in 2011 and at the same time became a Board Certified therapist (professional counselor) through the American Psychotherapy Association.   Then in 2013 she began to pursue a doctorate in social work but ran out of money so she had to temporarily put that on hold.

This amazing woman, now 60,  uses all of her education as a social work professor.  Actually she is the head of the social work department of a small tribal college that serves 200 students in Ft. Trotten, North Dakota for the Spirit Lake Dakota People (Nation).  She lives in a small town of only 350 people, which is 40 miles from the college and happily drives the route every day because she loves her job.  She doesn’t even mind the freezing winter weather of North Dakota.  On the day she did this interview she let it be known that the temperature was -10 degrees with a wind chill of -22.  But she loves it there.  And it appears that they love her.

So, yes.  Life does begin at any age and any stage.  And you’re never too old—it’s never too late.  Just ask Galynn Lindemann.  She’s living proof that it’s true.

Galynn Lindemann

  • Graduated, May 2006

  • Texas Woman’s University

  • Magna Cum Laude

“Without EWL I don’t think I would have had the support,”

  • Licensed social worker

  • Masters in Business Administration, TWU

  • Masters in Social Work,
    Texas A&M

  • Certified in Conflict Resolution

  • Certified by the American College of Forensic Examiners

  • Board Certified therapist (professional counselor) – American Psychotherapy Association

Shining STAR Helaine Smith

Through Education, A Way to Make a Difference and Give Back

By Bette Price

Helaine Smith’s ultimate goal is to become a lawyer so she can help victims of family abuse find a better life the way she did. She’s not quite there yet, but she’s on the final stretch with plans to take her LSAT in January of 2020. Passing that will be her ticket to acceptance into law school, her ultimate educational goal. Her journey hasn’t been easy, but what she’s accomplished so far is amazing.

As a child, Helaine suffered unimaginable abuse, to the point of near death at the hands of a stepmother, always while her father wasn’t at home. The final time involved the stepmother trying to put Helaine into hot scalding water, one of the forms of abuse that had been tried previously. “The situation was so horrendous that I mentally checked out,” Helaine said. “When I woke up I had no memories other than trying to get away from her. This happened in the morning and when I woke up, it was nighttime. I had no memory of a 13 hour span of time.”

With her father eventually home and realizing what had happened he asked Helaine where she would like to go. “I said I wanted to go to my aunts and was taken to my aunt who nursed me. I had second-degree burns over a good majority of my body. I still have a lot of memory lapses about what happened during the time I was taken care of by her.”

Helaine says she was raised at a time when children didn’t speak up. “I was raised that the adult is always right. So when I went through it [the abuse], it didn’t happen when my dad was in the home so I just didn’t say anything about it.” Fortunately, at age ten she was removed from the abusive situation and taken to her aunts.

It took many years of dealing with the after affects of her child abuse and eventually she did seek therapy. “It’s kind of like PTSD,” she said. “I didn’t want the abuse to define me nor did I want it to stop me. Once I got stronger and found myself again, my desire to protect and educate became overwhelming. So for me, the purpose of becoming an attorney is that I want to protect children. I feel that as a child I didn’t speak up. I think of myself with a gag on my mouth and not saying anything but with everything inside of me screaming, ‘this can’t be right, why am I going through this?’. I think I’m that voice of many children that don’t know how to speak up or they’re afraid no one will believe them or they’re afraid of what will happen to the adults that they tell on.”

Helaine says it’s been back and forth struggles as she has tried to achieve her goal—one she is still working on. “I feel like the child abuse I went through created a pattern which I don’t think people understand. It created a pattern of abuse with me where I was more passive. It makes you kind of a sitting duck for an abusive person because that becomes your normalcy. It becomes something that isn’t outside of the normal if it happens to you.”

As a result, Helaine went though numerous dating situations that were violent. “I was raped, I was kidnapped, and I was held at gunpoint. But I eventually got out of the situations because I think I was smart enough and the fear became stronger than the love of the man that I was with. I did love him, but I was afraid of him and that fear became the strength that I needed to get away from him.”

Helaine said she began to learn the patterns of abusive men. Once she got stronger she once again found herself with a desire to protect and educate. “I always wanted to go to college but there were so many things going on in my life. My goal was to get a degree,” so at age 52 she enrolled in Texas Woman’s University (TWU) in a pre-law program, a combination of government, criminal justice and law.

“I got a scholarship through TWU and six months later I got an email saying I qualified for this scholarship, to fill out the application.” Once she made it past that phase she had a phone interview. “I kept thinking to myself, ah, I’m not going to get it.” But then she was asked to do a face-to-face interview and during that time she was asked if she would be interested in being mentored. That was a pleasant surprise to her. “I’m 52 and I’ve never had anyone mentor me,” she said. But it was all part of the EWL scholarship and to Helaine’s delight, “They called and said I was selected.”

While the scholarship was very appreciated, it was the mentoring for Helaine that really meant a lot. “I’d really never had someone I could look up to that had the same drive and ambition that I had. So the mentoring piece meant everything to me. I was matched up with Mary O’Connor who’s been an attorney for 30 some years. She’s not very much older than me but she went to school a long, long time ago. “ The relationship made a tremendous difference to Helaine and she says that they are still friends. “She was the person that wrote my recommendation letter for me. She also knows how much I’m driven and she knows my goals. And, she’s also really been engaged with me in my LSAT studies.”

At age 54 Helaine graduated from TWU. She’s not yet in the legal field but she uses her degree to do regulatory compliance work. “I work with audit examiners and I’m not in the legal field per se but I work in compliance which is kind of in the vein of the legal field in technology.”

Unwilling to give up her dream, Helaine is currently back in school studying for an MBA in business analytics. Passing the LSAT is what determines whether she will be accepted into law school—the next step for which she is aiming.

“I never felt like I was someone who would get a degree. I thought I’d struggle with it. Probably because when I was in high school I had so many other things I struggled with. I didn’t know I was doing as well as I was until EWL. After EWL I was motivated to finish strong, and I did. I finished with all As in my last semester. EWL gave me the justification—hey, you’re smart, you’re doing something phenomenal, holding a 3.4 GPA and working a fulltime job.

“I don’t celebrate my wins enough. EWL helps me do that. “ Helaine also wanted to be sure to include just how difficult it is go to a four-year university at a later age. “That’s no small fete,” she said. “For me to go back and get over that fear, I would also say that it’s important to understand that EWL supports that and is an encouragement for that. It’s good to know that someone is honoring you for making a decision that is out of the box. You’re not a commuter you’re an adult learner. For EWL, to be that support means everything to me. EWL gave me the confidence I need to know I belonged here, that I can still leave a mark.”

There’s little doubt that Helaine Smith is leaving her mark wherever she goes and if past determination and accomplishments are any indication, she’ll likely pass that LSAT and we’ll soon be seeing her living out her dream in family court.

Helaine Smith

  • Graduated, December 2018

  • Texas Woman’s University

“EWL gave me the confidence I need to know I belonged here, that I can still leave a mark.”

EWL STAR Jessica Nakos

It’s Never Too Late to Fulfill Your Childhood Dreams

By Bette Price

Jessica Nakos always knew that she wanted to teach, but for many years she lacked the confidence to pursue her dreams. “I grew up with an abusive father and had a lot of negative relationships before I was fortunate enough to meet and marry my current husband,” Jessica explains. Without that confidence it was difficult for Jessica to see accomplishing the future she dreamed of.

After a divorce and finding herself the single parent of three children, Jessica worked multiple jobs for eight years just to try to make ends meet. She describes them as “all jobs you can work without a degree.” Jobs like customer service for a bank, an administrative assistant and even selling cars at CarMax. She also spent one year without her kids. “They were with their dad so I could work multiple jobs and save up money so I could get an apartment and they could come back and live with me in Dallas,” she explained. Somehow she made it through those difficult years and eventually met a man to whom she later married.

Once Jessica remarried she was able to enroll in college. But things weren’t easy. “I was in school fulltime and my husband and I were newly married,” she said. “Together the two of us had five children.” Jessica had two daughters and a son from her previous marriage and her husband had two daughters from his previous marriage. It wasn’t always easy juggling a blended family. “My husband was the only one working so it was kind of a very tough situation for us.”

With Jessica now enrolled in college, the family moved to Denton and looked for a home close enough to schools that the children could walk to school. “We didn’t have enough vehicles for everybody and my husband needed the car to get to work. I had to ride my bike to school.” It was during this period of time that Jessica applied for an EWL scholarship and received it.

“It [the scholarship] was fantastic,” she says. “Obviously it helped me somewhat financially, but it wasn’t just the financial aspect. It was being paired with a mentor and having a group of people who understood your history, your struggles and challenges and appreciated that and celebrated that and helped you along the way and gave you confidence.

“I have a very interesting back story history,” she adds, referring to her difficult childhood, being raised with an abusive father. “It doesn’t necessarily come out during the time period that I got the scholarship, but a lot of it impacted my applying for that scholarship and trying to get some support going into an educational process that I wasn’t sure about and didn’t have the confidence in myself to do.”

Jessica says that being associated with EWL while she was working towards her bachelors degree in Occupational Therapy/Psychology, gave her a sense of community that she didn’t have in other ways—particularly being a non-traditional student. “It gave me a group of people that I could go to, that I knew were there for me and that supported me. It gave me a mentor that connected with me and gave me encouragement and provided a sounding board to talk about struggles. I feel like it provided a lot of support for me when I needed it and gave me confidence in myself. It allowed me to move into this masters program and be obviously very successful in that program as well.”

Masters program? Yes, that’s right. After completing her bachelors, Jessica went on to not only graduate from a masters program but she is currently enrolled in a PhD program that is a distance program located in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Being a distance program she is able to work fulltime as well. And just three week prior to this interview Jessica’s all-time dream of teaching was fulfilled when she was accepted into a faculty position at the University of St. Augustine in south Austin, Texas. “So, I just transitioned from an occupational therapy clinical job into the occupational therapy academic faculty,” she said with great delight.

With Jessica’s three children now all grown and in their 20’s and her two step-children visiting during holidays and with them during the summer, she and her husband have moved to the small rural town of Bertram, about an hour outside of Austin. Jessica says it is a commute but that seems to please her just fine. With all Jessica’s success it is clear to see that being a non-traditionally aged student was not a detriment to her accomplishing her childhood dream. And she credits EWL with playing an integral part in the process.

“Everybody has their own stories; everybody comes with their own baggage,” she states. “You might not know what that story or baggage are, but having organizations like EWL to be there to provide not only financial assistance, but also emotional and psychological support and mentoring through a lot of tough transitions, is a wonderful thing to have.”

It’s clear that Jessica Nakos is living proof that it’s never to late to pursue your childhood dreams. You just have to do it!

Jessica Nakos

  • Graduated, December 2014

  • Texas Woman’s University

  • Degree: Occupational Therapy/Psychology

“EWL being there to provide not only financial assistance, but also emotional and psychological support and mentoring through a lot of tough transitions, is a wonderful thing to have.”

EWL STAR Lina Suarez

Political Asylum Led to Lina’s Unlikely, Yet Rewarding Career

By Bette Price

At the age of twelve, Lina Suarez came to America for political asylum with her parents, brother and sister, fleeing Columbia because they were in danger in her birth country. “I went to middle school and high school in Atlanta,” Lina said, explaining that it was a period of time that was quite difficult for her because she didn’t know much English. And to makes things even more difficult, her parents eventually divorced and her father returned to Columbia, leaving Lina to be raised by a single, working Mom of three.

“In the beginning it was a struggle,” Lina recalls, “because I didn’t have many people around me that spoke Spanish that could help me translate, so I really had to push myself.” She says her saving grace was the fact that her mom always believed in her, knowing that there was much in Lina’s future that she could accomplish. “She made sure I stayed in school and pushed me to do better, so my decision to go on with school and having my degree was [my way] of showing her my appreciation and to give me a better life.”

In 2008, following Hurricane Ike, Lina’s brother started a roofing company and moved to Houston, Texas. The rest of the family moved with him to help him out. That’s when Lina started looking for colleges that offered courses in what she had decided she wanted to do—fashion design and merchandising. “There weren’t many schools in the area that offered what I was looking for,” Lina said, so she decided to apply for college at Houston’s Community College and was accepted. There she began with the basics of math, literature and history. From there she took a few design classes but decided she didn’t want just an associates degree—she wanted to earn a bachelors degree. That’s when she began looking into other schools in Texas because staying in Texas she wouldn’t have to deal with out of state tuition. That’s when she discovered Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and decided to make the move to the Dallas area.

“My mom was very supportive and said, ‘I’ll move with you so you don’t have to pay rent’.” Her mom found a job in Dallas and Lina, now 23, began her quest for a Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising degree. To pay for her tuition she first worked some part-time jobs, even took out a student loan. Lina says that seeing her mom work hard and trying to raise her three children gave her the power and desire to begin looking for a scholarship so she could show her mom how grateful she was for all she had done. “That just gave me the power to show her that I was capable of doing it.”

It was during this time that she learned about EWL’s scholarship program, applied and was accepted. Three years later, in May 2016, at the age of 26, Lina graduated and began her career in fashion with an immediate internship at Nordstrom’s. The internship and subsequent jobs appeared to be the beginning of the fashion career Lina had always dreamed of. But, sometimes life can throw you an unexpected curve. That’s just what happened to Lina. She fell in love.

In 2017, Lina married the love of her life, a young man ready to graduate with his medical degree and the couple moved to Mount Laurel, New Jersey where he had been offered an internship. But, there was one more unexpected piece of news. Lina discovered she was pregnant.

As if those weren’t enough changes in Lina’s life, once she arrived in this small New Jersey town, she learned that there were not many fashion industry opportunities, so if she were going to work, it would have to be in some other industry. It just so happened that while Lina was attending college she had worked for a few different companies doing promotional events and had always enjoyed the work. “I liked the fact that you weren’t sitting in an office all day,” Lina said. So, when the NFL Alumni Association, a non-profit organization headquartered in Mount Laurel, offered her a job as an Events Coordinator, she accepted it. Then two years later the Director of Special Events resigned and Lina was promoted to fill the director’s role.

“I never expected to be working in sports,” Lina says. “I didn’t consider myself to be interested in sports that much.” But she does love the new role that life unexpectedly dealt her; in part because of the charitable activities that she plans, which help children. “Helping others is one of my passions,” she confesses and cites an example.

“We took kids to an Eagles game and it was the first time they had ever gotten to go to a game.” It was an experience she says brought joy to her heart. “I really found that by working here I’ve been able to fulfill my dream of working for a non-profit and helping others.”

Even though Lina lives at a distance from her alma matter and EWL and can’t attend EWL’s alumni events, she says she likes getting the emails and invitations. She also appreciates the role that EWL’s scholarship program played in bringing her to a place where she loves the new role that life unexpectedly dealt her.

Lina says that it’s encouraging because even though she’s not in the area and can’t attend events, just by being a part of EWL, “You’re still empowering women to fulfill their dreams, and that’s important. So many people don’t know what they want to do. Just having an organization that supports them no matter what—that’s important.”

From Lina’s perspective, she’s very happy with her new career path and believes that all is well that ends well, even when it arrives unexpectedly. “My first dream was to be a fashion designer. I found something different. At this moment, I’m enjoying it and I feel that EWL helped me be where I am right now.”

No doubt this unexpected path to Lina’s happiness has shaped her current philosophy: “Just go to school, get your degree and if you end up doing something completely different after you graduate, you have your degree, that’s what’s important; just do what you want to do and fulfill your dreams.”

Lina Suarez

  • Graduated, May 2016

  • Texas Woman’s University

  • Degree: Fashion Design and Fashion Merchandising

“Just having an organization (EWL) that supports them no matter what—that’s important.”

Thanks to our Supporters

On behalf of EWL, we would like to thank our partners and sponsors for their generous contributions which make it possible for us to support non-traditional college age women through education, mentoring and networking. Your generosity makes a real difference in the lives of EWL’s STARs.

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