Stories of Faith

Deirdre Clayton

Jacksonville, Fla. By On April 8, 2016

Deirdre Clayton 3-3-16

Deirdre Clayton was widowed at age 30 with two young children. Her career search led back to what she’d wanted to do since she was a teenager – help people. Today, she’s a guidance counselor in a Jacksonville middle school.

Deirdre Clayton grew up in Jacksonville, and became a military wife. Her husband and she had two young children when her husband was killed in a car accident.

“I was 30 years old, and I was very depressed. I had a six-year-old and an 18-month-old, and I didn’t want them to see me depressed.”

So Deirdre, who had worked part-time to make extra money for the family, started thinking about work differently. She got a job at a local credit union.

“I started off in the call center part-time, because I was raising my kids. After they got in school, I was able to dedicate more time to a career. Then, I went back to school and was able to dedicate more time to my career. I got my degree in business. As the kids got older, I was able to go into the mortgage department.”

Deirdre became a loan underwriter, and did that for a number of years.

“When I went to college from high school, I wanted to go into social services. But everyone said, ‘no, you don’t make any money at that.’ So I went into marketing.”

When the housing slump hit in 2006, and mortgages weren’t being written, the thrift sent many of its officers to speak in area schools as community outreach. Deirdre was one of them.

“I loved it! When I came to work every day, I was hoping that they would say, ‘Miss Clayton, go to this school and do some work.’ We’re going into the schools and saying, ‘this is how you do your financial portfolio, this is how you save money.’”

Deirdre was starting to change her view of what she wanted to do with her life.

“I worked in a program at the International Baccalaureate high school, and that became my project. I talked with guidance counselors, and I wanted to do what they did. I talked with one of mentors at the credit union, who said, ‘Miss Clayton, you need to follow that.’ I said, “I can’t afford that!’ and she said, ‘when you’re following your dreams, you can afford it.’”

That didn’t mean she could afford it easily.

“ I applied to the program and got accepted. I cashed in my 401(k), got some student loans, put in my resignation at the credit union. I got a job at my church – it didn’t pay much, but it was just enough.”

Deirdre graduated from the counseling program, and got a job almost immediately. A year later, she got a phone call about a high school guidance counselor position.

“Someone called me who I interned with and said, ‘hey, they got a school counseling position!’ that never happens. To get a job in here, somebody has to …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Anthony Johnson

Indianapolis, Indiana; South Bend, Indiana; Charlotte, N.C.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On February 19, 2016

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Anthony Johnson played football from high school through an 11-year NFL career. Today, he’s the Jacksonville Jaguars’ chaplain … and possibly the most low-key former NFL player you’ll ever meet.

He’s an Indiana native who went to Notre Dame on a scholarship. He had, at that time, a single focus to his life.

“Playing football, my passion since I was young. I played through high school and was good enough to get a football scholarship to Notre Dame. I graduated in 1990 and was drafted in the second round by the Indianapolis Colts.”

Anthony played 11 seasons as a running back for five different NFL teams. The last was the Jaguars, which he joined for the 2000 season before retiring.

“During the course of that time, I had the opportunity to be impacted by to chaplains on several different teams. Seeing the impact they had on me when I was playing was part of what encouraged me to take the opportunity to do the same.”

The work of, and the need for an NFL chaplain to an NFL is not well understood.

“Playing in the NFL, obviously you have a lot of highs, a lot of great things and awesome opportunities. But at the same time, you have a lot of stress, a lot of tension and a lot of challenging experiences. They’re deep things, sometimes things that really challenge you in your soul. You’re a young kid, coming out of school, and all of a sudden, you’ve been given millions of dollars, sometimes. You have everything that the world wants – you have money, health, prestige, you’re on a platform. That sets you up as a target. And here’s the one thing you don’t expect – sometimes family can come at you and see you as dollar a sign.”

NFL chaplains work for a ministry, and aren’t paid by the teams. Anthony, for example, is employed by Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru. But the need that chaplains fill is as practical as it is spiritual.

“All they want is an opportunity to help you. With the Jaguars and my situation, Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have really opened the door and said, ‘Hey, you’re part of the team. Be here every day and travel with the team, engage to the extent that’s appropriate and is necessary.’

It wasn’t a role that Anthony jumped into quickly after he retired in 2000.

“I took, as my wife would say, a long time to decide what I wanted to do. But what I didn’t want to do is feel compelled and constrained into doing things that I really wasn’t passionate about. I was passionate about my faith, and so after a couple of years, I realized, that’s what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Although every NFL has a chaplain, most are not former players. And the job has no defined work parameters, other than that you serve at the invitation of the …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Willie Freeman

Swainsboro, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla. By On October 2, 2015

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Early each morning, Willie Freeman comes to his security job at the parking garage of a large office building in downtown Jacksonville, and greets the people who drive in. How he got there, and what he does when he gets off the security job in mid-afternoon, are a 30-year story.

“I moved here in the latter part of 1979, with my girlfriend, who’s now my wife. We came from Swainsboro, Georgia. I came here to be around my mother, whom I didn’t know well. I was raised by my grandparents.”

Willie got a job with Duval County Schools. “I had relatives who worked there. They introduced me to the right people, and I got a job in the maintenance department. I worked there for more than 20 years.”

Willie Freeman did well at his job, but he was hiding a secret. “I was a consumer of alcohol and drugs, marijuana and such. Later, I became addicted to crack cocaine for about nine years. But through all of it, I still maintained the job.”

In 1992, Willie had a religious conversion, and he quit taking drugs and drinking. His wife, who stayed with him through those years, played a key part in his conversion. About 14 years ago, Willie and his wife were called to ministry. That didn’t mean he quit his day job, though.

“We were ordained and we went out to start our own church. We’ve been doing ministry ever since.”

He didn’t quit his day job, though.

“I’ve been working here as a security guard for four years. Our church is still small, and so I work and labor to provide for my own means. I don’t depend on the ministry for that.”

You need a smartcard to drive into the garage where Willie Freeman works, so he doesn’t have to keep people out. Instead, Willie regards his security job as an opportunity to start his customers’ day out with a wave and a smile. And his influence in the building is substantial – all of the security, in the office tower as well as the parking garage, make it a practice to learn the names of the people they see every day and to greet them by name.

“I’m a people person. People are not my problem — they’re my purpose. To reach out, help make someone else’s day, to give a word of encouragement, even though at times, you’ve got problems and circumstances going on in your own life. But nevertheless, we learn to put the best on the outside. Who wants to live this life if I’m gonna look mad and sad all the time? So it’s just part of the change that takes place on the inside of a person, that allows our light to shine in the midst of uncertainty, in the midst of trials. This is where we’re gonna drive others to a change, too.”
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Photo: Warren Miller

Carla Morello

Jacksonville Beach, Fla.; Nicaragua By On August 28, 2015

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Carla Morello moved to Jacksonville Beach from New York as a child. She wasn’t an athlete. But she had a career goal.

“I thought I was supposed to be a nurse. I did that for a little while, then realized I didn’t like it, didn’t want to do it anymore. I went for a shift one night and turned around and came home. My husband said, ‘what are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I have no clue, but give me a day to think about it and I’ll figure it out.’ I just made a list of what I like to do, and what I liked to do most was exercise. So I became a fitness trainer and aerobics instructor.”

Carla worked as a trainer at a number of fitness centers and resorts in the area. Then an injury opened her eyes to yet another health-related profession — massage therapy.

“I had pulled my bicep tendon doing fitness training and my own workouts, and I couldn’t do any upper body workouts for six months. I tried PT, I did cortisone, and the next thing was surgery. I said, absolutely not. A client of mine gave me a certificate for a massage from her massage therapist. He moved some things around in my shoulder, I heard a big pop, and about a week later, it was much better … and I thought, I want to help people like that.”

So Carla trained and became licensed as a massage therapist in 2002. She’s worked for herself from the beginning.

“I carried my table for two years, and decided my back wasn’t going to take that much longer, and rented a 500-square-foot space. I shared that with my friend Adrienne, who’s still with me. I decided I hated paying rent, and started to look for a building. I bought the little one next to where I am now. Originally, it was a daycare, and oh my, was it a mess. We had to gut it. Five therapy rooms and a small training space. When my husband and I split up, we had to expand a little bit. So we bought this one in 2012 and started to remodel.”

Starting a new business was for Carla, like jumping off a cliff and trusting in a soft landing.

“When I signed the lease-purchase for this building, the build-out was going to cost about $45,000. I had $5,000 in my bank account. I signed the papers, and I said, I’ll figure it out. The right people came into my life to help me with that, and I got a loan. I worked by butt off in that massage room, and we did it in stages, because that’s all we could afford.”

Even though she’s always worked in a health-related field, Carla Morello says that what she does for a living now has changed her in ways that the other jobs didn’t.

“I’ve become a more compassionate, empathetic person. People are trusting me. They’re looking …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Susan King

Jacksonville Beach, Fla.; New Orleans, La.; San Diego, Calif. By On July 24, 2015

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Susan King is from California, and came here for a job transfer.

“I was born in San Diego, and went to high school there. My father was a Navy helicopter pilot, so there was a lot of moving around in between. I became an accountant, and got a job right of college with KPMG in New Orleans. A few years later, I transferred to Jacksonville to take a tax position. I had some friends, moved to the beach, and never left.”

After working in accounting, Susan held several executive positions in other firms. Then she decided to leave the business world entirely. She heard about an opening for executive director of BEAM, the Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry, a 30-year-old non-profit that provided, rent assistance and other services at the beaches.

“I had wanted to move into the non-profit sector. It was in my heart, but I had two kids in college, and thought it was just a pipe dream. but when they graduated, I heard about this job — and my husband went along with it. I just felt a passion for the work, and I have not been disappointed one day since I came to work here.”

That was almost four years ago. Susan brought her financial management experience to bear right away.

“The organization was not in great shape financially, so it was a great opportunity to use my financial expertise to help the organization. We’ve made a lot of changes in those four years. Thirty years ago, it was a checkbook and a cabinet with some canned goods, started by some local ministers. Our mission is always to help people through financial crises, so that people don’t fall off that cliff that can land you on the street.”

Susan learned quickly, as many non-profit executives do, that fundraising is job number one.

“I probably knew it, but didn’t really assimilate it into my day-to-day. It’s all about cultivating donor relations, being a good steward of those donations, grant writing … you’re always looking to keep your agency on solid ground.”

The workload is heavier than she expected.

“You really can’t turn it off. It’s not a 9-to-5 jobs, because so many of the meetings and speaking engagements are in the evenings and on weekends. The demands of the job are more than I had imagined, but the rewards far exceed anything than I could have imagined. You can personally impact someone’s life and change it for the better.

She’s picked up new skills … including public speaking.

“I probably know a lot more people! An accountant is not exactly out there. I meet a lot more people now, raising money and talking about our mission. I find that if you are passionate, it’s a lot easier. I hear the most articulate, amazing speakers since I’ve been in the non-profit sector, and I think it’s because passion makes you eloquent.”

And as much as Susan King has changed the organization she heads, the job has changed her, …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Kathryn Bain

Boise, Idaho; Jacksonville, Fla. By On July 10, 2015

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Kathryn Bain was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

“I grew up in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I moved to Boise, but that evidently wasn’t far enough! I had a father who was an alcoholic, and a mother who does anything to avoid confrontation. It was not a good family dynamic. I never felt loved, and I started drinking to feel important. Then I got pregnant. I stopped drinking the day I found out, but I didn’t want to return to my family’s home. A friend was moving to Florida, and I decided to go with her. Two and a half days on a Greyhound bus. When bad stuff happens, you can either dig a hole or move forward. I moved forward.”

She quickly found a job in Jacksonville.

“I put my expertise as a telephone salesperson to work! It was easy to find a job, because nobody wants to do that, and I was very good at it.”

Kathryn found a roommate who had a lead on a better job.

“She knew an attorney who was looking for a paralegal. I no experience at that, but he took a chance on me. Of course, he didn’t pay me much, but I’ve been doing that job for two different attorneys going on 27 years.”

Her life unfolded nicely for a period.

“I was a single mom until my oldest daughter was seven years old. I got married, but my husband was a drinker and I starting back to drinking, too. And then I got pregnant again and quit. That took its toll on the marriage, and it ended. But I broke the cycle. My brother uses drugs, my grandfather was an alcoholic. It’s like it just rolls through my family. I found something to focus on.”

Kathryn Bain initially focused on religion, without which, she says, she couldn’t have broken the cycle. And she found something else, as well — writing books.

“I had always read as a kid. Later on, I would read and watch mysteries on television and say, ‘that could be done differently.’ My oldest daughter got tired of hearing that and said, ‘well, if you think you can do it better, why don’t you?’ So I did. But it’s a lot harder that they make it out to be.”

Writing, it turns out, is a perfect outlet for aspects of Kathryn’s personality.

“It keeps me from going postal! I just kill people on paper. Someone ticks you off, you can turn them into a homeless dog, or kill them. You can do anything you want on paper. It’s the perfect outlet to just escape into a different world, and really, that’s why people read — to escape the reality they’re in and enter another one. So if your life isn’t going that well, read or write.”

Kathryn Bain is both writing and reading. But not because her life isn’t going well.

“Oh, my life’s going wonderfully. My granddaughter is two, my oldest daughter is getting …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Twila Hudson

St. Augustine, Fla.; St. Louis, Mo. By On April 17, 2015

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Twila Hudson lives in her childhood home, a house in the Lincolnville neighborhood of St. Augustine.

“My dad bought the house at auction. It was in a segregated neighborhood, and blacks couldn’t live there. So he bought the lot in Lincolnville, put the house on a trailer and brought it here. I’d never seen a house on a trailer before!”

It was a wonderful place to grow up in, Twila says. “It was so much fun. Everywhere you looked, there was someone to play with. I played school with the little kids. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had a wonderful teacher in elementary school, and I kinda wanted to be just like her.”

As Twila was growing up, in the early 1960s, the world outside her was changing. “It was tension. When I was in my neighborhood, I was comfortable, but when we went outside it, you knew you weren’t wanted, and you could feel that.”

In 1964, the Reverend Martin Luther King came to speak at Twila’s church. Her family joined his movement. “I got to march, and my brothers marched, too. They turned the fire hoses and the dogs on us. Everybody ran, and the older woman I was with grabbed me, and we ran. I made it home alright, but it was a really frightening experience.”

Twila left town to go to Xavier University in New Orleans. While working in the placement, she landed an assignment she would keep for her entire career. “I just happened to be talking to someone in the placement office, and she offered me a position. I didn’t want to leave St. Augustine. I wanted to come home and be with my mother and father, but I couldn’t get a job there, so that’s how I ended up taking the job in Missouri.”

Twila Hudson retired in 2006 from the St. Louis County school district. Within a few years, both her husband and her father died. Her son moved with her back to St. Augustine. “He came, too! Now he’s a Floridian.

Her mother had passed away years earlier, and her father left Twila the family home. “He said, ‘I know, Twila, you want to come back home, ’cause you always say that. I know that you’ll fix up the house, and anyone in the family who needs a place to stay can come back here and stay here.’”

And they have. Twila and her son, one of her brothers and live in the house, and other family members visit regularly. Twila has renovated the house from roof to foundation.

The city she lives in is different from the St. Augustine she left more than 40 years ago. “Now, it’s tourists and college kids. The people who used to live here, most of them are gone and their children have sold the homes or rent them out. But it’s still home. I’m in the church where I used to be, working with children.”

And she remembers. …

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Photo: Warren Miller

Robert Lester Folsom

Jacksonville, Fla. By On November 14, 2014

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Sometimes, having more than one career can be a huge benefit.

Robert Lester Folsom was the lead singer in a struggling rock band in a small town in south Georgia in the 1970s. “My band, Abacus, had to play covers to make a living, as well as my originals. When we went into the studio to record the originals, I paid for it myself. Mostly, I played mellow songs that the band didn’t even play. The engineer on the session like my material and told other people in the music business about it.”

Robert Lester’s smooth voice and acoustic guitar were perfect for the soft rock of the time, like Peter Frampton, Bread, and Seals and Croft. His record, “Music and Dreams,” did get regional airplay, but it never sold many copies. “We weren’t part of the international scene, or even the national scene, and I think people in the business just considered us local yokels.”

Abacus broke up and Robert Lester moved to Jacksonville, where his first wife had a job waiting. He continued to write songs and worked in a record store. Then he landed a job as a house painter. “I worked for another person for a few months, and realized I could do this on my own. I quickly got some regular customers, many of whom I work for to this day.

He returned to performing live, too, mostly in church bands. Then, in 2009, he got a phone call.

“It was my old engineer, saying that someone in California wanted to re-release ‘Music and Dreams’. I ended up signing three contracts – for the iTunes release, for a vinyl reissue with a specialty record company in Brooklyn, and for another company for a CD in Korea.”

He was invited to perform at a music festival in New York City, and suddenly, Robert Lester Folsom was an internationally known musician. “I said, I’ve got more songs that the ones I recorded in the 70,” he recalls. “We gotta get in the studio.”

Robert Lester released a second CD, “Beautiful Nonsense,” 35 years after his first one, and a third one in 2014. He and his new band play gigs around Northeast Florida. But Robert Lester Folsom continues to paint houses − not as a day job, but as a vocation.

“I have some very loyal customers, and I enjoy painting houses,” he says. “I take pride in doing it well. And it gives me the freedom to do my music the way I want to. I’ll paint houses and record any time.”…

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Photo: Warren Miller

Phil Holmes

Manchester, England; Erie, Pa.; St. Augustine, Fla. By On August 15, 2014

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Phil Holmes started tinkering with pumps as a boy in Manchester, England, when his father – a pump salesman – brought home clients’ pumps for Phil to repair.

He was also a musician, and joined a Christian rock band in England that toured the U.K. and came to the U.S., where he fell in love with a female vocalist in Erie, Pa., whom he married. Phil returned to England with his wife, left music – “I needed a job that paid the bills” – and joined his father’s company.

Then, just his wife was about to deliver their son, Phil was diagnosed with advanced Hodgkins lymphoma. After four years of treatment, relapse and complications, he was cancer-free. He found an opportunity for the pump business – the high-speed presses that printed cereal boxes and snack food bags − that resulted in a spin-off company that Phil took to the United States.

Phil moved back to Erie with his wife and son, and now lives in St. Augustine, Florida, where he directs a business that sells to printers in 45 countries, and manufacturers world-wide. A key part of his success is what he learned from his four years fighting lymphoma: “I learned to focus my life on what I want to do, and not wait. I also became more spiritual than I was. There are limits to what we can control as humans, especially in adversity, and eventually, you have to turn it over and move on.”…

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Photo: Warren Miller

Bishop John Snyder

Flushing, New York; Brooklyn, New York; St. Augustine, Florida By On July 4, 2014

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John Snyder, who is nearing 90 years old, was born on Manhattan and grew up in Queens, New York. He came from a family of baseball players and fans, and played ball all the way through seminary, until he was ordained and became a parish priest in Brooklyn. But Father John never stopped being a fan. The undertaker in his parish invited him as his guest to some of greatest games in baseball history, beginning with the Shot Heard Round the World, the home by Bobby Thompson that sent the Giants to the World Series in 1951, and Don Larsen’s perfect game for the Yankees in the 1956 World Series.

John Snyder also was devoted to Pope John Paul II, who elevated by-then Auxiliary Bishop Snyder in the church hierarchy. When the bishopric of St. Augustine, Florida came open a few years later, the New York native moved south.

He patterned his work after the vocation of Pope John Paul II, focusing on education (a high school in Jacksonville is named for him), health care – and in his retirement, visiting prisoners on Florida’s Death Row. And he watches a lot baseball.…

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Photo: Warren Miller