MARSHALL - Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center psychologist Ed Yerka and a panel of community members came together to share strong messages to the approximately 225 people who showed up for the "Growing Up Resilient: Fostering A Spirit Of Confidence In Our Children" presentation Wednesday night at Marshall High School.
The event was sponsored by the Marshall School District, the Marshall Ministerial Association and Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.
"We don't have to have super powers or be a super hero, and we don't have to be super rich or have a fancy belt like Batman to overcome adversity," Yerka said. "We can overcome adversity through resilience, protective factors like community, school or extended family members and internal factors."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall High School nurse Deb Herrmann speaks during the presentation “Growing Up Resilient:?Fostering A Spirit of Confidence In Our Children”?Wednesday.
Part of resiliency, Yerka said, is having protective factors which assist in the struggles everyone faces in life.
"Having protective factors is like playing a video game," he said. "You have to get your character through all sorts of obstacles to get to the next level. And, you have to do the same thing over and over again. On the way, you power up by hitting or jumping to something on the screen in order to keep going. Well, life is a bit like that."
In addition to community and school resiliency messages from Craig Schafer, Sue Bowen, Shirley Greenfield and Deb Herrmann, a number of community members shared their personal stories, inspiring those in attendance with their courage and resiliency.
Kristen Berg, a MHS language arts teacher, was the first to speak. After her husband's suicide, Berg was left to raise three small children.
"After dealing with the death of my high school sweetheart and my best friend, I was faced with many challenges," Berg said. "First, how to be a single parent. Second, how to be the sole monetary provider, which required me to change jobs. Third, how to deal with my grief while still helping my children grieve for their father."
Berg identified three things that were keys to who she is today: her support system, her attitude and tenacity.
"My support system came down to my family, my friends and my faith," she said. "My own upbringing taught me at a very early age that there is never any obstacle too big that I couldn't overcome. I remember several times in high school, my parents staying up all hours of the night talking with me, and at the end of the conversation telling me that no matter what, the sun is going to come up tomorrow."
While some friends faded away after Berg's tragedy, others became her lifeline.
"I truly believe that friends are the family you choose for yourself," Berg said. "What is amazing, is that I continue to make new friends who support me as I've had to adapt to my new life."
Berg's positive attitude and knowledge that change is part of life has also gotten her through some tough times. Through humor, she's found resiliency.
"Some people get more changes than others, and some changes are greater than others," she said. "But there isn't anything that can't be endured with laughter and humor. There are countless times, I've cried until I laughed. People say laugh until you cry. But sometimes at my house, we cry until we laugh. My kids know that."
Berg's message touched a number of people, including MHS sophomore Melody Goltz.
"Kristen is my teacher and I didn't realize how much of a struggle she had and how difficult it was for her," Goltz said. "As teenagers, we always think that it's the end of the world when something goes wrong, but I learned that life could be a lot harder than that."
Lorinda Peters shared her experience of losing her 15-year-old son David in a dirt-bike accident in 2006.
"At that point in my life, I did not know if I would survive, and at times, I didn't care if I did," Peters said. "As a grieving parent, I felt as though my life had stopped, and the world kept going. I always considered myself a strong person, but suddenly I felt weak and unable to pull myself out of the dirt."
Peters credits her survival to the family and friends that she said carried her when she could not walk. Later, Peters found comfort in Compassionate Friends, a newly-formed support group for families who have experienced the loss of a child at any age.
"I realized that I wasn't alone in experiencing profound loss," Peters said.
With some nudging, Peters also spoke with a counselor at Western Mental Health Center.
"I cried the whole time, but was surprised that I felt better when I left," she said. "What a relief to hear that I was normal and that my journey with grief was not on a timeline of fixing it when someone else wanted it to be fixed. My journey would be my own."
Baby steps have gotten Peters to where she is today.
"My life is changed forever," she said. "But I made a decision to accept that I carry a life scar."
Amanda Grinager, Marshall district curriculum director, delivered a message about there being life after tragedy.
"What that life looks like depends on your choices and your attitude," she said.
Grinager found herself in an unhealthy relationship as a teenager.
"This young man was verbally and physically abusive," she said. "In these types of relationships, the abuser starts to isolate you, lower your self-esteem and convince you that nobody wants to be with you. They do these things to control you."
At the time, however, Grinager was not familiar with abusive relationships.
"I was sure that if I just loved him enough, he would change," Grinager said. "Not surprisingly, that didn't happen. When I was 16, I had his baby."
Life was even more difficult when her boyfriend went off to college and Grinager was left alone. She ended up marrying him.
"What got me through this time in my life was the support of my family and my determination to get a college degree so that I could support my daughter," Grinager said.
But life continued to change for Grinager.
"In 1987, when I was 18, my daughter and I were in a single car accident," Grinager said. "I took my eyes off the road for too long and when I looked back I was going into the ditch. I jerked the wheel to try to get back on the road and the truck I was driving rolled four to five times. When the truck stopped, I felt tingling at my waist and it continued down my legs. I had excruciating pain in my back. Luckily, my daughter would only suffer a broken arm and stitches on her forehead."
Once at the hospital, Grinager was told that she had broken her back and would never walk again.
Supporting her daughter was at the top of Grinager's list, as was removing herself from the negative environment she was in with her husband.
"From my first marriage, I learned that love shouldn't hurt," she said. "If anyone ever hits you, yells at you or calls you names, they don't love you. You should run in the opposite direction, and run fast."
Alyssa Versaevel, a freshman at MHS, was amazed at Grinager's life experiences.
"I was so surprised," Versaevel said. "I did not know all that about her. It was really nice to hear the speakers share their stories."