A Triangle East Thanksgiving

Some say gratitude stems from our perspective, from how we choose to look at life. But can the theory hold when the chips are down, as in money troubles, kid struggles, or injustice in the world?

Meet the people who say “Yes!” to being thankful this holiday season, as they hold fast to their faiths and to each other.

Studio 121
The only thing missing from this drama are two feather boas for its resilient stars.

Lisa Stanley and Teresa Butler have been leading ladies in a daily soap opera of sorts over the past few years, as they’ve reinvented themselves and their business through broken-down cars, divorce, sending sons off to the military, and even cancer.

The struggles have made them “closer than sisters,” they say, and their faith is seeing them through.   

Studio 121 existed by another name for a successful 28 years just outside of Garner. But when forced to move from that location in 2011, drama kicked in that Stanley and Butler, co-workers since 1983, couldn’t have imagined.

“It was traumatic — that was the one thing I was most secure in, having my job,” said Butler, who got Stanley’s call while away on a flood relief mission in Mississippi. “But I said, ‘Well, these people here have lost everything they owned, so I guess we’ll get through this.’”  

Minus capital or good credit, the women each borrowed $1,000 to start from scratch in a former Curves fitness site on Timber Drive.

“My husband’s in the building business, so those were tough times for us,” Stanley said of the recession. And Butler even had to move in with the Stanleys twice along the way.

“Our credit was not good, but the landlord gave us a chance,” Stanley said. “Then, the morning of our lease signing, the transmission fell out of Teresa’s car. And we found out more money was due the next day.”

“We didn’t have a dollar,” Butler said, “but we laughed till we were silly and prayed about it.”

The next morning came a call to Stanley offering an insurance settlement from a past car accident. That money went straight to the landlord.

They prayed over the glued-down pink carpet, and a local workman volunteered to help replace it. Clients, family and friends, including Stanley’s husband, provided building, wiring and plumbing help. Butler’s disaster relief teammates unloaded lumber.

Later, a customer who considered contributing a coffeepot to the salon instead gave the women a $500 check — the exact amount needed to make that month’s rent.

“These are just some of the examples of how God’s hand has been in this at every turn,” Stanley said. “The Lord can bring good out of trouble.”

But the drama wasn’t over when Studio 121 opened its doors.

Two days later, Stanley found a lump in her breast. Following a double mastectomy, she spent a year in chemotherapy and treatments, with Butler at her side, pushing her through.

Money was tight, and more than once, the salon’s power and phone were cut off.

“Not even for half a moment did we think to quit,” Butler said. “We knew we had to make it. Failure is not in our vocabulary.”   

Across town, and unbeknownst to Stanley and Butler, another stylist was praying on her own salon situation, hoping to find a new home for her staff of three. It was a match made in heaven.

“It was all or nothing for the three of us,” said Charlene Koehl of Garner’s former Salon on Main, as the two salons became one. Accompanying Koehl were stylists Sydney Beach and Allison Nelms, while Tracie Sessoms rounded out a staff aged 22 to 68.  

Even Koehl’s equipment blended seamlessly, right down to suiting two left-handed hairdressers.  

“We did have some ’splaining to do when we merged,” joked Koehl, in a nod to the lively banter Stanley and Butler maintain throughout the workday, including an entertaining “who’s the queen” routine.  

“But there’s not a day here without laughter and sharing of our faith,” Koehl said.

Stylist Kathy Denning, who helped see the team through during Stanley’s treatments, agrees.

“Oh, I have laughed here … it’s fun and businesslike,” she said. “I’m thankful to be somewhere that’s happy and I can enjoy working. We even have get-togethers and put up Christmas trees.”

Studio 121 gives back to its community via haircuts for participants at Able to Serve, a nonprofit serving adults with special needs, a cause that hits home for two salon employees. The salon also offers its services to the homeless through Community of Hope Ministries and collects food for Backpack Buddies.

Stanley and Butler say they’re thankful for their customers, the staff and each other. Most of all, they’re thankful to their God, and his faithfulness to them throughout this journey.

“You can’t make this stuff up!” Butler said. “So there’s no sense worrying about tomorrow. Take it one day at a time and be thankful.”

“God is true to his promises, and he says he will never leave or forsake us,” Stanley added. “We’ll be here years from now with a positive name and a good attitude.”

Community of Hope Ministries
When our children hurt, we hurt.

That was the case for Jorge Cervantes of Garner, as he watched his son, Fernando, struggle in school.

“He was behind in reading and math; he needed pushing,” said Cervantes, father of four. “And that’s how we became part of Community of Hope.”

Community of Hope Ministries, based from First Baptist Church of Garner, serves at-risk people within the Garner community through its food pantry, employment counseling and emergency financial aid.

Funded solely through donations from individuals, churches, civic groups and businesses in the Garner area, the organization also provides transitional housing for families, a low-cost summer camp for kids, and senior home care via a program called Carpenters Hands.

But for the Cervantes family, it was Community of Hope’s afterschool tutoring program that made a difference.

“Community of Hope is changing lives,” Cervantes said. “It gave us hope and helped make Fernando a success at school. He’s gained confidence and has grown a lot. I’m satisfied, and I’m proud of him.”

Now in the eighth grade, Fernando is on the academic honor roll and plays for his school’s football and basketball teams, with his family’s full support.

Father and son even took part in Garner’s recent All-America City presentation in Denver, to share the good things they’ve experienced through Community of Hope.

“Everything is different than before,” Cervantes said. “I see a good future for the children, and I am very thankful.”

For more information on Community of Hope Ministries, or to make a donation, visit cohmin.org or call (919) 779-6679.

4 the World
Namruta Patel was searching the Internet for volunteer opportunities when Garner-based 4 the World caught her eye.

Founded by Robert Froom in 2004, the all-volunteer organization works to identify and partner with communities worldwide to empower them to solve their health and education needs, and has grown to serve nine countries.  

“I met with (Froom), and loved the mission of helping children by providing health and education opportunities,” Patel said. “It was a perfect fit.”

While studying at N.C. State University, Patel helped found a 4 the World chapter on campus, serving as its co-president and now as an advisor. As it’s grown, the chapter’s work has even earned the 2013 North Carolina Peace Prize, given by the North Carolina Peace Corps Association.

Patel says she jumped at the chance to travel to Belize with the group last March, to refurbish a school in its poorest district, bring in school supplies and teach children everything from safety to HIV awareness.

Garner-based 4 the World works to bring health and education resources to the poor; this photo was taken during a 2013 mission to Belize. Photo courtesy Namrata Patel. 

“I felt like I made a difference, but they impacted me even more,” Patel said. “They’re so grateful for what they have, because they don’t know any better.”

In an area where electricity is rare,  and education comes with costs most families can’t afford, Patel found herself welcomed with offerings of homemade tortilla chips and how-to’s on peeling and eating fruit from the trees.

“The children were eager to learn; they loved playing hangman on the board,” Patel said.

“Some told us they want to become doctors. There they are, with no supplies, no electricity, the class with no more than a chalkboard — their big dreams overwhelm and inspire me. I want to return to Belize and help them reach those goals.”

As Patel, who is of Indian descent, prepared to celebrate the religious festival of Navrati, honoring and thanking the mother gods for life’s bounty, she found her perspective changed this year.

“Just seeing the situation in Belize was an absolutely humbling experience that words can’t describe. I didn’t want to leave those children,” she said. “I see that here we have free education, good education, almost unlimited resources, and we don’t use them, while the children there are dying for resources to have a better life.”

Her 4 the World experience has made her even more thankful, she says, for the support of family and friends toward her dreams and goals and for the long-term friendships found within her 4 the World family, as they work to change the world.

“I believe education is the key to solving any problem in the world,” Patel said. “Through education you can create new ideas, work toward things; the resources are inside of you. So I’m telling people, ‘Keep learning, keep doing more. Don’t take so much for granted.’”

To learn more about 4 the World, see 4theworld.org.

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