If you find yourself in a space of craving a community, read on to be inspired to do so. On the other hand, if you feel blessed with a wonderful community already, enjoy a beautiful story about impact, motherhood ups and downs, as well as the quest to raise good humans.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I LOVE hearing people’s stories. Particularly women and especially those with a servant’s heart. Gisele not only checked those boxes, but also left me feeling like I wish she was my next-door neighbor. My “Auntie Gisele” in the neighborhood to look to for wisdom on everything from motherhood to general life questions.
She speaks the wisdom which she credits to her own upbringing in community. It was fascinating and heart-warming.
I hope you enjoy Gisele Garraway’s amazing story of her jolt into motherhood, focus and intentionality on community, and how her idea in THRIVEfunds was pushed forward by her daughter’s tenacity.
GISELE & ALEC
Gisele and her husband, Alec, knew they wanted a family. In fact, they had a solid plan of how life would play out. Get married, get pregnant, have two biological children, and then adopt one. Forming their picture-perfect family of 5.
God had other plans. Furthermore, Gisele describes those years of yearning for a child but it not happening with the simple phrase of, “it was hard.”
Family comments about when they were going to have children. All the questions adding to the stress. Infertility treatments. Shots administered by neighbors when Alec was traveling… You get the picture.
In a moment of clarity, Gisele and Alec stepped back and thought:
Why are we so focused on this rigid plan? We know we want to adopt, why not start that process now?
And I feel like this part needs a drumroll or something. When they made the decision to adopt, it took 6 weeks for them to be matched with their newborn son, Dwight.
That’s right. SIX WEEKS. From the adoption decision and paperwork to receiving a call at work requesting the birth mother meeting took less than two months.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is Gisele’s professional life. She was a leader at Staples corporate office in Framingham, MA. Holding Director and VP level roles for the company over an 8-year period.
And yet, getting the call requesting the interview with the birth mother the same evening, she remembers thinking, “this is the most critical interview ever.”
Dwight’s birth mother had very thorough and thoughtful questions. In an amazing sacrifice of love, being a single mother with a one-year-old severely autistic child, she wanted a different life for her newborn. For her, this meant finding Dwight a home in different circumstances. Her questions included him having his own room, loving parents, siblings, a non-smoking home, collegiate education opportunities should he want them, etc.
Feeling satisfied with the answers from the Garraways, the next day they were on their way from Framingham, MA to a hospital in Connecticut to meet their little boy.
THERE IS NO MANUAL
As they jumped in the car with Gisele in the driver’s seat… she chuckled and said “obviously” about her being the driver… they realized the need for a car seat. Stopping at a nearby Babies R Us, Gisele selected one and headed to the counter.
I grabbed a car seat and in all the excitement really didn’t even know what I had. Someone standing nearby overheard us and finally injected. “Didn’t I overhear you say you are on the way to get a newborn baby?” We both shook our heads yes in delight. “Well mam, you have a toddler seat, what you need is an infant seat.”
We both laughed at what that moment was like! Excitement, fear, heart bursting with love, anxiety, ALL the emotions.
But then I sat there in dismay thinking of all the “things” you need for a baby. Remembering back to my own experience, I was blessed with three baby showers prior to my first son’s arrival. Can you imagine finding out overnight you are going to have a newborn tomorrow?
This is where community stepped in for Gisele and Alec. With adoption, they were not allowed to cross state lines for a period of time, so found themselves in the Connecticut home of friends. A mere two-hour drive from their house, but in another state.
However, when they arrived home with Dwight, the Garraways were shocked to find a fully functioning nursery in their house with all their needs met.
(I’m not crying, you’re crying… 😉 )
Their church community as well as her Staples community banded together to meet the needs of the Garraways.
She even described the church thinking of Dwight over the years as their baby. Such a blessing to an entire community.
This community impact on Gisele and Alec goes deeper than their experience with the adoption of Dwight. Both felt they were raised by not only their parents, but also their communities.
I grew up mentored by so many women. Mom would go visit on someone’s front porch and even as a little girl, my role was to sit there on the step and listen. It was an education on life. I got to listen to wisdom and absorb all of it.
She went on.
Additionally, if anyone needed anything in the community, someone stepped in to fill the void. Any gaps we had were filled directly from community. Mrs. Nixon had an encyclopedia set specific to black history which we all used in February for our assignments, for instance. Community scholarships made advanced education possible. When my mother saw needs, she was very practical. For example, if she noticed someone at a bus stop with groceries, she would stop and give them a ride. It’s just what she did. My father also ran our food bank at the church.
It was this background of service in community coupled with a deep seeded desire to create more impact that the idea of THRIVEfunds came into Gisele’s view.
Wanting to make direct impact and fill a gap in someone’s life, essentially, we’re digitizing how I felt my community invested in me in a modernized way at THRIVEfunds.
DAUGHTER’S COMMUNITY IMPACT
While THRIVEfunds was the idea, Gisele admits it took a while to bring it into focus.
The Garraways talk as a family a lot. They’ve made a couple big moves for Alec’s jobs, but also realize the strain this puts on the entire family.
For instance, when they moved from Boston to Indianapolis several years ago, everyone weighed in on the decision. Letting son, Dwight, and daughter, Darena, in on the why of the move was key. Alec, an MD-PhD and Trained Oncologist, felt he could make a larger impact on cancer with this move.
We have the final decision, and the kids know that. However, we talk about life and the variables. We hear out their concerns. I think this has taught them the lesson of the give and take in a family and there are no “perfect” solutions. The move from Boston to Indy was hard. And then to move again from Indy to San Francisco a couple years later was even more difficult. But knowing the new role was Alec’s dream job helped us all get behind it. We’re a tough quad, we stick together.
This openness to talking it out and expressing thoughts and feelings ultimately led Darena to push her mom’s idea into the reality of THRIVEfunds.
The idea for THRIVEfunds came to me while walking the dog during the pandemic. I thought about the way my community always supported me in so many ways. How can we create a space to support others in filling those gaps through direct impact? My daughter one day said to me, “why don’t you stop talking about this thing [THRIVEfunds] and just do it!”
THRIVEFUNDS- COMMUNITY IMPACT DIGITIZED
In Gisele’s upbringing, food, housing, healthcare and other basic needs were fulfilled. However, broader things like technology, transportation to college, scholarships, and summer programs were a gap that was filled through community involvement.
People coming to THRIVEfunds are hard workers. The potential is there if they just had some direct support. Like my own experience. To get a better footing for themselves. It’s an investment in America’s working families. Filling a gap for them to directly impact a financial burden. THRIVEfunds focuses on childcare, career advancement, transportation, and technology needs.
Financial burden creates so much stress in today’s families. With the direct impact of THRIVEfunds, it’s not only filling a gap but releasing a stressor for a family. In turn, having a ripple effect on well-being.
You can read more here for an example of how the process works. Essentially, a family experiences a financial burden. They visit a partnering organization to discuss the need. The family creates a Request for Investment with THRIVEfunds, such as gas cards to impact daily work and education travel. The request is fulfilled by someone in the community wanting to create impact and serve their community.
Direct impact. A key in the process also being the power for the family to choose the need that would most benefit their situation.
Utilizing technology practically to fill a void.
Through this platform, an individual receiving this support thinks, “wow, someone doesn’t even know me, but they care.” It’s unconditional. There is a long-term sustainability about this kind of support.
Because of THRIVEfund’s vetted community partners, they are amplifying the work of sponsor organizations. Additionally, families receive access to programming such as financial coaching, workforce development, and a myriad of other services for continued support and impact.
To find out more, visit www.thrivefunds.org.
To be frank, I didn’t want our discussion to come to an end. Gisele shared stories of “Auntie June,” a dear friend and neighbor whom she looked to for wisdom and guidance. I found myself leaning into Gisele’s wisdom and guidance, looking to her as “Auntie Gisele.”
Here’s a summary of a few of those nuggets of wisdom.
On the journey into motherhood:
I had this sense of “why didn’t anyone tell me how hard and tiring being a mom is??” In fact, just look at a Pampers commercial with a peaceful baby snuggled on a chest. We tend to glorify the opposite of the hard, but under share how we might think mean things about our spouse for packing the diaper bag wrong. [laughter] Community was crucial. I continued to work and loved my job. Going to church on Sunday and the aunties taking over was a big stress relief for me. All that said, I still look at being a mom literally as a gift.
For those with infant to elementary school aged children, she shared this:
Don’t worry and stress yourself over the little stuff. Enjoy the process. Your child will hit the milestones. It’s not worth the stress of comparing yourself or your kids to others.
Gisele expressed the middle school years were probably some of the tougher ones for her. In fact, she took a break in her own career to support her son with ADHD and acclimating to the diagnosis. Additionally, supporting her family through mental health challenges during the pandemic.
I found motherhood shifted from more physical to mental as they grew older. A mentor once told me when the kids were little that I may find the need to stay home with them in those later years versus when they were babies and toddlers. I found this to be so.
And for those entering a time of more independent young adults, heed this advice from Gisele with Dwight (20) and Darena (17):
Love your child into the person God created them to be. Take time to step back and ask, am I pushing an agenda? Then remind yourself, this is their story.
Dwight encourages him mom to take time for self-care often saying, “Mom, you need a massage, you’re spiraling.” While Darena pushes Gisele to follow the dreams on her heart. A catalyst to making THRIVEfunds what it is.
Definitely appears the lessons Gisele and Alec are impressing upon their children are blessing them in return.
Thank you, Gisele, for sharing your beautiful story and wisdom. You’ve created community impact digitized through your servant leader’s heart.
I reflect that my current flourishing was cemented when others gave me a great and durable gift: a belief in my potential. Their generosity was not mere lip service, but a tangible investment toward cultivating my unique abilities for contributing to society.
– Gisele Garraway, Founder/CEO of THRIVEfunds
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