Posts Tagged ‘Mary Billiter’


Leaning In

May 23, 2019

Mary Billiter writes

I included information about Mary Billiter, from Wyoming, in my blog post yesterday. Award-winning author Mary wrote the following and I’m re-printing it with her permission. Mary has a new book being released in July titled “A Divided Mind.” You can reach Mary directly at

Mary presenting at the conference

Recently, I stood at the front of a room full of women as a conference presenter. Before I began the session, I glanced at my mentor, who sat in the front row. There wasn’t time for a quick pep talk and that was okay. After spending the week with her I knew her message was simple, yet effective: Lean in.

It was her go-to whenever I voiced concerns about a week filled with firsts: facilitating my first grants panel meeting, presenting at my first women’s conference, and attending two college commencement ceremonies for my first-born twin sons – lean in, she said, lean in.

“Lean in” was in reference to researcher and New York Times bestselling author Brené Brown, who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy.

The concept is simple: Instead of numbing ourselves in difficult situations, “lean” into vulnerability and fragility. The practice of leaning into vulnerability to get to courage isn’t always easy. Brown encourages those attempting this practice to “embrace the suck.”

By leaning into the suck we can model a way forward for ourselves and others to love and see ourselves for who we are.

The more I learned about “leaning in,” I realized the practice was modeled by my sons long before I knew that was what they were doing.

This May I have three children graduating – my twin sons, Austin and Kyle, from college and my daughter from high school. And my sixth-grader is quick to remind me that he is graduating from elementary school to junior high.

There is much to celebrate in May including mental health awareness month.

Watching Austin and then Kyle graduate brought up different feelings at each event.

As my oldest child, if even by a minute, Austin set the bar high: double major, magna cum laude, rugby player and president of his college’s Habitat for Humanity chapter. He killed it. There wasn’t anything Austin didn’t accomplish in his four years of college including studying abroad and starting his college career at the University of Wyoming so he could be with his twin brother for the first two years.

I don’t know many siblings that would postpone their out-of-state college plans to attend Wyoming’s only four-year university with their brother.

But Austin did. During their senior year in high school, Kyle was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Austin knew the battle Kyle faced with his mental health and didn’t want him to go it alone. Austin leaned in. And so did Kyle.

By leaning into the unknown, they thrived. Neither of them allowed the stigma of mental illness to affect what they did. They roomed together their freshman year, pledged the same fraternity and were there for each other that fall when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

They also argued over the car they shared, laundry, and cleaning duties. They locked each other out of their dorm room, ate the other’s food, and collectively pointed the finger at the other when their carpet was stained with jungle juice.

In short, they were 18-year-olds adjusting to college life.

They treated Kyle’s mental health no differently than they would any other illness that required medication and maintenance.

And in turn, they created an environment where shame, fear and silence had no place to survive, which allowed Kyle to thrive. They leaned into mental health the same way they leaned into the new experience of college.

Stigma is toxic to those with mental health issues because it creates an environment where shame, fear and silence prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.

By collectively leaning in, they broke the perception and stigma associated with mental illness.

Austin spent the spring semester of his sophomore year abroad while Kyle stayed the course in Laramie. Austin finished his college education in Ohio and Kyle finished his degree in Wyoming. Four years later they are both college graduates.

Since 1949, Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May, reaching millions.

This cause is important to me on many levels: One in five Americans is affected by mental health conditions. As the mom of a young adult with a mental health condition, raising awareness about mental health and eliminating the stigma is important.

I understand all too well about breaking the stigma. My son’s diagnosis caused me to check my assumptions about mental illness.

The myths about people with mental health problems are great. A leading myth is that people with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

Not true. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicebreaks down myths with facts. And the facts are that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.

Mental illness does not discriminate- mental health disorders affect men and women of all ages, races and social classes.

The more we lean into the mental health, the greater a chance we have to break the stigma.

You can learn more about Mary at THIS LINKThis story is also posted at THRIVE GLOBAL. Her upcoming release, “A Divided Mind,” offers a compelling look into how far a mother will go to protect her child and how far a divided mind will go to protect itself.


Visit to Wyoming

May 22, 2019

Amazing opportunity

Mary and I at the Wyoming Arts Council

I am so grateful to have traveled to Wyoming last week. I went for two main purposes – one to sit on the arts education grant panel for the Wyoming Arts Council and the second to attend the connect2women conference, especially to attend a session provided by Mary Billiter. Mary is the Arts Education Specialist at the Wyoming Arts Council. I love the Council’s slogan: Grow – Connect – Thrive.

During my almost six years as the director of arts education at the Maine Arts Commission I have been fortunate to mentor two other state arts agency arts education directors. Both have provided me with opportunities to reflect on the work that I view as so important to quality arts education in our schools and communities throughout the state and country. And, is often the case, I have learned so much and have been grateful for the chance to interact with two amazing women! Now, they are not only colleagues but friends.

Denver airport looks like a giant sculpture

It was fascinating to see ‘close up’ how another state coordinates their arts education grant panel. I have read about how other states run their panels and talked with other directors about the process but experiencing the process was much different. It gave me the chance to pause, reflect, and learn.

The panel of 8 traveled from all over Wyoming and we reviewed 53 grant applications, which is almost three times as many as are submitted in Maine. The applications received cover a wide range; PreK-through higher education institutions, arts councils, non-profit, for profit, community organizations and much more. Some of the challenges and successes the applicants face day to day are similar to what I find in Maine and some were very different. It Applicants were required to demonstrate alignment with the state’s arts standards, among other requirements. Needless to say I loved taking on the challenge and since I knew very little or nothing about the applicants and communities, in some ways the task was easier.

First Lady Jennie Gordon

Attending the connect2women conference was a real gift. Kate Debow Hayes serves as the executive director and is the energy behind the work that the organization has underway. It is their fourth conference and the first as a non-profit. Each year the conference grows as people learn about the opportunity.

The speakers, presenters and workshops were varied and interesting. Mary’s workshop was called “Writing Your Online Presence” and it was useful on many levels. From writing emails to formal and informal letters to requesting face to face meetings and much more – I was reminded of how important communication is on a variety of levels. The room was packed with about 50 people. Mary Billiter is the award-winning author of the highly acclaimed resort romance series, which she wrote on her cell phone while she underwent breast cancer treatment. She has a new book coming out in July. I will include a blog post tomorrow that I hope you’ll read since it covers a topic that is familiar to all of us and an important one to address as educators.

Giant boot mosaic

I attended a second workshop called “Brand Your Story” that was presented by Elizabeth Dillow who is an accomplished photographer and designer. The seeds she planted provided the chance to work on “advocacy” through a different lens. It is so fun to be presented with challenges when traveling.

One highlight of the conference was the keynote provided by Wyoming’s First Lady Jennie Gordon. She shared her story growing up with a mother who was born in Austria and coming to the states after marrying an American service man from WWII. She has 9 siblings and now grown children of her own. Her story was very inspirational.

One of the many beautiful flowers at the botanical garden

During my down-time in Wyoming I had a chance to visit some local spots. The Cheyenne Botanical Gardens was one and they are amazing. Many of you know that I create mosaics so seeing the giant boot in mosaic form was a real treat. The gardens also include 3 floors of beautiful plants, an extensive children’s garden, a rooftop garden spot, and much more. I loved seeing the tulips, the vegetables and flowers waiting to be planted from the greenhouse, the indoor/ outdoor classroom and the rooftop providing a wonderful view. While there I met an interesting 80 year old man who was retired from a career in education – teacher, principal, and superintendent – he was spending his day fishing.

The best part about being out west is how everything feels so HUGE. I landed at the Denver airport with a tent like design, the Rockies in the distance, the intense blue sky, the clouds that go from white puffy to grey rain clouds in a matter of minutes, the boots and hats, and the people who are curious and friendly! I am grateful to experience and learn so much while traveling and LOVE returning home to Maine!

Indoor/outdoor classroom in the children’s area of the botanical gardens

I’m sure many of the meartsed blog readers have been out west. If not, I recommend a trip – rent a car, drive around, stop in the local  shops, and stare at the immense sky and land. Ask the local people a question or two and let them talk about their lives.





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