Ds Scholarship

People of Blount County — Tonya Gibson Criswell

When you’ve been in third grade for 25 years and looking forward to retirement, it’s definitely time to think about where the next chapter in your life will take you. Fun, family, more “me” time, and looking forward to spending days doing what you want should be at the top of the list.

And for many, this scenario is a classic. Objects set aside while working and raising a family can now be explored, completed, or redirected. It’s time to finally focus on some of the things that you want. But for Tonya Gibson-Cresswell, a resident of Blount County today, that classic scenario didn’t work out. Life sent her in a different direction. It’s a trend that Tonya loves.

Looking back, Tonya has always had the desire to help others. Her father is a well-respected local doctor, her mother is sympathetic and loves to take care of others, and her sister is the manager of a local nursing home. Helping others has been instilled in her over the years.

When she was a little girl, Tonya remembers playing the doctor and helping her pretend to be sick. In early adulthood, Tonya worked as a nursing assistant for eight years before becoming a teacher. She loved teaching and made it her personal mission to help each student who crossed her path individually. Tonya knew that every student was unique and no two were taught the same way. Giving them individual assistance with each student a chance to excel. Throughout her career, Tonya’s insights and efforts have earned her numerous awards, including the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award.

With retirement set for May 2020, Tonya knew she would never stop working. She may have been ready to retire from teaching, but entering full-time retirement at this time in her life wasn’t what she wanted. She had already put a plan in place months ahead of schedule in May 2020 and will now focus on that path.

Since Tonya had devised a plan to start working with residents at a local nursing home, her impending retirement didn’t frighten her. I fell in love with working alongside nursing home residents. Seeing them happy renewed her spirit even more. It would have been good

Once her retirement date became official, Tonya became a manager at Cleveland Senior Living. Her duties soon expanded and she became a director at both the Magnolia Center in Gadsden and Autumn Woods in Jacksonville. In a sense, Tonya was still a teacher and was helping others. It was simply with her older clients whom she considers “adult children”. Tonya’s goal was to make them want to get out of bed every day, laugh and smile, and not just wilt.

To this day, Tonya has the same mindset. Although her position no longer allows her to spend as much time directly with seniors as she would like, Tonya has discovered that the positive impact on the population can be reached more broadly through her employees. It allows more people to provide more love to the population. This makes Tonya’s heart very happy.

And Tonya has firsthand knowledge of how depression and depression can make a person want to give up, never get out of bed, or do anything to improve their day. At the age of 39, Tonya underwent a mammogram. I learned she had stage 3C breast cancer although she had no signs or symptoms. How could that happen? She had so much more to live for and more love that she wanted. Her children were eight, 13 and 15. They needed their mother. She had to be a survivor.

Soon, Tonya underwent chemotherapy and radiation. In addition to the other side effects, Tonya now had to deal with her entire hair loss. That was huge. Tonya was low-key and was not satisfied with her physical appearance. To add to the situation, Tonya was only given a 30 percent chance of survival and life for Tonya was bleak and bleak. She was not feeling good about herself and had no ambition.

As the days went by, Tonya had a friend who would pull her aside and give her some advice that changed her whole outlook on life. The friend told Tonya that if she chose to look miserable, it would make a bad impression on people; But, if she wants to stay positive and live life to the fullest possible, she should not focus on baldness and focus on the things that she can change. The friend’s advice was to wear a scarf, matching clothes, shoes and accessories, and hold her head high. That advice changed Tonya’s life.

As Tonya acted on the advice given to her, she felt the power of the prayers that her family, friends of teachers, church members, and others showered each day with. It gave her hope. This gave her a reason not to give up, as each day, Tonya found that when she made an effort to improve her personal appearance, it also greatly improved her mental state. Her mindset was renewed and Tonya decided that whatever days she left on Earth, it would be positive and people would know she was enjoying every day she got. Through it all, Tonya knew she didn’t accidentally survive. She knew God wasn’t done with her yet.

Thank God, Tonya is a survivor. Tonya loves life, loves people and loves to help others. She understands how encouragement and support can make a real difference in a person’s life.

In May 2021, Tonya and her husband David will celebrate 30 years of marriage. Their children are now grown up enjoying their first grandchild. Above all, the three children are working in a service field, or planning to do so. Chelsea works with special education students in Douglas. Tyler is studying at UAB School of Medicine and plans to work in a small town like his grandfather, and MacKenzie is a student at Auburn University and is majoring in wildlife research. For Tonya, being able to watch her children care for others and care about animals almost makes her heart explode with pride.

The family has attended Grace Baptist Church since its inception.

When Tonya finds herself on hold, she chooses to get creative. And just as she did when she was teaching, downtime usually involves getting creative and working directly with activities for the residents. Not necessarily about her. It is about others.

If you put Tonya on the spot to share some things outside of her job that make her happy, she’ll tell you that she loves to dance. She will tell you that she loves to laugh and be happy. She loves New York City and crowds of people. This is the complete opposite of her husband. Her father is her hero. Life is good.

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