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MAAS Executive Director Judy Warren is available for speaking engagements on the state and national level

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What Teachers Think
Retired Midland Teacher Jana Morrison Spells It Out

To Whom it May Concern:

I want to tell you about a wonderful woman I met over twenty years ago. Her name is Judy Warren, and when I met her she was taking care of her brother who had just been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. Judy gave up her pristine job as a top interior designer to care for her brother and since his death 18 years ago, she has dedicated her life to educating young people about the life choices that took her brother from her in such a tragic manner.

Judy devotes all her time and energy speaking to schools, churches and youth organizations, informing our children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and sexual activity. I was a teacher at Midland Freshman High School when I heard Judy speak for the first time. The auditorium was filled to capacity, and five minutes into her story you could have heard a pen drop. The fourteen and fifteen-year-olds were mesmerized by this forty-something-year-old lady who was standing before them talking about sex. She walked them through her brother’s choices and then asked them how many of them were making the same choices. She had them laughing one minute then crying the next, and after she finished her story and the kids were dismissed to go back to class, she was surrounded by 9th graders, eager to tell her their stories in return.

Judy came to our school many times over the eleven years I taught there, but there is one year and one boy that really sticks out in my mind. When he came back to class after hearing Judy speak, Terrance was very quiet as he moved to the back of my classroom to take his seat. I noticed him especially because Terrance was never quiet, never! As other students came into the classroom I noticed them all still talking about what they had heard in the auditorium, but Terrance wasn’t joining in the conversation. When everyone was back in I asked them to write a paragraph about what they most related to from our speaker. I told them they didn’t have to put their names on it, but if they wanted to they could share their response with the class. Terrance put his head down on his desk and I didn’t disturb him.

After about five minutes he furiously tore paper out of his notebook and began writing. This was a miracle in itself, since he never did his work in class, never! As I was walking around the classroom I could hear his pen on the paper from across the room. I started to pray that this would be one assignment he finally turned in to me, because I could tell he was writing for his life. Judy had touched a chord in this young man, and I wanted to have a chance to help him deal with whatever it was he was feeling.

He finished writing, put his head back down on his desk, and as the other students completed the assignment they began visiting each other – some about the assignment, others about whatever 9th graders visit about. When everyone was finished I asked if anyone wanted to share their feelings. Terrance sat up and I could see huge crocodile tears on his face. He stood up and said, “Miss, I want to read mine.”

Terrance had poured out his heart and it was a story we all know. His father was in prison, his mother did drugs, his older sister had two babies before she was eighteen and his younger brother was expelled from school for possession at the age of eleven. Terrance was not crying as he read, but I could tell he was choking back tears. When he finished reading he looked at me and said, “And Miss, I don’t know how to keep from ending up just like that Lady’s brother.”

I went to him and gave him a big hug and told him I would help him. I said to the class, “We’re all going to help him, aren’t we!” I asked them to talk about things they could all do to say no to drugs, alcohol and sex, and that day we opened a dialogue that I know changed lives for the better. I didn’t see Terrance again until three years later when he walked across the stage to receive his diploma, and I immediately said a prayer of thanks for Judy Warren and the painful story she tells over and over.

I saw Judy today for the first time since I retired. She is still telling her story, and I know each time she does there is a Terrance in the audience that wants to make a better life for himself and Judy has opened the dialogue for that to happen. Thank God Judy gave up her designer job to save the lives of children like Terrance. I don’t know where Terrance is today, but I pray that if he is still tempted by our tumultuous world that he will stop to remember Judy’s story and not make it his own.

Jana Morrisson