When I retire, I envision myself relaxing on a beach with my feet up and a smoothie in my hand. However, witnessing Charolette Tidwell continue to change the world post-retirement shifted my priorities. Charlotte was born on February 14, 1946 in Fort Smith, Arkansas alongside 9 siblings. As a bright adolescent, she was one of the first Black students to attend Sparks School of Nursing. Once her retirement age approached, she decided to take an innovative approach. She founded Antioch for Youth and Family, an organization that teaches children garden-based STEM learning and feeds over 10,400 people annually. Every year for the past twenty years, her organization has provided over 800,000 meals, equating to 3.67 million pounds of food distributed. As an emblem of her expansive and meaningful work, she was awarded the Jack White Community Service Award from the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. This is an evasive and intense disease that targets nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing paralysis. I have always had an emotional connection with this illness because my grandma passed away from it. Furthermore, I frequently volunteer with the ALS Foundation, allowing me to understand how heartbreaking it is to lose one’s mobile abilities. Nevertheless, her kind soul and giving nature triumphs the tragedies of this disease.
I try to be like Charolette in any way I can. She teaches me to help those around me, even when I face tribulations. I am inspired to take action upon witnessing an issue, and employ courage to make a difference. Food insecurity is an insanely pervasive problem in Arkansas, and her efforts have made massive improvement. I know that I can make strides to resolve and problem, no matter the gravity. I learn to continue to chase my passions, even if the cards I’ve been dealt are unfair. I’m moved to put others before myself, and recognize that I can find true solstice through charity.
Charlotte Tidwell enlightens not only the Arkansas community and myself on how to shine our light to others, but also the nation. In 2015, her story was aired by Lester Holt for NBC Nightly News. She was also named a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth, a prestigious award granted to women making a difference in their area. National acclaim aside, I witness the incredible acts she has performed for the Fort Smith community, and I want to work hard each day to obtain just an ounce of her grace and humility. Because of this, I have decided that my retirement does not need to be defined by me dozing off all day in a hammock. Rather, I will be the one making the ocean’s tides turn, just as Charolette does.