January 22, 2024
The best way out is through.
The words of Robert Frost capture the ‘true grit’ spirit of many Retrievers who overcome adversity, yet especially resonate with Charlene Myers-Avery, B.A. ’23, management of aging services. After a 10-year academic journey, the Baltimore City native is now a proud UMBC alumna forever changed by the knowledge and experiences gained through the Erickson School.
Myers-Avery set a goal when she enrolled in UMBC at age 50 in 2013: complete the social work bachelor’s degree program in five years. And for the first four, she made it look easy, juggling academic studies, work demands, and family responsibilities.
But then, life happened.
Her husband, Larry, became ill in 2017. Between work responsibilities as program assistant director for the Institute for Life Enrichment, an outpatient mental health center, and new demands as a family caregiver, Myers-Avery had to pause her education.
“When he died in 2018, I became a single mother to our teenage son,” she said. “I took off a year to regroup and assess things.”
As often the case, adversity leads to soul-searching, which in turn led Myers-Avery to the Erickson School.
“I’m a preacher’s kid, and I’ve been blessed with unwavering faith and strong spiritual values,” Myers-Avery shared. “I’ve been to church all my life, and I’ve always been inspired by so many older wiser family members and church leaders. I have great patience, admiration, and respect for older persons, and you don’t see our generation wanting that.”
In the process of self-discovery, Myers-Avery realized she had a greater passion and desire to work directly with the older adult population. “I felt a calling to switch my major to aging services and minor in social welfare, which I thought would be very rewarding and also prepare me for a leadership role in my career.”
But before she could resume her studies, life happened. Again.
In 2019, Myers-Avery was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her dream had to wait.
“The adversities came back-to-back, and I was still trying to work fulltime and raise Isaiah,’ she said. “I had to take another year off as there was lot going on – but I was determined to get through.”
She persevered, returning to UMBC in 2020 where she discovered Erickson School professors who supported her along the way.
“I had Dr. (Louise) Murray for several classes, and she was my inspiration to keep going,” Myers-Avery said. “She has been so supportive and understanding throughout my health issues the last three years. She was my deciding factor to push through and complete the few remaining classes I needed to graduate. I will be forever grateful for her guidance and patience.”
Others, too, have been instrumental in her recovery and success, including Professor of Aging Studies Robin Majeski, who incorporated mindfulness exercises in the beginning of class to help students become centered and less anxious.
“The management of aging services program has enabled me to become more aware of how important our older adults are to us in our society,” Myers-Avery observed. “The knowledge I gained through lectures, internships, case studies, and readings has been beneficial in all aspects of becoming successful in the workforce.”
Already looking forward, Myers-Avery plans to pursue a graduate degree “most likely at UMBC” to prepare her for a leadership role advocating for older persons.
“The most satisfying part of teaching is when you see students making connections, not only between concepts but to their lives,” said Murray, clinical associate professor and director of undergraduate programs. “Aging connects to all of us personally and Charlene’s passion and drive will make a real difference in the lives of older persons.”
As a newly-minted alumna, Myers-Avery offers sage advice to her fellow Retrievers. “I’m 60 years old but take out the number. Don’t limit your goals whatever your age. And don’t be hindered by challenges or adversity. Many times, I wanted to give up, but have faith and believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get to the finish line. Just keep going.”
Tony Hoppa, 585-831-0629 or email@example.com