Michele Feyen is a woman on mission. At the tender age of 16, she and her younger siblings lost their mother to a battle with cancer. She not only took on the role of caregiver for her siblings, but she continued to work hard in school, earning a full ride to college.
After 30+ years as a physical therapist, Michele retired and, along with her siblings, founded the Bettie D. Gonzalez Foundation of Hope. Named for their mother, the mission of the foundation is empowering motherless daughters. The foundation enables these young women to tap into a much needed network. They are connected with a mentor and scholarship money to college. They learn that they can find courage through struggle and great loss and that with hard work and perseverance they can be successful.
Intro: Welcome to “How She Got Here – Conversations with Everyday Extraordinary Women.” It is my belief that every woman has something inside her only she can do. The more we share the stories of other women, who have already discovered their thing, the more it inspires, encourages, and empowers other women to do the same.
Susan: Hey, Pod Sisters, my guest today is Michele Feyen. Michele is the founder of the Bettie D. Gonzales Foundation of Hope. At the tender age of 16, Michele and her siblings lost their mom to a five-year battle with cancer. Being the oldest, Michele took on the responsibility of helping raise her siblings. Along with this new responsibility, she was determined to go to college. She not only did that – but she earned a free ride. Her first career was being a physical therapist, but after 30 plus years, she wanted to make a change, and that change was the foundation named after her mother with the goal of empowering, serving, and mentoring motherless daughters. So without further ado, here’s Michele.
Good morning, Michele! How are you?
Michele Feyen: Hi! I am great, thank you.
Susan: Good. I am so glad to have you on with us today and to share a little bit of your story.
Michele Feyen: I am happy to be here.
Susan: I am just so excited for you to be here. It’s been so nice getting to know you through the Dallas Women’s Foundation, and I’m just excited to have you on and share a little bit of your story today with us. We’re going to get going on your new role in just a moment but first, would you share a little bit about yourself with us and what brought you to this moment where you found yourself.
Michele Feyen: Sure. It was a long time coming getting to this point in my life, quite honestly. It was many years of hard work, many experiences of good bad and some traumatic, and many relationships. But I feel all the good and bad together have got me to this point in my life that I will call very blessed. I feel that life doesn’t always go in the direction we think it should. At age 16, my mother passed away after a five-year battle with cancer, and she left behind six children—and being the oldest, I was responsible for caring for them during my junior and senior year of high school, but I was determined to go to college. Financially, my father could not afford to help me with college so I had to work very hard to get some scholarships.
I ended up choosing my college based on the one that gave me a full ride four year scholarship. But I also received a smaller scholarship that paid for all my books, and that one was awarded to me not just because of my grades but because they believed I had a great chance for success. And I mention it just because it was the first time that anyone ever honored me or told me that they believed in me and my dream, and I’ve never forgotten it and how it made me feel. And I feel that it gave me the courage to do something that no one I personally knew had ever done before.
I ended up going to college and becoming a physical therapist. And long story short, I’ve been married for 36 years, and I have had an over 30-year career in physical therapy. Just a few years ago I started my second career as the founder of a nonprofit organization, and I feel that this is what I’m called to do in this season of my life.
Susan: That is just such a beautiful story. I didn’t realize that you had gotten a full ride and then on top of that your books have been paid for; that’s not — you’re really smart. You’ve got to be really smart if somebody is giving you a full ride to college – or not giving, you earned a full ride to college. That’s really, really cool.
Michele Feyen: Well, thank you. I did work very hard. And in addition to making dinners and getting kids ready for school in the morning and doing everything a mom would do for five younger kids, I really don’t know how I did it but it’s by the grace of God.
Susan: Yes, ma’am, I really can’t fathom them. I just can’t. You’re a true hero. I mean that story alone, just that story; forget everything else, that alone is just phenomenal to me – a true inspiration.
Michele Feyen: Thank you.
Susan: So I would love to hear a little bit about your mom and the foundation that you’ve named after her. What do you want people to know about your mom?
Michele Feyen: Well, my mom was a beautiful person – beautiful inside. She was so loving, and she had a heart of gold. Even with having six children she volunteered and she always was helping others. The neighbors and the neighbor kids just loved my mom and they loved coming to our house to play. So, we always had a lot of kids around. And even though we only had our mother for a short period, relatively speaking, we all knew, all six of us knew without a doubt unconditional love. She taught us compassion and what a servant’s heart looked like. And that’s why it is so appropriate and we are so proud to name the foundation after her, Bettie D. Gonzales.
Susan: What a tribute? What a tribute?
Michele Feyen: Thank you.
Susan: I love it that you say your mom was always helping others and gave you the “servant’s heart” because that’s exactly what you’re doing now; you’re moving forward in a second career and with this foundation you’re really doing that, and that’s just so inspirational. Tell us a little bit about the foundation itself, its mission, where it is now and it’s vision for the future.
Michele Feyen: Okay. Our mission is quite simple “it’s to mentor, serve and empower motherless daughters” and whether they’ve lost their mother due to death or whether their mothers are just physically absent, we don’t make a distinction. And what we do is we offer scholarships to high school seniors who are motherless. We have an application process and a whole process to be able to get the scholarship. And we also mentor girl ages 14 through college, all the way through college. So our first year, which was just last year – we’re very new in the nonprofit sector – our first year, being last year, we gave six scholarships and we are currently mentoring those girl who are now going off to their sophomore years in college. And this year, our second year in business, we were able to give 12 scholarships. We’ve expanded our mentors and we are mentoring all 12 of those girls as they go off to their freshman year in college. So we are just trying to expand. We’re growing in the mentoring program and have mentors increase financially so that we can add some more programs. Next year we’re hoping to give 18 scholarships and mentor those girls. My vision – well I have a lot of things in my vision but basically, our vision is that all motherhood girls will have a way to tap into our resources and have a mentor if needed. We also would like to see every motherless daughter have a nurturing advocate in her life to set goals, teach life and leadership skills and reaffirm her ability to reach her God-given potential. And that’s basically our vision.
Susan: I love that. It matches up so well with my vision for this podcast, of women truly figuring out what it is that they’re supposed to do. And I’m so thankful to have you here today because sharing your story is really empowering, inspiring, and encouraging.
Michele Feyen: Well, thank you.
Susan: Tell me how you find these fabulous girls?
Michele Feyen: Well, since last year was our last year, that was a very good question, how do I find these girls? And so we are currently in the greater Dallas area and we are in the greater Detroit area in Michigan, since I have three sisters who are there, and there are two…Well, I have one sister and myself here in the Dallas area and what I did is I went into all the high schools in Denton, Collin and the far north Dallas counties and I told the counselors about myself, about our foundation, I sent them all applications for the motherless girls and basically, they reached out to any girl that they knew that were motherless and they filled out the application and then return them to me. They’re able to do it online; we have it through our website. And then after that…And we did the same thing in Michigan in the greater Detroit area in Wayne County. So that’s kind of how we’ve been finding them is through the high schools, and I just keep expanding every year into more schools. Well, I’m always looking for ways also. I’ve been volunteering in different areas and so I’m always, you know, word of mouth. And I’ve had some girls that have sent applications from different states but we’re just not there yet but we’ll just keep on expanding the best that I can.
Susan: I really appreciate the grassroots effort behind this. It’s such a see a fascinating story.
Michele Feyen: Thank you.
Susan:I mean you seriously have to have some serious tenacity to just go up to a school and say “I have something I want to do and I want to help,” and I just wonder if more of us were willing to maybe go outside our comfort zone a little bit what we could make this world look like. It’s so inspiring. And I’m so glad to have gotten to know you. Tell us a little bit about how you motivate yourself, because you must have so much on your plate right now. I’m a person who would get really overwhelmed with some of these things, I think pretty quickly. Tell us how you motivate yourself and how you maybe deal sometimes with struggle when things aren’t going exactly how you had planned.
Michele Feyen: Oh, that’s a good question because when you start with such a grassroots effort and you hear a lot of negativity, some days it is difficult to get up and say “No, this is my vision; I’m going to work every single day on what I believe is right and the vision that I have.” So that is a great question. One of the things that I do – and I do it every morning – is I try to make positive declarations over myself. And I do that usually before I even get out of bed. I say things that I believe to be true: “I am a beautiful child of God. I am a daughter of the most high. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” and on and on. And that’s before I even get out of bed. Some other things I do; I try to be around positive people. I call them energy producers versus energy drainers. I’ve learned at this stage in my life that it is not helpful to me to be around toxic people or negative people. And sometimes I have to and I will try to stay positive but I can’t be around that for any length of time. And some other things that I do I love to read and learn new things. So if I’m not learning something new reading, listening to a podcast….I have quite a few emails and daily emails from motivational speakers that just feeds me, that just gives me motivation. I love listening to motivational pastors, motivational speakers, whether it’s in person or on the internet, and that just motivates me. I love setting goals and working towards them. And I just have to go back to, as far as motivating, I write down all my goal and sometimes I have to go back and look a “Okay, well, what were my goals?” And I don’t just do goals on January first, I try to reassess every three to four months, and I just love seeing the goals that I set three or four months ago and it just motivate me to “Okay, I’m kind of on track. I’m going to keep on going” or “You know what? This isn’t working for me; I’m going to do something else.” I guess those are probably the main things that I do to keep me motivated.
Susan: That’s really cool. I want to go back to what you said a second ago “energy producers versus energy drainers” I never have thought about that term before, but those are two very distinct kinds of people in this world, aren’t they?
Michele Feyen: Yes, they are. And I think I learned that through my 30 years of physical therapy. Just working with people that are in pain; it’s no fault of their own but it drained me. I was putting everything I had into them. And that was my job and I did it beautifully but then I had to go home at the end of the day and recharge or I would not be good the next day for my patient. But then after I left that career I realized I don’t need to be around that anymore, I’m not a physical therapist anymore. So that’s kind of, I guess how I label – I don’t really label but that’s how I feel about certain people but, you know, some people just give me energy and then there are others who nothing is ever right.
Susan: Well said. Tell us a little bit – I don’t know if you have to do this so much anymore because it sounds like you’re really in a place where the Foundation gives you energy on a regular basis, but one thing we talk about a lot on this podcast is women finding themselves in a position where they haven’t taken very good care of themselves mentally, physically, you know, just the art of self care itself. And I know from you being a physical therapist, you may have seen this more than anybody else at least that I’ve talked to yet. How did you go about yourself? How did you go about recharging your batteries? How do you do that now? How has that changed from one career to another?
Michele Feyen: That is very good because I’ve been there where my battery needed recharging. And I guess as I’ve gotten older and maybe just a little bit wiser, I’ve felt if I was out of balance in any one area then I was just out of balance and then I did not feel good, I wasn’t my best self. And so what I try to set goals in and the areas I try to keep balance in are: physical, spiritual, relational, and emotional. And if any of those things are out of balance, I tend to just not be my best and so I have to look at all of those areas to recharge myself.
Physically, you know, I try to get exercise three to four days a week. I do Yoga. I recently just started back playing tennis at age 60. Relationally, if things aren’t going well between my husband and I or my kids or my grandkids, you know, that has to be in balance. Or if I haven’t even seen them in several weeks—if I haven’t seen those grandkids in a couple weeks, I need to see them…Yeah, I feel out of balance. Spiritually, you know, how I have to feed myself. I read my Bible every morning but I love hearing pastors and also I get several things via email and that kind of recharges me. And if I’m not being filled spiritually, I will feel out of balance. Emotionally, we can become very stressed, and stress management is a very important thing. So if I’m doing think something that I feel is really somebody else wants me to do it and it’s not really who I am or what I need to be doing, I will feel stressed. And so a lot of it is just self-awareness and knowing that I’m being true to myself on the emotional part.
I’ve always try to teach balance to my patients, and I always said one of my life rule is to develop your core. And I think it’s important to develop your core value, develop your physical core, and core stability, which can be both physical and all these other things that I mentioned before. But your core stability physically would be just to have a strong core; it will help you walk better, it’ll help you move better, you’ll have less stress on all your joints, and that will keep you in balance. But then, also being in balance core stability with the physical, relational, and emotional area I think it’s so important. So I believe it’s just having a good balance. And sometimes you just have to go back to step one and kind of reassess and ask yourself that question “Where am I out of balance?” if you’re feeling stressed.
Susan: I love that you had this first career in physical therapy because it sounds like you weren’t just a physical therapist but you kind of helped people there with the mental aspects of things too, and I would guess that would translate very well into what you’re doing now.
Michele Feyen: Yes, I think it does because I tend to use a lot of physical therapy terms with what I’m doing now and with the girls that I mentor, and even in helping other mentors. So yeah, I think it has because I really think in life in what ever you do you have to balance everything. And like you said from that first question, everything that I’ve – all my experiences from way back when I have all made me who I am today. So, I think you’re right, you know, that has been a large part of it. And I’ve dealt with people with their physical but after 30 years you realize that I’m not just treating the physical; I’m treating the emotional and their whole emotional well being, and it’s very much many injuries and overcoming injuries. It’s very much a mental thing. And that’s something I use with the girls today, it’s we don’t define our path by what we’ve been through but we like to look to the future. And so, yes, I think you’re right, I tend to use a lot of physical therapy terms but it works.
Susan: That was beautiful; that last statement you made I won’t bungle it but I’m going to go back and highlight that for sure. I want to leave us with one last question, and that is…Normally, I like to end with an action step of asking you how you think other women can change their lives and all that, but I really want to just change things up a little bit this time and ask how people can get involved in your new foundation. I know it’s new and I know it has a lot of startup going on and it sounds like you are well on your way to 18 girls next year which is phenomenal. Because the first year you start off with what? Six, right?
Michele Feyen: Yes, six.
Susan: So you’re prepping for year three and you’re talking 18 girls this school year, is that correct?
Michele Feyen: That’s correct. We did 12 this year and so I’m prepping for 18 for next year.
Susan: Tell us how we can get involved with your foundation, either locally, even if we’re not local, how can we give? Where can we find you online? Give us all of that information because I really think this is something that my listeners will want to get involved with.
Michele Feyen: Well, the easiest way is just go to our website, and that ‘s www.bdghope.org. And that gives all the information, you can donate online, you can send me an email, you can call me and get more information but I think that’s probably the best place to go is www.bdghope.org. We also have a Facebook page, and that is under Bettie D. Gonzales Facebook. So those are the probably the two main ways that you can get it. I could give out my cell phone number and you could call me.
Susan: No, that’s okay. We won’t make you do that. But I will make sure all of that is linked on our transcript page. At the end of this podcast, people can go there and check if they didn’t have a chance to write that down. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule today to share your story with us and a little bit about your foundation. I really look forward to seeing where this goes. I really see this taking off. I cannot imagine a better person for the job.
Michele Feyen: Well, thank you so much. It was my pleasure speaking with you and talking to you.
Susan: All right, I will see you soon.
Michele Feyen: Okay, thank you. Bye-bye.
Outro: Hey, sisters, thanks so much for joining me today. I will have links to the foundation and their Facebook page over on our transcript page on the website. I hope Michele’s story and the other stories you have heard so far on the podcast have inspired, encouraged, and empowered you. If they have, please share it with a friend or two or three or four or ten. I’d also appreciate it if you would head over to iTunes to rate and review it, as that makes it easier for other women to find. Y’all, I am so looking forward to everything coming up through the end of the year and even into next year. Yes, I’m already planning. It’s going to be so much fun. Thank you all so much for your support and for listening. I’ll see you soon!