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Irene Finds Her Voice

A tribute to the Mather School’s impact on African American students

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What if what you loved most was taken away from you… Would you give up? Or fight to take it back?

Irene is a 72-year-old poet who can no longer write down her beautiful stanzas. Due to Parkinson’s disease, her steady hand quivers to the point where her powerful words are mere scribbles on the page.

Poetry was Irene’s escape from hardship and sadness. The South Carolina native eagerly listened to her brother recite the words of great literary minds like Robert Frost. She studied the written and spoken word and its power to transform anyone. Irene dedicated her life to breathing life into the written word for future generations in low-income areas of her home state.

The loss of her ability to write comes at an important time for Irene. Her alma mater, The Mather School, is celebrating 150 years since its founding. Her dream is to commemorate her alma mater with a heartfelt poem that encapsulates its influence on her life.

The Mather School was created in 1868 by Mrs. Rachel Crane Mather for the daughters of formerly enslaved people. This school boosted literacy rates and instilled a sense of empowerment and independence in African American women. Irene is proud to be among those brave, intelligent alumnae. Through it all, she remembers her three biggest passions: children, family, and faith.

“My passion is education and helping those earn their potential,” she proclaimed.

Wish recipient Irene uses her new computer
close up of wish recipient Irene's hands on the keyboard of her new computer
Wish recipient Irene embraces a child

Mrs. Mather created the Mather School because she believed that everyone deserved to get a good education. She acted on her belief and began to teach and raise funds for a women’s dormitory. In 1901, the Mather School celebrated the graduation of its first three students from elementary school. And in 1932, the Mather School high school program was approved by the South Carolina State Department of Education as Mather Industrial School.

Irene had an extensive career as a teacher and mentor for teens struggling to learn in tough areas of the South. Irene’s guidance helped many young students who may have otherwise been overlooked by less dedicated adults. These children were reminiscent of Rachel Mathers’ students, as they were all but ignored by other people in the area. Irene used her knowledge and studies to empower her community and make the world better for others.

The similarities are uncanny and proof that when someone takes an interest in youth, they thrive.

Irene’s own children were raised knowing that they were valued, intelligent people who could overcome challenges through education and perseverance. She showed them that no opportunity was off limits when you have a passion and strong values. The dedicated caretaker was a force for creating healthy, happy generations that continues with her grandchildren today.

“I want to create and record memories, express feelings and share my dreams. I want to share my love of words; their power to heal, inspire and connect people,” Irene said.

Wish recipient Irene sits with a group on Founder’s Day weekend at the Mather School
Wish recipient poses with a group on Founder’s Day weekend at the Mather School

Irene wanted her dedication to the Mather School encapsulated in a poem worthy of reading.

The Resident Programs Director at Brookdale Senior Living reached out to Wish of a Lifetime for help. Hygiene and health company Essity provided her with the time and resources to craft her work and the opportunity to be honored by her friends and family.

Leaders at The Mather School were inspired by Irene and invited her to campus. They hosted Irene and her family for Founder’s Day weekend. The graduate is a long time member of the school’s alumni association and continues to make learning more meaningful for everyone.

Irene’s granddaughters read her poem to guests during the Founder’s Day luncheon as a tribute to the school’s legacy. Irene looked on as proud as could be, knowing that her work spreads through her blood and into the hearts of many others.

“I am not letting Parkinson’s win. I am living a full life while facing obstacles and showing other people there are ways around obstacles that can get in the way,” Irene said.

Wish granted on February 22, 2018 and sponsored by Essity + Brookdale Senior Living.

Close up of figurines on wish recipient Irene's shelf in her home

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