2010-11-19 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Heroes Of Their Own Lives — Jackie and Jimmy Stillwell
Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

Once in a while, you meet people who stand out from the crowd. They may stand out for more than one reason. It’s not the way they dress or the way they speak, but the things they do. How they spend their time. The quality of the organizations with which they associate. How they work with others to build coalitions, without seeking credit or publicity. They’ve become “heroes of their own lives,” to repeat the much-quoted expression coined by Charles Dickens in the novel, “David Copperfield.”

Jackie and Jimmy Stillwell of Edgemere fit into this category. They have knit their lives together, in a powerful and positive way. It goes beyond the bond of marriage. They have worked their local miracles within the embrace and support of three influential Rockaway community organizations — a vibrant Baptist church in Arverne, a leading family health care facility in Edgemere, and a Rockaway Beach K-8 public school, all located within a block or two of the peninsula’s large and challenging public housing projects. The Stillwells seem never to have doubted that their efforts could help change the lives of those in their neighborhood for the better.

One of the best things to happen in Rockaway in the past decade has been the creation of The Joseph P. Addabbo Family Health Center of Beach 59 Street, a beautiful facility that sponsors a wealth of health education programs, including nutrition education for mothers of infants and children. The farmer’s market operating in Addabbo’s parking lot on weekends from July through October is a big draw for me and others in the community. Jimmy Stillwell is a medical social worker with Addabbo’s Ryan White AIDS/HIV counseling program. He makes a living tackling the difficult problem of assisting residents of Rockaway suffering from the AIDS epidemic.

Another great thing to occur in New York City in the past decade, perhaps the most useful reform of what has come to be called the BloomKlein era, is the creation of a position at each New York City public school for a “parent coordinator.” Jackie Stillwell fills that position at PS/MS 183, The Richard R. Green School, located on Beach 79 Street. Just walk into the school, and you sense a spirit of enthusiasm for learning and growth. The principal of PS/MS 183, Renee Peart, and her staff, know how to partner with the community for the good of their students and families. Jackie is an important factor in that success.

I met Jackie about two years ago, when the pastor of my church, First Congregational, reached out to offer assistance to her school. A wonderful partnership has developed over the years, with our church members collecting prom dresses and school supplies for the students of the school, and the school collecting food for the community food pantry of our church. Jackie truly understands how to support the families of students, in every way.

But the Stillwells express their beliefs together, even more fruitfully, in their after-work hours, at St. John Baptist Church, a beautiful whitesteepled beacon that towers over Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 74 Street. Through the Samaritan Hands Health Ministry of the church, Jimmy and Jackie have been living out their Christian faith, helping to marshal volunteers to further improve the lives of Rockaway residents. The ministry nurtures weekend and after-school tutoring programs, and members of the church have been appointed as “health ambassadors” for critical community scourges like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, asthma and breast cancer. Jimmy Stillwell serves as executive director.

Flyers for health events at this conservative, and strongly bible-oriented house of worship, quote the Old Testament, in which Hosea bemoans the risk that the people of Israel may “perish for lack of knowledge.” The Stillwells and other church participants in this ministry believe it is their mission to assure that health knowledge is spread throughout Rockaway.

While the Stillwells and other members of St. John Baptist have been working, over many years, to successfully establish this outreach center at their church, even more amazing is that they have not hoarded their expertise. They are happy to share their knowledge to empower others in the community. Two weeks ago, the St. John ambassadors spent a day of their time with the lay leaders of the progressive Protestant, First Congregational Church of Beach 94 Street, walking them through the steps of how to run an informational event to empower residents of the community. The two churches are on opposite ends of the Christian theological spectrum, but they joined together seamlessly in a common belief that all of us must be proactive learners to improve our health and wellness.

This past year, the Stillwells were honored locally at the awards banquet of The Action Center. In 2008, WABC Television-Channel 7 paid tribute to their efforts by naming the Stillwells “Hometown Heroes,” and had this to say:

“Residing in a lower-income area that often faces limited resources, Jimmy and Jackie give back to their neighbors and friends in need by reaching out to organizations for donations, including food, prom dresses, baby clothes, and furniture. [They] are always on call, day and night, to help others, ensuring that no one in their community goes hungry or goes to sleep at night without a proper bed. During the holidays, Jimmy and Jackie make extra efforts to ensure that there is something special for every child. They buy toys, clothes and much more for the families in their neighborhood. “

This Saturday, November 20, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the St. John outreach center at 74-05 Rockaway Beach Boulevard, will sponsor a workshop on “Living With Diabetes,” which Jackie Stillwell, diabetes ambassador, will be chairing. Those in the community suffering with diabetes or caring for those with the disease are welcome to attend and receive guidance from these caring individuals.

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