By now, Ruby Lewis knows nothing in life is guaranteed.
She kicked off 2015 marrying the love of her life Allen Lewis in February before finishing up her bachelor’s degree in legal studies at Kaplan University in the fall.
Despite seeking out jobs across the state to get her foot in the door at a law office, the phone has yet to ring with good news. It can be frustrating, she said, making her question all of the hard work she has put in.
The struggle to escape the grips of poverty is difficult, she said. But Lewis has never been one to linger on setbacks for long.
“I just think that when I get a job it’s going to come full circle. It will show that my schooling meant something,” she said. “[Kokomo Urban Outreach Executive Director Jeff Newton and Homework Club teacher Angie Sanders] have really taught me to stay encouraged and be proud of myself. As long as I keep pushing, it will ultimately lead me to where I want to be in the end.”
Lewis continues to push forward toward a new life with a career in New Albany, but she hasn’t left her old life — or Kokomo, for that matter — behind.
Her mother, Dawn Peterson, moved in with her and Allen in October, along with her father-in-law. She still makes the nearly 4-hour drive up to Kokomo to take her younger brothers Joshua and Matthew to doctor appointments.
Both of her brothers have been impacted by the Mitochondrial Disease they inherited from their mother, more severely than Lewis. Joshua has to go to the doctor regularly for heart problems in addition to experiencing problems with the muscles in his legs, while Matthew has started having severe migraines in recent years.
Her mother also continues to face health challenges that keep her from leading a productive life. Despite her health problems, Lewis calls her mother “a big inspiration in my life” and credits her family for always inspiring her to better herself.
“She has a hard time walking from her bedroom to the bathroom, which is less than 20 feet away,” she said. “I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her [in Kokomo] to deal with that on her own without a car to get groceries or without any friends or family other than my brothers, who don’t have cars, either.”
Lewis also stays in touch with a number of children from Garden Square via Facebook, who will occasionally message her to stay in touch and ask a question about their homework.
Although they are separated by hundreds of miles, the struggles the children of Garden Square face are still close to Lewis’ heart.
“Some of the kids since I have moved out of Garden Square will call me and ask, ‘Miss Ruby, will you help me with homework? I can’t make it to see Miss Sanders today,’” she said. “I’ll just say, ‘Sure why not.’ And we’ll talk over the phone together.”
Sanders says children in the Homework Club still look at Lewis as a role model because of her persistence to make something of her life.
“When she worked for us, the kids really took to her,” she said. “She would still be with us if she didn’t live so far away.”
Lewis carries her story with her wherever she goes like a badge of endurance. She doesn’t shy away from the stories about the tough times she’s been through.
Instead, she believes she can be a source of inspiration for others, even as she continues searching for that job yet to “legitimize” her education. She knows the fight out of poverty will never really be over.
“When people are going through a rough time, they need to step up and be a voice,” Lewis said. “If someone doesn’t step up, then nobody is going to know what we go through and how we struggle to get where we are.
“If I can make a difference in the lives [of the children in Garden Square] like Angie and Pastor Jeff did with me, that would mean the world to me,” she added. “I want to inspire children to do better and to overcome obstacles in life.”
Newton already sees Lewis as a success, using her story as one of the many positive “outcomes” of Kokomo Urban Outreach.
“It’s an amazing story,” he said. “It’s not something we did, it’s what she did. We were just there to encourage her and say keep on going. She had to do it herself and everybody has to do it themselves.”
This is the third and final story of three-part series on Lewis and how mentors helped her believe she could achieve stability in adulthood that she lacked in her childhood. To view all three parts, visit kokomotribune.com.
Martin Slagter can be reached at 765-454-8570, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @slagterm.