A Heart as Big as An Elephant

They say an elephant never forgets, and Brenda Gay’s Friends will never forget her elephant loving legacy.

When her son, Nathaniel Gay, was born in 1977, Brenda Gay got him his first stuffed animal – an elephant.  Her love for elephants grew over the next 42 years. She laughingly blamed Nathaniel when her elephant collection became – well – elephantine!  Her collection now contains over 6,000 pieces. She explained that her love for elephants came from the loving nature they have toward their own families, and the fact that the mothers take great care of their babies and form incredibly strong bonds with them.  

A veteran, Sergeant Brenda Gay is known as BJ to her friends.  They describe her as loyal, dedicated, trusting, courageous and an inspiration – as well as more than a little bit stubborn.

Towards the end of 2017, Sergeant Gay started to lose her voice.  She had already lost a significant amount of weight. Family and friends chalked it up as a side effect of recent thyroid surgery.  

In February of 2018, Brenda was sent to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) after the speech therapist noticed worsening of speech and swallowing. The ENT said the symptoms, including slurred and abnormal speech, tongue twitching, and poor pitch control were possible signs of a neurological disorder such as bulbar ALS.  Brenda was referred to a neurologist for further testing. The tests eventually resulted in official diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Brenda was given a life expectancy of 3-5 years.

Since that diagnosis, Brenda has completely lost her ability to speak, and swallow food. She has become weaker in her extremities.  ALS is a cruel disease. Brenda’s nerve cells will continue to break down and prevent her muscles from functioning. 

To honor Brenda’s Life Journey and her passion for family and Elephants and to raise awareness for ALS, her friends and family are hosting an event to display her 6,000-piece elephant collection – a hobby rooted in her love for family and motherhood. Their goal is to raise funds for the ALS Association and the Cameron Park Zoo, and to share a bit of Brenda’s life and legacy with others.

Do you love elephants?  You can view this amazing collection December 7, from 1 to 4 PM at 2460 Flat Rock Rd in Waco.  Enjoy the collection and leave a small donation for ALS Research and for the Elephants of Cameron Park Zoo.  Well done Sergeant Gay!

The Completion Center at MCC is more than just support — it’s a family.

by Stacy Burger

College students face many responsibilities throughout their time in college. These can include navigating parenthood, work-life balance and insecurities of finances, housing and food.

The Completion Center at McLennan Community College is free to all MCC students to help them reach their full potential. Success coaches help students develop a balance between academics and the outside circumstances in their life.

“They want to see you succeed in school,” MCC student Alexis Escobar said. “That’s the ultimate goal. But if they notice you’re having troubles in your personal life they want to take care of that, as well.”

Each success coach has an area of emphasis. Some specialize in coaching single parents or first-generation college students, while others coach students with financial pressures or general academic struggles.

“We help students be their genuine self,” success coach Starlen Roddy said. “Everything we do here is centered around the student whole-heartedly.”

A lot of times, students struggle with understanding the idea behind spending thousands of dollars on a college education, when they could be working and making money instead. The Completion Center combats those thoughts to help students understand their purpose.

“Everybody here is trying to get students in the right mindset of, ‘You’re here for a reason and you need to finish it out,’ ” MCC student LJ Curtis said.

Success Coaches at the Completion Center

Success coaches, who meet with multiple students a day, say students leave the Completion Center feeling proud of their purpose and more confident in their skills.

“They definitely changed my mindset about school in general,” Curtis said. “They’ve just helped me understand why I’m here.”

Following their time at the Completion Center, students come back with success stories due to the support they received from coaches.

“After meeting with a success coach, students come back and tell us stories about how, not only did they survive the semester, but they’re looking forward to graduating and being able to tell their kids how they overcame certain things,” Roddy said.

It isn’t just a place to get help with academics. It is a place filled with coaches that want each student to succeed, be happy and fulfill their purpose. Coaches also connect students with resources available to them across campus and in the community.

For instance, all MCC students have free access to tutoring and the campus counseling center. Paulanne’s Pantry also provides food free of charge to students, and students may apply for emergency grants of up to $250 from the MCC Foundation.

“It became like a family to me,” Escobar said.

Success coaches also encourage students to stop by the Completion Center even if they don’t know exactly what they want to do next.

“If you don’t know your goals let us walk with you in order to help you get there,” Roddy said. “Give us the opportunity to not only assist, but to welcome you with open arms.”

Stacy Burger is a Marketing and Communications Intern at McLennan Community College. She is a senior at Baylor University studying Marketing & Public Relations and hopes to work in sports or entertainment. As a Colorado native, she enjoys all things outdoors.