In his book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn writes ,“We must be willing to encounter darkness and despair when they come up and face them, over and over again if need be, without running away or numbing ourselves in the thousands of ways we conjure up to avoid the unavoidable.” To be able to face the pain and the struggles in our lives in this way is both brave and courageous.  Our VIP, Leigh Carlson-Hernandez is brave and courageous and whether you believe it or not, so are you.

As a young adult, Leigh learned how to use her bravery when her mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. Cancer is a diagnosis that no one wants to face, but when cancer impacts the brain the term “disease” takes on an entirely new meaning as it can have a profound impact on nearly any and every aspect of a person’s life.  Leigh’s mom lived courageously for 17 years, but not without losing so much along the way.

And loss, as much as it pains us to talk about, is something common to us all and something that did not end for Leigh with her mom’s cancer.  Over the years, Leigh would come to know the pain of losing loved ones to suicide. She lost several friends to suicide in early adulthood and then her first husband took his own life too. Pain for Leigh and for her three young children who had lost their father took on a whole new meaning.  The trauma of her husband’s death brought along with it anxiety of mountainous proportions. The trauma was devastating and had a huge impact on the growth and development of Leigh’s children as well as on Leigh’s own growth and development as a parent and professional.

But, in the same book, Kabat-Zinn also writes, “Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world.” This is exactly what Leigh had to learn to do again and again and again for herself and for her kids.  She had to practice believing in herself and she had to make a conscious choice to show up for herself and for her family and for the world around her. And, she did it. She did it with courageousness and bravery. She found love again. She worked (and continues to work) diligently on repairing much of the trauma and the pain in her life with love and understanding.  She’s found solace in the outdoors and spends time caring for herself with running, hiking, biking, and kayaking. She makes sure to make time for quality family time including their 5 adorable dogs!

Having to see her children through the loss of their father ignited a passion in Leigh to become a fierce advocate for children, families and early childhood mental health.  She is currently the Family Support Board Director at the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development. She is truly passionate about helping parents and children find their own voice and use it to influence change.  The programs Leigh is involved with work with families to help build financial security, promote positive parenting and child development, provide connection to tangible resources, support health and wellness and foster parent leadership.  She’s working day in and day out to partner with the people in the community to be brave and courageous and to use their voices to advocate for their families.

Leigh is an inspiration to us all on what it means to be brave, courageous, and resilient. Leigh plans to use her half of the proceeds from her “Be Brave and Courageous” collection to establish a fund to reduce barriers for parent participation in leadership training.