Wendy Soderman, founder and owner of Ideal Elementary School and Dream Middle School, was the guest speaker at a Wednesday, Feb. 25 luncheon hosted by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce at the Wanderers Club.
“I’m not a polished speaker. I’m a woman with a story,” she said. “The reason I’m here is that I made a promise to my son that I would share our story, hoping that it will give you, perhaps, some tools, some inspiration to use along your journey. I believe that we are our stories… We’re supposed to inspire one another.”
Soderman brought tissues to the event because at a previous speaking engagement, the raw feelings involved in her emotional story brought tears to the eyes of attendees.
“I grew up on welfare, and I grew up in an environment that children truly should not grow up in. I saw two murders take place. I saw terrible things. I saw people who waited to win a lottery ticket, waited for the man to come to the door and save them. I saw apathy. I had incredible teachers who gathered and changed my report cards. They broke the law, and they changed my grade to get me out of my home at 17,” she recalled.
At 17, she left home, never to return.
“I met Prince Charming, so there was no need to go back,” she said. “I got married at 21 because I knew a good thing when I saw it, and it was like a Cinderella story. I became a teacher, I married a Ph.D. engineer. I got a home. I had never lived in a house in my life.”
When they decided to grow their family, Soderman discovered she was not only pregnant, but pregnant with twin boys.
But her fairy-tale story took a turn when one of the twins stopped growing at 20 weeks old. She was in the hospital for more than two months. Son Korey stopped growing and was expected to die before birth, but his brother, Kyle, kept growing healthily. “I wasn’t Cinderella anymore,” she said.
Her only escape from the doctors was listening to the music of Kenny Loggins while hiding in the bathroom. While some advised otherwise, Soderman decided to keep both babies.
Korey was born at just 1 pound, and Kyle was on a respirator for a month.
The diagnosis that Korey’s cerebral palsy would harm him so much that he wouldn’t recognize anyone, that the stress would ruin their marriage, turned out to be completely false.
“Korey magically, it’s so Korey, turns out to be mentally above normal, cognitively, little bugger,” she said. “And then we realized Korey had an identical twin — he could see every day what he should be.”
But it was not easy. At 8 years old, she recalled, Korey wanted to die.
A friend asked Soderman to write down her feelings, how upset, hurt and conflicted she was, and the result was a letter to Kenny Loggins. She did, after all, decide to keep both babies because of a pop song.
Loggins received her letter, which her friend sent, and when they were both at one of his concerts, they met him. Over the years, Loggins has remained a friend to the family and even met the children at Soderman’s schools.
She shared her story, she explained, to help people embrace their obstacles.
Everyone encounters two things, wonders and obstacles, Soderman explained, adding that no one is exempt. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how much money you make or what your title is, wonders and obstacles are universal. How those wonders and obstacles are handled is what matters, she said.
If you stand above a mountain, you see possibility, she said. Standing below the mountain, looking straight ahead, you see rock. “So I want to look above,” Soderman said.
Helping Korey along his journey, Soderman has chosen to look above. She started a school, she’s married to her best friend, her son Kyle is an amazing man, and neighbors thank them for moving in because they are inspired by Korey.
Of course, there are things she can look at that are negative, the looks, the stares, the knowledge that Korey might never get married or have children, but that also means that she will never be an empty nester. Depending on the perspective, it’s all how you choose to view your journey. “Above or below,” she said.
Her focus is on keeping above the line. “I want you to live as a victor, not a victim. I want you to face your wonders and your obstacles from up here,” Soderman said. “You’re going to take ownership, be accountable and be responsible. At work and at home.”
Soderman had a difficult time finding a preschool for Korey, which eventually led her to opening her own school, with the help of Jess Santamaria, so Korey could have a school to attend.
“It kick-started me, because I wouldn’t change the world, but boy did I go ballistic on that bay,” she said of the space Santamaraia leased her, even though she didn’t have help with the children, wasn’t a business person and wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pay her rent.
“I did get the fairy tale, guys,” she said. “The only way I can truly prove it to you, if you go to ‘Korey’s best man speech,’ it went viral… this is the happy ending. You define your journey. Live your life from above. Face adversity, look it in the eye, get mindful, watch it like a movie without judgment, knowing it’s your wonderful life and move forward. If my son taught me anything, and he teaches me things daily, every day is such a gift. It is so amazing, and you want to be the one who defines it and narrates it.”
To learn more about Soderman and her schools, visit www.dreamideal.com.
Also at last week’s luncheon, Mark Bozicevic, regional vice president for Primerica, an independent financial services marketing company, offered financial advice and information.
“If you don’t plan, you’re planning to fail,” he said, explaining that planning for one’s financial future is imperative.
Primerica’s focus is on helping people earn more income, protecting their finances, and becoming or staying debt-free and financially independent.
“If you have a crummy credit score, you’re going to pay a lot more interest,” he said. “This is one of the things we do. We have a program called debt stacking, and we can pick out what debts you should pay off first, and it’s not always the one with the highest interest rate… We can get you out of debt a lot faster.”
Bozicevic encouraged attendees to talk to him and ask questions about how to become financially stable. To learn more, visit www.primerica.com/mbozicevic.
Primerica sponsored the luncheon, which was the last with Dr. Randy Laurich serving as president. The next luncheon will be held Wednesday, March 25 and will feature the 2015 board installation ceremony.
In other news, the Wellington Chamber will hold its Chamber 101 refresher course Wednesday, March 11 in addition to its after-hours networking reception at Rudino’s Sports Bar. The Women of the Wellington Chamber will host a networking reception Sunday, March 15 at the Tiki Hut at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center. For more information, or to RSVP for future events, visit www.wellingtonchamber.com.
ABOVE: Wendy Soderman speaks at last week’s chamber luncheon.