Christina Derbes had a rough childhood. Growing up, she was part of a group of 5 friends; today she is the only one alive and not in jail.
Having experienced the hardest side of life in Rockford, Illinois, Christina knew how she didn’t want to live.
She became a successful businesswoman. As KFC district manager for eastern Arkansas, Christina brought in more than $40 an hour. She was married to a wonderful man and had a new daughter—even after having been told she would never be able to have children.
Life was great.
However, working over 100 hours a week was difficult for a new mom—and a new dad, especially when Faith, around the age of 3, began displaying unusual behaviors.
Faith was exceptionally sensitive to food textures and tastes, to smells and sounds. She was easily agitated, had terrible tantrums, and hated to leave home. For months she refused to dress in anything but pajamas and suffered severe anxiety attacks when she had to leave the house.
Christina’s mother-in-law was concerned and suggested that Christina and her husband Joe take Faith to see a doctor. Christina refused. Afterall, nothing was wrong with her daughter; she was behaving like most 3-year-olds. However, Grandma made an appointment and Christina, to ease her mother-in-law’s mind, took Faith to the doctor.
Faith was diagnosed with autism.
Christina had weathered difficult storms before, so she decided to learn everything she could to help her only child. Christina bought every book on autism she could find.
She also enrolled Faith in the Specialty Pediatric and Autism Resource Clinic (SPARC) in Jonesboro. There, Faith began speech and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. ABA therapy helped Faith learn social skills. As Christina says, “They taught her how to be a good friend.”
Faith’s behavior quickly improved. She experienced fewer meltdowns. Christina became an immediate believer in the importance of therapy for autistic children. “It helps them to understand their feelings and those of others,” Christina explained. “They learn how to better control their behaviors.”
During this entire time, Christina still worked a ridiculous number of hours. One day while sitting in the parking lot outside of the KFC in Haiti, Missouri, Joe called. “I didn’t get married to be a single dad.”
Christina hung up, drove to one of her stores in Paragould, and gave her 2-week notice. Her family needed her more than they needed the money.
That evening, her boss called. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
“We’re going to Disney World for two weeks.”
An Important Decision
When Christina and her family returned home, Christina signed up for classes at BRTC.
She enrolled in nine hours, determined to pay for school herself in order to continue avoiding the pit of poverty in which she had grown up. By the spring semester, Christina was a student worker for Dana Clay, BRTC’s Administrative Assistant for Nursing.
“You mean you want to make $6 an hour when you used to make over $40?” Dana was incredulous.
“Yes. Being with my family is more important than money.”
Christina never left BRTC: “I love it here; it’s home.” After completing her dietetics degree, she accepted a position as Dietetics instructor. She is currently working towards her Bachelor of Health Science in Dietetics degree online with Rutgers University.
Faith is now ten and in the fourth grade at M.D. Williams. She loves computers and intends to design computer games; in fact, she has already developed a Bible Trivia game. Faith loves all things “scary” and especially enjoys toys from Spirit, the Halloween store.
Christina and Faith have bridged enormous challenges and have persevered. BRTC is honored to have been a part of their story.
BRTC supports Christina and Faith Derbes in honor of Autism Awareness month.