JOLIET – Jacqueline Mays of Joliet had one blessing this year – but it’s significant.
“I am thankful for my spirituality,” Mays said. “When I look back, I’m just so thankful that God kept me and matured me to see that it wasn’t about me being selfish, but it was about his protection over me through trials and tribulations.”
Mays, the office manager at the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic in Joliet, learned to forgive – herself and the people she feels deceived her – in time for her 50th birthday last month. It helped her lose her bitterness.
Mays has a newspaper clipping she said is from the Oct. 29, 1965, edition of The Herald-News that details how Herdisine Brown of Water Street called police after her brother-in-law found a newborn baby crying on the sidewalk.
Mays said she was that baby. The clipping said the fire department transported her to Silver Cross Hospital, then in Joliet, where nurses named her Mays Jackie Frost. Ironically, in her teen years, Mays became friends with Brown’s daughter, Carmelita Brown of Joliet.
Carmelita said her mother was introduced to Mays on Carmelita’s first birthday. Carmelita said she has high regard for Mays.
“I treat her as a sister,” Carmelita said. “When we run into each other, we hug and kiss. We always call each other on our birthdays.”
Mays said a Joliet family adopted her. She grew up not far from her birth family, where many people knew her true story – but not Mays. By age 7, she said other children taunted her for being adopted. As Mays grew, others leaked details about the truth. Mays said that when she approached her adoptive parents, they went mum.
In her early 20s, Mays looked up the newspaper clipping at the Joliet Public Library and again approached loved ones, whom she said admitted the truth.
“I held a lot of resentment. I was angry. I was out of control,” Mays said. “I was angry for a long time until I said, ‘I want to be healed of it.’”
The first step was reaching beyond herself. In January 2006, Mays, far behind in the volunteer hours her low-income housing required from her, decided to give those hours to the Will-Grundy Medical Clinic.
Sandy Cowgill of Joliet was the clinic’s executive director at that time. Cowgill saw a giving spirit inside Mays. So Cowgill gave Mays a chance.
“It was such a joy to have her on board and so much fun to watch her grow,” Cowgill said. “The only other time I experienced it was in raising kids, when you watch your child learn something and become good at it. She started off filing and doing odds and ends, and worked herself into a position that is very valuable.”
When Cowgill stepped down, J.D. Ross stepped into the role of executive director and worked with Mays for more than seven years, he said. Ross said he encouraged Mays to return to school and set goals for her future. Mays did both, and Ross said he is proud of her.
“She has overcome some circumstances others might not overcome,” Ross said, “and she’s on the path to having a much better and brighter future as a result.”
Sandy Wolz, who retired in July as director of volunteers and administrative assistant, said she mentored Mays like a sister, even ensuring Mays had suitable clothing for her job. As Mays matured, Wolz increased her responsibility.
But it wasn’t until Mays attended her first fundraising dinner with Wolz that Mays really saw the spirit of generous giving that pervades the clinic, which runs on donations from the public, the occasional grant and a mostly volunteer staff, Wolz said. Wolz feels Mays exemplifies that spirit.
“She took a personal interest in a lot of the patients at the clinic that maybe someone else would have ignored,” Wolz said. “She never made anyone feel like less of a person for coming there.”
Mays also gives credit to Sherry Gramse of New Lenox and her husband, Harry Gramse. Sherry was the director of clinical services, and Harry worked maintenance and security.
Sherry said they took Mays to church with them at Lincolnway Christian Church in New Lenox and let Mays stay a few days at their home. Harry said he never doubted Mays would succeed.
“We knew the treasure Jackie was,” Harry said.
Mays plans to graduate from Joliet Junior College in December 2016 with an associate’s degree in accounting. She still clings to the Bible verse that gave her hope – Jeremiah 29:11 – which reads “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ ”
For people struggling to be thankful this year, Mays offered this final thought.
“Don’t let the devil steal your joy,” Mays said, “because there is always something to be joyous about.”