Finding A Way: Three Women Share Their Night Class Odysseys
By Dar Mikula
Kelley Gonzalez was 16 when she got pregnant. A teenager out on her own, she moved to West Palm Beach, got her GED, and never worked less than three jobs. However, before she left Gainesville, Gonzalez drove by the Florida School of Massage and saw the hands. She did a u-turn and did a walk-through with a staff member. She knew she wanted to attend the school, but it was not the time.
Autumn Blu Genaro’s mother, Casper, attended the day program in the summer of 1994 when Autumn Blu was only three. A few years later, her mother also got a job as a receptionist at the school. The little Genaro was attending grade school at Expressions up the road, so the young girl spent a lot of time at the school and among the staff. Now in her mid-20s, Genaro wanted to do something different with her life and thought maybe following in the footsteps of her mom would satisfy her maturing curiosity.
Danielle Stanley was fresh out of high school when her mother saw the Florida School of Massage online late one night and scheduled herself and her 18-year-old daughter a tour of the campus. Although Stanley had not been thinking about massage specifically as a career, the visit basically solidified the young woman’s clear desire “to be active, to interact with people, and to not sit at a desk all day.”
These three women from different backgrounds have at least one new thing in common: On Saturday, July 2, they will graduate from the Florida School of Massage Night Program, the first evening program offered at the school in 25 years. These women will join 21 others who for the last twelve months have attended class at the school pretty much every Monday through Thursday evening and at least one Saturday per month.
Committing to such a schedule was not easy. For the 39-year-old Gonzalez, she had to juggle a life now composed of four kids, a husband, and her full-time job at Publix. “It wasn’t just me sacrificing, my whole family had to sacrifice,” she said. “I had to keep some semblance of a life and my family had to stay really flexible too.”
Still, Gonzalez said, “This has been so worth it. If not for the night program, I wouldn’t have been able to go back to school. I’m so looking forward to massage therapy as a career!” Important to her now is the prospect of setting her own hours. “I will no longer have to work till 11PM or be there at 5AM,” she said of her current Publix commitment.
Genaro, already a mother of two, was again pregnant at the start of the night program. But she was back in school the day after giving birth at the end of March. Blessed by her husband’s availability to sit with the newborn, Genaro didn’t miss any time. And as soon as the baby girl was home, the quiet infant starting attending class with her mom, making little Alissandrea the youngest “attendee” of the night program.
Genaro said she and her husband have definitely had less time together but she says, “It was worth it!” She looks forward to becoming a massage therapist – and in this case, possibly also planting a seed for the third generation of massage therapists in the maternal Genaro lineage.
Stanley has had a different set of challenges. Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last October and has had three surgeries in the nine months since. During the day, Stanley has been helping her mother. Her grandfather also experienced congestive heart failure and kidney failure this year and she has been assisting with him as well.
A self-described “natural born caregiver”, Stanley said, “I’ve met a lot of great people and a lot of great teachers (in the night program). And now I’m going to be a massage therapist!”
Stanley also has another new role. As it turns out, Stanley and Genaro met during Orientation and were partners for an initial trust exercise that includes one person blindfolded and the other her sighted guide.
“Danielle is now the god mother of Alissandrea,” Genaro said. “And her family is the god family. Danielle was there for the birth. Our family’s have merged. If anything happens to us Danielle and her family would step in.”
Stanley’s mom, by the way, is doing great and has emerged cancer-free. She’ll be at the ceremony this weekend to see her daughter, who just turned 19, accept her massage diploma just one year after graduating from Newberry High.
The graduation ceremony starts at 1:00PM outside by the Little House on the Prairie. A reception for the class and their guests will follow immediately afterwards inside the school at 6421 SW 13th Street.
Photos by Chrissy Martinez.