Scouting Her Niche
By Cynthia Robinson
Photography by Mike Force Photography
As a family involvement specialist with Glynn County Schools, Marihelen Newman works closely with families and school staff to ensure parents have the tools and information they need to be actively engaged in their children’s education at the 13 Title I Schools she covers. She believes her faith in God, her upbringing and life experiences led her to such a unique job.
“It’s a wonder I am even here. My mother was born during the 1918 flu pandemic and survived. Some 25 years later, my father was severely injured at Omaha Beach on D-Day. It’s a miracle either survived.”
Marihelen said her parents, Guyton and Amy Thompson, were not only hard-working and perseverant, but firmly believed in equality for all. “Both were Army captains, and when they met in Texas, my mother out-ranked my father,” she said, laughing. Marihelen shared they were accustomed to more diversity because of their military experience, both racially and socio-economically, than was normally found at that time. “When we moved to Georgia in the 1960s from Texas, schools were still segregated. My mother had a degree in guidance counseling, and the only position available was in a blacks-only school.” Amy met resistance when she asked about taking the job, “but my Mama was that mama, and she went to work there.” And her father soon became the principal at an already-integrated school in a poor neighborhood.
“I’ve always looked at my employment as a form of ministry. I always wanted a job helping people. And I never had a cookie-cutter version of what a family is,” she said, adding each holiday, while the family lived near Fort Gordon, her mother brought home two or more officers who were too far from home to celebrate with their family. “It was always, ‘guess who’s coming to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner?’” Marihelen continued that tradition when she attended Tift College as a freshman. “I brought home a friend from Okinawa and introduced her to the man who would later become her husband!”
Another strong influence in her life was, and still is, the Girl Scouts. “I had been a Girl Scout since second grade. I knew my dream job was to work for them.” Marihelen decided if she was to be successful in pursuing her dream, she needed to transfer to Georgia Southern, making the move in her sophomore year. Marihelen not only graduated with a degree in recreation administration, she snagged an immediate job with the Girl Scouts and met her husband, Mark, who also graduated from Georgia Southern.
“We had our first date at a Girl Scout event and got engaged at the same event one year later. We married on Valentine’s Day, a Saturday that year, because the Girl Scout cookies were coming that Monday. The florist almost killed me!” she said, laughing. “We had to wait until all the cookies were delivered, then coordinate with a training I was to attend in Winter Park (Florida).” Mark followed her there, and then the couple enjoyed a Disney honeymoon.
Mark worked for the Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) in Child Protective Services. After first living in Augusta and then Thomson, Georgia, they moved to Brunswick to be closer to his mother. Mark transferred to DFACS in Glynn County, but Marihelen worked several part-time jobs before finding her niche. “I was pregnant at the time (with their only child, Mark, now a music teacher at Altama Elementary), so no one wanted to hire me.”
Eventually, she went back to work for the Girl Scouts before joining DFACS, where she played a key role in opening agency satellite offices. That job led her to apply for her current position, funded by a federal grant in 2008.
“The favorite part of my job is training school-level staff to creatively comply with Title I requirements; helping children in low-income areas meet academic goals. I also love going to Grandparent Connection, a resource for grandparents raising their grandchildren, and leading parent mini workshops at Head Start on how to get their children ready for kindergarten.” Although she has loved her job, she is now counting down to retiring this June and embracing another role. “I’m going to grandma duty. Our oldest grandson, Kirschling, will be 4.” Second grandson, Mark, is turning 2, and her son and his wife, Jessica, are welcoming their third, a girl, in July.
And yes, Marihelen will also be volunteering with the Girl Scouts. “I help out when they need a driver and/or a chaperone. I am a Girl Scout life member.” Marihelen is eager to join her already-retired husband for the next chapter of their lives. “It’s a miracle I’m even here, so God must have a plan for me.”
Church Leadership: Elder at Advent Christian Church in Brunswick. Has also held office both at local and state level in her church’s Women’s Home and Foreign Mission Society. She has taught Sunday school for 30 plus years.
Wigging Out: Marihelen has worn wigs the last eight years due to mild alopecia – her hair grows very sparsely. She’s tried everything—even visiting Hair Club for Men in Jacksonville. After finally buying a wig, that same evening at her church youth group, “One of the kids said, ‘Ms. Marihelen looks like a rock star!’ because the wig was kind of spiky. “That was it!”
Odd Jobs: Working part-time at YWCA after-school and summer school children’s programs, while working a second part-time job as the facility’s janitor. She also worked at Carol’s Party Shop delivering singing telegrams. “I wore your choice of three costumes—clown, over-the-hill old lady, or chorus line. It was a hoot!”
On the Road: Marihelen always has her materials close at hand in her satellite office in the back of her car.