Intersecting paths lead to awards for Brandman alum, faculty member
Constructive, peaceful, generous and creating a better future for women. Inspirational. Those are just a few of the words used by the Santa Maria Women’s Network used to describe who they were looking for when they created their Women of Excellence awards.
Of the four awards they gave this year, two of the winners have close ties to Brandman University. Adjunct professor Nancy Williams received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Alumnus Lisa Long received the Women Helping Women Award.
Spend a few minutes talking to either of these women and it doesn’t take long to figure out how they earned the awards. And it only makes sense that their paths have crossed not just through Brandman but in the work they have done together to help women in Santa Maria and Thailand.
Williams refers to Long as a role model. Long says Williams is her inspiration and one of her best friends.
They met 25 years ago when Long was helping to set up Care Net Pregnancy and Resource Center in Santa Maria. The crisis pregnancy center provides tests, counseling, diapers and baby clothes free of charge. She hired Williams to be the founding director.
When Long began working with the Tamar Center in Pattaya, Thailand, it wasn’t long before Williams joined her. Pattaya, which became known as a “rest and recreation” (prostitution) destination for soldiers during the Vietnam War, is still known for sex tourism and is home to thousands of sex workers, many of whom are forced to be there through sex trafficking.
“Mostly we teach English. We go into the bars and offer English classes, job training and job placement,” said Williams. “The English classes are a great deal of fun.”
“They don’t just tell women, you shouldn’t do this, but provide practical means for them to learn,” said Long. “It’s a difficult place to go to. It takes a long time to get there. It’s crazy hot and they don’t have the conveniences we have. But I fell in love with the people.”
Since going to work full time, Long’s trips have been less frequent, but she still raises awareness by talking about what the work done through the Tamar Center. Women she first introduced to the center are now taking other people. Williams just returned, touched once again by the transformation some of the women have been able to make.
“Because I spent my adult life raising family, I didn’t really think I would have a career,” said Long. Thanks to the flexibility of Brandman’s online programs and academic advising in Santa Maria, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in business administration and accounting. She’s now the business manager in the utilities department for the city of Santa Maria, overseeing a $70 million annual budget.
“I told them (the Santa Maria Women’s Network) that it’s what I’m most proud of. I have my diploma hanging on my wall,” she said.
Williams also returned to school when her youngest child was in school full time, becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist in 1996. She started teaching at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo and in 2000 began teaching human development and other courses at Brandman’s Santa Maria campus, then known as Chapman University College.
She also works as a lactation consultant and perinatal educator, training other directors for Care Net and she’ s featured in the documentary “The Milky Way,” a look at the political and economic barriers women have to overcome in order to breastfeed. The film was an official selection of the Newport Beach Film Festival, HerStory Cinema Series, Choice! Film Festival and Hollywood Film Festival in 2014.
But it’s the suffering of people around the world that leaves an ache in her heart. In addition to her work in Thailand, Williams has traveled throughout the Middle East to work with refugees from Syria.
“I don’t think the world realizes how serious this crisis is. There are five million refugees in Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The U.N. has had to cut support because of a lack of money. Hungry people are going to be hungrier,” said Williams. “I wish I could go more often. I wish I had the resources to do more.”
“America doesn’t know anything about poverty, the kind of suffering that these people have. I’m not saying that people don’t suffer in America, but this is a whole different level,” she said.
“I think a large part of what I do is because of my faith. God has blessed us, and I believe that God blesses people so they can help others,” Williams said.
Long echoes that sentiment and adds words of encouragement for other women. “I ended up being pregnant my senior year in high school. I made some mistakes, but I’ve learned you can turn them around. No matter what, don’t give up.”
Both women also pointed to the support of their husbands and grown children for being able to give to back to their community and the world.
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