- Tesa Middlebrook, Age 17
August of 2009, the Centre as we knew it changed forever.
March of 2012, the Centre as we knew it changed forever.
She came in with her mother.
Tesa was less that 85 pounds. Her mother wasn’t much more.
Tesa stood and smiled. Her mother, Tarsha, sat to catch her breath.
It was apparent this mother was not well.
Tesa was one of many students waiting to register that day.
Her mother did not view her as one of many.
Tarsha Middlebrook, had come with a purpose that day and it had nothing to do with the obvious illness taking her life. She was there for one reason and one reason only…to make sure we knew what an amazing child was among us. She gasped between sentences, but the momentum continued to grow.
“Tesa, play the piano. Show them how you taught yourself…Tesa, look there’s some paper. Show them how you can draw….Have you guys read her poetry? … Tesa, let them read your poetry…”
There was no doubt. This was no gloating pageant mom. This was a mother with limited time to prove to the world her baby was going places. There would be no discussion of brain tumors or the recent move from Nebraska, that day. The topic was her daughter and what did this mother need to do to make sure she was taken care of.
In less than one week, Tesa was a part of the CFTA family. Soon, people would comment on how the Centre ever existed without her. Tesa did not wait to be assigned a job as a student worker. She needed no orientation to begin what she saw as her mission at the Centre. She required no nametag and did not if ask if the job she choose to do was necessary. In fact, Tesa’s “work” between classes went unnoticed until a staff member overheard her as she approached a little girl waiting nervously on the bench.
“Excuse me. Stand up,” she said.
The, now even more nervous, young girl stood.
“Yep, you are tiny too. We should be friends.”
Lack of similarities did not stop Tesa from being successful in her self appointed position. This became apparent when a new teen began at the Centre.
“Wow, you are really tall,” Tesa said as she walked up to him.
She reached up, hugged him, and said, “Yep. We should be friends.”
The more amazing part of her job came after the introduction and declaration of friendship. Tesa meant what she said. Once nervous newcomers could for weeks and even months be seen scanning the lobby for their good friend, Tesa.
Tesa would get dropped off at the Centre on the bus. She could often be heard convincing her Uncle Mike to come back a little later so she could stay a while longer. Some may think it was for the meal donated by someone in the community or perhaps to just hang out and relax. The truth was, Tesa could find both good food and relaxing company at her home. Moments after Uncle Mike agreed to come back, Tesa could be found coloring with a nervous 5 year old waiting for class, or encouraging a quiet teen to talk about their day.
When asked to describe Tesa, her fellow CFTA classmates describe her as a leader, confident, outgoing, and constantly reaching out to others. It was not until one of her mother’s many visits, that the truth about how amazing this teen was became apparent. Tarsha revealed that although the confident and outgoing leader was truly the Tesa she had always known, this was not the Tesa that could be seen daily at her new school.
As it became more apparent that Tarsha's days were coming to a close, we began one of the most intimate walks with a student we had ever taken. As this strong and wise mother began to prepare her daughter for her inevitable death, she also began to prepare those who loved Tesa most how to help Tesa continue, after she was gone. Although Tesa was deeply sorrowed by the death of her mother, the preparations Tarsha had taken eased her daughter’s pain.
In August of 2011, nearly 3 months after her mother’s death, Tesa began her final year of high school. She began her senior year with a determination even stronger than before. Final decisions were made about colleges. Scholarships were awarded and Tesa began to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Normal after school discussions which still centered around Tesa’s struggles with bullies at school began to take on a new hope. Now, she added a countdown to her plan of endurance. There was an end in sight and Tesa had no doubt she would make it. Her artwork, music, and writing even began to show the triumph over those that had tried to hold her back.
Tesa had successfully built a support system of friends at the Centre and church family at New Life. She had planned for her future and had taken the necessary steps to make that dream a reality. Her school days were numbered, her tickets needed for showcase had been counted, and her final trip with her youth group around the corner.
On Thursday, March 1st around 8:00pm Tesa left CFTA for the last time. None of her friends said good bye. None of the staff held her just a little longer. No one gave her artwork to bring home or asked for her music books to be returned. In fact, everyone laughed as Tesa joked on her way out the door.
Less than 18 hours later, little did CFTA know, but the Centre had changed forever.
On Monday, March 5, 2012, a little girl walked into the Centre. She had been a student for nearly 6 years, yet rarely spoke in front of others. She saw the photo board of Tesa and said loud enough for everyone to hear, “That’s the girl that just told me…’Everyone has a voice. I’d sure like to hear yours.’”
In the words of Tesa’s grandmother, Ms. Joann, “Thank you to everyone who has helped both Tesa’s Family and the CFTA Family through the loss of our daughter.”