The Empowered Woman
KAREN SCHULTZ-CHENEY – Age 43
As soon as Karen walked up to my building I just knew we were going to have fun! This woman has been through a lot in life and continues to persevere. Not only does she show up for herself, but she completely shows up for others. She lives FULLY in each moment and is 100 percent present. She enjoyed every single moment of her time with Jenna Hayes while having her hair and makeup done, and she danced her way through our shoot. She’s the type of person who so deeply embodies happiness, that you can’t help but feel pure joy in her presence. Thank you for being part of THE EMPOWERED WOMAN project Karen!
TE: What is your definition of beauty?
KSC: It is not a “look” so much as a “feel”. True beauty is when you feel your best on your OWN & you go out there and conquer the WORLD!
TE: Do you think you’re beautiful?
KSC: I know I’m beautiful, and it’s not my face. My beauty comes from what I give back to the world.
TE: What is your favorite non-physical feature about yourself? (After all, beauty is a light in the heart!)
KSC: My compassion for others. I’ve learned a lot from my work with Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach, specifically in regard to homelessness. I could have very easily traveled down that road. I want to help others, who are lost, find their way again.
I’m also a really good roller skater!
TE: What do you remember learning about beauty from a young age? What impacted you the most that you’ve carried with you into adulthood (positive or negative)?
KSC: I’ve tried, from a young age, to always wash my face at night and not to sleep in make-up. I’ve been told the ladies in our family have good “genes” because we’re Italian. My Aunt Maria, my mom’s sister, has been a role model for me; she has beautiful skin. She pretty much took care of me after my mom passed away on Halloween 1991, two days after my 14th birthday.
TE: Tell me your story! What life experiences have made you who you are today?
KSC: I honestly had to learn a lot on my own. I’m an only child and my mom died when I was 14. My dad and I haven’t always been close. A year before my mom’s accident, she was going to divorce my dad but she chickened out. I’ve always wondered, had she followed through if things would have been different. She wouldn’t have been living there and wouldn’t have been driving home when she was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver.
It was the middle of the night when the police were at our door. They didn’t tell us much, they just said that my mom had been in an accident and we needed to follow them to the hospital. When we got there, my dad and I were put in a room, a doctor came in and said by the time they got to her she was gone.
From that point on I was living a completely different life. There were pros and cons. There was money from the accident, but my dad was stupid about it. It was a fairytale for a moment. We moved to a nicer apartment, bought a brand new car, we spoiled our family that Christmas, and then it was downhill from there.
I was pretty Independent, and my aunt did what she could to help. She made sure that I could stay in my family home which I own now. My dad was there but not really there. He’s socially disconnected and horrible with money; he spent it all.
My aunt Maria always had a very positive attitude. Actually my grandpa and my mom died six months apart; my grandpa first from lung cancer in April 1991 and then my mom died on Halloween of 1991. My aunt had to step in and take care of my grandma up until her last days.
She was married for a very long time to an abusive alcoholic husband and she found the courage to leave. She had to leave a big beautiful house and move back in with her parents while starting over but she did it. Rheumatoid arthritis runs in my mom’s side of the family and my aunt has had it very severely in her wrist; I watched her battle that and not give up.
She had been part of a study group for a long time so her meds were more affordable. She has to have a shot every so often to keep her arthritis under control. She hasn’t had a flare-up in years now while living in Nevada. When she lived here in Wisconsin she would get flare-ups so bad that she couldn’t use her hands.
I recently resigned from my job after almost 17 years so I plan to go to Nevada and spend some time with my aunt. I want to drive out there this time and fly back. I’ve never been able to do a road trip like that because I’ve always been tied down as a mother since I was 18-years-old along with working full time.
I feel different every time I’m out there, and I honestly don’t even go to the strip I just go to the mountains. Maria always tells me that if I need to start over that I can come out there, that I have options, so…
I’m starting what I call, “my midlife bonus” a little early.
TE: Have you always naturally been independent or were you kind of forced into it after your mom passed away?
KSC: I was forced into it. At times, I felt like it was just a bad dream and I just couldn’t believe it was even happening. Then when my husband was in his motorcycle accident, hit by a drunk driver and almost died, I felt like my mom’s event prepared me to take care of him and his recovery but I could not believe it was happening again.
TE: Is your husband ok now?
KSC: Yeah, there are some lasting effects, but in comparison to other people we’ve seen with TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) he’s doing pretty good. He can walk and talk, he stutters a little, he loses his train of thought at times and loses his words sometimes. He lost a lot of muscle mass after the accident from being in a hospital bed for a month and he never fully regained all of that, so that’s sort of a confidence issue from him. And there are some scars that bother him.
There’s some minor memory loss too of his past. He can’t remember things about his children, which is hard. But, if you just met him, unless you saw the scars, you probably would have no idea what he’s been through. Froedert said his recovery was one in a billion. Even though he wasn’t the one intoxicated that caused the accident, his doctors advised him not to drink alcohol for a year, to give his brain time to heal, and he took it to heart and never drank again.
TE: You’ve been through a lot and yet you’re such a positive person. What do you do to stay so positive?
KSC: I’ve actually become very negative as time has gone on which is one of the reasons it’s time for me to resign from my job because that’s the thing that’s bringing a lot of negativity and misery to my world.
I think my activities help me. My roller skating definitely helps me. It’s like I’m in a different world when I go to the skating rink, everyone’s just happy and smiling and it’s hard for me to find that elsewhere.
TE: It sounds like you’ve had some situations where you either were a little bit lost, or could have gone down the road of being lost, and you didn’t let yourself go all the way. Is there some advice you can give to others who may be lost right now?
KSC: I don’t know exactly. I see so many people give in and give up. Don’t give up. Continue to let go of toxic people. Know that nothing is ever perfect. You’ll need to re-evaluate at times. From my observations through the years, it seems that people who are truly on their own find away, and people who always have a fallback seem to struggle the most.
A situation comes to mind where things could have gone very wrong. My daughter’s father was an addict, probably still is an addict I don’t talk to him, and it was a very rough time in life when my daughter was little. We had our struggles but I continued to get out of bed each day and I never got on the drugs. I don’t know, I just feel that my mom was watching over me somehow.
You have to let people go that are toxic. I’ve had to let people go, even family, it’s been so hard. But I know if I would have stayed around those people, or those situations then I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I don’t have a huge house or fancy things, but I’m comfortable, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. At 43 years old, I’m not an addict, I’m not an alcoholic, I can still roller skate, I think that’s a success. Now the kids are grown. The youngest one is 19 years old. We’ve started a new phase of marriage and life.
Maybe I’ll go to school and do something else. I’m trying to figure that all out right now.
TE: What words of wisdom, based on your personal experience, would you like to share with others who struggle to see their own beauty?
KSC: To each their own, everyone’s beauty shines in different ways. Every person has beauty within them. We just have to find the best ways to let our beauty shine.
TE: How does being the woman you are today, make you uniquely powerful?
KSC: I had to grown-up really quickly when my mom died. I’ve been able to take care of myself my entire adult life. I could have easily used every excuse out there to travel down a much darker road. Somehow, I was able to make it on my own.
TE: Knowing what you know now as an adult, what is something you would tell young 10-year-old Karen?
KSC: It’s really going to be okay. Sometimes it won’t feel like it, but over time it’ll turn out ok. Stay strong. It’s ok to take care of yourself. I see some people giving ALL of themselves, I mean ALL of themselves. You have to save some for yourself. You have to be careful how much you give, and you can’t expect to get back what you give. If you’re going to do something for somebody, do it wholeheartedly; do it because you want to and don’t hold it over their heads, don’t throw it in their face later, and don’t brag about it later.
TE: What’s your legacy? How to hope to make a difference in the world?
KSC: Oh, that’s a hard one especially because I’m quieter, I’m not really an out there kind of person. I definitely feel the Street Angels Milwaukee Outreach is going to continue on for years to come and it’s going to keep growing. We literally started out of the trunks of cars. Now we have buses and a huge facility with an all-year-round program. We’re applying for these huge grants. I haven’t been able to be as much a part of it this year, but I was there from the beginning, and I know no matter what they have a very strong board of directors that I’m on, and it’s a really beautiful thing. Milwaukee Street Angels will be my Legacy.
And try to smile more.
If you have a story to tell that you feel will inspire and impact others, and would like to be considered for THE EMPOWERED WOMAN project, please CONTACT Tina for more details.