This year the Girl Scouts Heart of the Hudson honored two Newburgh residents as the 2019 women of achievement. Regina Cieslak and Regina Brown are two powerful forces in their community that each have an inspirational story for young girls and women to learn from.
Cieslak is a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others, to lifting other women up to see their full potential. This was something that was not done for her as a young woman.
When graduating from High School Cieslak was told she was not college material, her hopes to become a veterinarian were crushed when a school counselor told her that was not her track in life. So she went down a different path into fashion merchandising, where she became a manager at age 19.
“As a young woman they told me I wasn’t smart enough to go to school, but I ended up graduating from William Patterson with honors and a degree in education,” said Cieslak.
Working in service was engrained in her as a little girl watching her mother and father take care of others in their community.
“My parents always had us do service, my family always served, that was something that was nurtured within me,” said Cieslak.
After working in the fashion merchandising industry Cieslak felt she needed to do something more fulfilling. After graduating from William Patterson Cieslak started working for BOCES. She worked as a teacher in the federal prison in Otisville.
“I would sit there and talk to my students and listen to their problems, they would tell me that I need to be a counselor, not a teacher,” said Cieslak. “It was the inmates that steered my educational path. After listening to them I decided to go back and get my masters in mental health counseling.”
Cieslak has worked with various organizations across Orange County, one of the most memorable positions she held was when she worked with Education for Gainful Employment. She would work with young mothers and young women to get their GED or certifications needed to push them in the right direction towards a career path.
“A lot of my clients are still here in the City of Newburgh,” said Cieslak. “It’s very nice that they don’t forget me 15 to 20 years later.”
Cieslak has watched as young women struggling as teenagers grow in their lives and their careers. She has seen children she visited in the hospital when they were born grow up to young teenagers, some of which she is godmother to.
One special moment for Cieslak was a young woman who came to her at 17 when she was pregnant just to talk. Later on the young woman came back to pass her LPN program to become a nurse. The young woman asked Cieslak to pin her when she passed her program.
“It was incredible to watch she overcame so many obstacles. She did it all and she was amazing,” said Cieslak.
Cieslak is a humble woman, she is not one to ever ask for help, but the first to lend a helping hand. Accepting the Orange County Women of Achievement award is something she finds uncomfortable with, she is always searching for others to push into the spotlight instead of herself.
Even 10 years ago when she had breast cancer she continued to put her children in BOCES and her students first, scheduling her chemo sessions on the weekend so she could still take care of her students, and make them smile with whichever wig she picked out for the week.
Cieslak now works as the Assistant Director of Prevention Services for Catholic Charities of Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties. You’ll also see her at Team Newburgh events connecting with the youth in the City of Newburgh to prevent the spread of the opioid epidemic.
Another Newburgher on the list of Women of Achievement is Regina Brown, a security guard at New Windsor Elementary School. Brown greets each and every person that walks into the school with a smile, and knows every student in the school by name.
Her smile can light up any room that she walks into, but what most people don’t know is the amount of effort it took for Brown to get to the point where she was smiling from the inside out.
To say Brown had a tough journey is an understatement at best. At age 14 she was a young woman caring for her 5 siblings when she found out that she was pregnant.
“It was hard I didn’t do a lot of the things that other kids did.” said Brown “I became a mother at such a young age, I was sad, and angry all pushed into one, but I had to continue to push forward for my son and for my siblings.”
Regardless of having her son at such a young age Brown continued to push forward. She graduated from Newburgh Free Academy and went on to become a teacher’s assistant at Heritage Middle School. Her goal was always to be the best parent she could be.
“I just wanted to be the best mother that I could be for my son,” said Brown. “My son was my life. I wanted to be the perfect mother. I wanted my son to have more opportunities than I had.”
The one thing Brown never would have seen coming was the murder of her little sister by her brother. The loss of her sister was the equivalent of losing a child to Brown, it was something she still has trouble understanding to this day. Losing her sister pushed her into a dark place, a pain she felt everyday for 20 years.
“The worst struggle of my life was losing my sister,” said Brown. “My sister was brutally murdered by my brother. I always felt like I was a mother to her, so it was a pain like losing my own child. For four years I was having a mental breakdown, it took me 20 years to come out of that dark place.”
Reaching out for help was not something Brown was accustomed to as she was on her own all her life. After going through tests and physical examinations she realized depression was causing her physical pain. She was physically and emotionally shutting down but she couldn’t get to the root of the cause.
“I went to counseling to make myself better. One day I felt I just had this breakthrough where I felt I was no longer in this dark fold anymore,” said Brown. “I’m not the same person that I was coming out of that dark place. It has made the person that I am now. For 20 years I said I didn’t feel good, I apologized to my daughter because I felt she had been cheated all those years I was in the dark.”
Regardless of her depression Brown was able to push on to give her family a positive life, even if that’s not how she felt inside. She now comes to work with a huge smile on her face everyday to a job where she feels loved and supported.
She attributed much of her breakthrough and growth to the family of co-workers she’s met during the 35 years she’s spent working in the district as a teacher’s aid and now as a security guard.
“I would say to anyone going through what I’m going through, don’t give up, just keep pushing through. Don’t allow yourself to sit back and feel sorry for yourself,” said Brown. “How I feel about myself now I don’t have any complaints. Now if you ask me if I feel any of my sadness, I don’t feel any of that. I have no regrets because of how far I’ve come. When they say it takes a village, it takes a village for adults too.”
Brown and Cieslak will be honored on May 8 at 5:30 p.m. at Anthony’s Pier 9. To purchase tickets or for more information visit www.girlscoutshh.org.