“Someone believed in me.”
By: Jennifer Jordan
This is Part Two of a three-part series about Rose Quigley Molina, a lead social worker for Providence Public Schools and co-founder of Social Sparks, a social-emotional learning center in Lincoln, RI for children with learning differences. Resilience has been at the core of Rose’s life as a student and now as a mother and educator. In this series, she reflects on the power of resilience in her own life as she was growing up and now as a working mother and role model for students. Read Part One here.
Rose Quigley tried not to cry as her name was called from the stage at Mount Pleasant High School. She forced a smile as she approached the dais where her principal and mentor, Nancy Mullen, was waiting to give her something no one in Rose’s immediate family had ever received: a high school diploma.
As happy as she was to graduate that day, Rose, in the end, could not stop the tears. She had achieved a major milestone, and the person who Rose most loved was not there to see it. An eloquent note Rose had written to a judge, pleading that her mother be released for an hour or two to witness this moment, had proved fruitless. Her mother, who had struggled with substance abuse and herself was a ward of the state during her childhood, remained locked up in at Rhode Island’s Adult Correctional Institutions.
Rose cried at her graduation, but she knew her future held promise. She would be the first in her family to go to college.
“I would never have gone to college if my principal, my guidance counselor, Mrs. Rathbun, and many of my teachers hadn’t been so awesome,” says Rose today. They repeatedly pushed Rose not to be tempted to stay at her job as a front-end manager at Price Rite where she earned a low but consistent salary, and apply to colleges instead – a goal that at times seemed out of reach to Rose and many of her classmates.
“I tell my students all the time to keep pushing themselves,” Rose says. “Someone believed in me and that made all the difference.”
That fall, Rose entered the University of Rhode Island through the Talent Development program, which helps low-income and first-generation college students succeed in college by providing tutoring and additional support. At first, Rose wanted to be a nurse. However, she found the course load to be too difficult, as she was juggling more than 40 hours of work at the same time.
She switched her major to Human Development and Family Studies in her sophomore year and started making the dean’s list. Despite having to make up credits after she changed her major, Rose took additional required courses during the summers and winter break in order to graduate on time. Only about 40 percent of URI students enrolled at that time managed to graduate within four years, making Rose’s accomplishment all the more remarkable. And when she finished, her mother was there to see Rose cross the stage.
By the time she graduated from URI, Rose knew what she wanted to do with her life: be a social worker. Rose was determined to help students in Rhode Island to overcome adversity, believe in themselves and thrive, just as Principal Mullen, Guidance Counselor Rathbun and countless caring teachers in Providence Public Schools had done for Rose. She knew great things were possible for students like her in Providence, and she wanted to make sure they succeeded.
“Because of my experiences growing up, I am able to put myself in their shoes,” Rose says today. “I had a student last year whose electricity got shut off. I know what that feels like. It stinks. He couldn’t figure out what was making him feel so bitter and angry, and his behavior was off for weeks. But I knew. We talked about it, and we problem solved together. We make sure he got food from the school’s food pantry because he had no refrigerator during that time. Life is tough for a lot of kids, but we can help them figure stuff out and become more resilient.”
Rose began working as a case manager of the Rhode Island Family Court, helping families and walking the same hallways where she and her younger brother spent many hours when they had become foster children while their mother was in jail. At the same time, Rose pursued a master’s degree in social work at Rhode Island College, graduating in two years. She was eager to begin working in schools.
Rose had a dream: a rewarding career as a social worker, marriage, children and a house of her own. Soon, her dream began coming true.
Within a few years, Rose had met the man who would become her husband, Francisco Molina, a long-haul truck driver. He had a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Eliana, who lived with him. Before long, Rose fell in love with both of them. She also nurtured a positive relationship with Eliana’s mother. Rose and Francisco bought a house with a big backyard in Johnston, and Rose saw her own mother and brother regularly.
In 2008, Rose gave birth to their daughter, Sianna, and in 2013, they had Zoey. Rose had never been so happy. She had three daughters she adored, and she and her husband were able to provide them with a stable and secure home life. Rose loved her school social worker job. In 2015, she and friends, who were also social workers, launched an organization, Social Sparks, to help children and families with learning differences
Maybe life wasn’t perfect. It sure was good, though. Rose had never been happier.
Then, later in 2015, something happened that required all of Rose’s strength and courage. Rose and her family experienced a trauma and loss so profound they still struggle with it.
After everything Rose had been through, she was facing her deepest pain yet. Rose sensed that her resilience was the only thing that would enable her to work through her grief and help her family to heal and find happiness again. For a long time, however, she only felt sadness and anger. Rose worried that she had lost her ability to adapt, endure and move forward. Without the resiliency that had defined her life until now, how could she go on?