Skyview alum overcomes past through optimism and compassion
More than halfway through the children’s book “Because We’re Beautiful: Find the Beauty Within You!” the young protagonist, Pari, wishes for a school bully to have a change of heart. “Her heart was full of love and compassion for every person, even those that were not kind to her,” the passage reads.
For author Arlene Angeline, that kind of positivity and her faith carried her from an abusive childhood to academic success at Gonzaga University and the University of Michigan. It propelled her into a career as a social worker/mental health counselor and published author.
She began charting her path as a fifth-grader at Walnut Grove Elementary, Angeline said, as a result of abuses that she and her sister, Alysha, endured for years. Both girls saw opportunities to transform their pain into roles that would help children in similar situations. Angeline wanted to become a social worker. Her sister set her sights on becoming a prosecutor.
Both of those goals have come true. Alysha is now a deputy prosecutor for Lewis County, Washington. Angeline is a social worker and mental health counselor. She credits her success in large part to their mother, Levlyn, who emigrated from Fiji and works as a mail carrier. Angeline said her mother showed her the “past doesn’t define you, it only shapes you. Everything is a blessing in disguise.”
Influence also came in the form of role models outside the home. When Angeline was a sophomore at Skyview High School, teacher Eric Silvey interrupted her criticism of the school’s student government with a memorable piece of advice: “You shouldn’t complain. You should just do something about it.”
That comment stirred the resilience that Silvey already had witnessed in Angeline. “Arlene was the type of student that would not give up on an issue. If she felt strongly about a topic or issue she would follow it to the end,” he said.
Although Angeline already was part of the Science, Math and Technology magnet program and involved in many activities, including the Red Cross Club, Silvey’s words prompted her to take on another role: student government secretary. Obtaining the school’s first mascot—a bespoke costume that she donned her senior year—was one of her biggest achievements.
In 2010 she graduated from Skyview and eventually joined her sister at Gonzaga University. Both were first-generation college students.
Angeline struggled at first. School always had been more difficult for her than it seemed to be for her peers, she said. She had to study harder and rely on flashcards and mnemonic devices to get the grades she wanted.
At the urging of her college professors, Angeline was tested in 2011 and discovered she had a learning disability that limits her memory. She didn’t complain; she did something about it. “Your disabilities are capabilities,” she said.
Not only did she double major in psychology and sociology and spend time as the Gonzaga mascot, among other activities, she also continued her involvement with the Red Cross. Angeline was deployed to the response efforts for Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and flooding in Texas in 2015, serving as a caseworker to assess property damage, assist victims, secure lodging and provide resources.
After graduating from Gonzaga in 2014, Angeline was accepted to the top-ranked social work program at the University of Michigan and enrolled in the master’s program in fall 2015.
A trip to New Delhi, India, led to a volunteer opportunity with the Kamal Loachan Society working with orphans and children living on the streets. That experience inspired her to write a children’s book during her final semester of graduate school before she earned her master’s degree in 2016. “Family Is Friendship: Light the Magic Within You” tells the story of a girl who travels to India from Michigan to find the true meaning of family and friendship.
Her second book, “Because We’re Beautiful,” was published in 2017. Both books instruct readers to share them with someone they love and care about. That’s what Angeline does in her current role as a school-based social worker and mental health counselor in Colville and Kettle Falls, Washington. When she begins working with children, she gives them a copy of “Family Is Friendship” to help them understand that “DNA doesn’t make a family, love does.” When their time together has finished, Angeline gives them a copy of “Because We’re Beautiful” so that they have a lasting piece of her and know that “they’re beautiful and can accomplish anything they want,” she said.
“I always want them to understand that bond and that they matter to me. They’re not just another client on my caseload. They’re someone that I love and care about and always will.”
Though she’s achieved her dream of entering the social work profession, Angeline wants more. She wants to write more books, and she’s working toward becoming a licensed independent clinical social worker and animal-assisted therapist. Those steps also are part of fulfilling another childhood dream.
Arlene’s Angels is Angeline’s vision: a nonprofit foster care adoption agency for neglected, abandoned and abused children and animals. Angeline plans to train the latter as therapy animals so that the former have a tangible source of support and comfort as they transition to new homes and/or enter adulthood. She wants to launch the agency in her beloved hometown of Vancouver and grow it from there.
She said, “I just want to give back to the community that gave me so much.”