Thursday, October 26, 2000
By Norma Wagner
The Salt Lake Tribune
In a home in Sandy for girls with a troubled past, mentor Meta Hutchison uses marbles and a clear bowl to illustrate their possible future.
"It shows them all the different colors of the prism, which reflects the various gifts they have, the talents they have, their potential," said Hutchison, who was recently awarded MS Champion of the Year by the Utah Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society.
As with all people with MS, Hutchison's life changed drastically when she was diagnosed at age 31, in 1993. But she has used her plight, and her determination, to show others that even the most severe circumstances can be overcome.
Hutchison left her job as a logistics coordinator for satellite programs at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and returned home to Ogden to deal with her illness,.
Soon after, she became heavily involved in the community and, through the MS society, began counseling other patients as well as troubled youths. Every year, she organizes the MS Walk fund-raiser in Ogden, which earned about $7,000 in 1999 and more than double that this year.
"It's hard to put into words what she's like, because she is so dynamic," said Brad Bennett, an MS patient who has known and been counseled by Hutchison for three years. "She has so many things to do, that she wants to do. And by all rights, she shouldn't be doing all that, because it's going to catch up with her.
"I tell her: 'You're doing too doggone much, you've got to slow down,' and you rein her in for a while, and pretty soon you hear she's doing kids' performances, MS ventures; everything and anything she sees that needs help, she's there volunteering.
"She doesn't want accolades, all she wants is to see people happy. I never hear her complain, and she hurts. I know she hurts."
Hutchison admits some days are not easy for her. Diagnosed with "relapsing and remissive" MS -- which means it comes and it goes -- Hutchison often gets weak and has a hard time moving her legs ("they feel like cement"), and she stutters and slurs.
But even then she keeps going. "I just do a lot of stuff at home and sometimes my bed looks like a desk," Hutchison said simply.
She arranged celebrations for Black History Month, founded the Sponsor Our Students to the Arts program, was asked by Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson recently to be the motivational speaker for the Civil Youth Council, and also was asked two years ago by the African-American Task Force to become a mentor for the 10-bedroom Byrd House, a home for girls between ages 11 and 17 who are removed from their families because of abuse or neglect.
That remains one of her favorite tasks and reflects her philosophy in life: "Each one, teach one."
"I spend weekends with the girls and talk with them individually and let them know the Lord loves them and that there is a reason why they're on the Earth and that positive can come out of negative," Hutchison said.
Tiena, 15, from Salt Lake City, has been visited by Hutchison since May. She said: "What I learned from her is to respect myself, that I have to do that before I can respect someone else. She tells me to believe in myself and that that will help you rock and roll in the real world. That's what she always says."
Added Sovannary, 15, of West Valley City. "She has taught me to always believe in myself, that if something goes bad or wrong, to always think of the positive and to be strong, because then you can be a better person and make better decisions."
Hutchison shares the same philosophy with the MS patients she talks to. "She's the reason I started going back to the (MS support group) meetings," said Lorraine Chambers, 43, who was diagnosed 15 years ago. "It was the way she talked about her experiences and how she handles this disease and how other folks don't understand us. When we talk, what we first do is thank God for what we have and realize there's a reason why he's chosen us (to have this disease)."
At the Byrd House, Hutchison gets the girls involved in projects to teach them lessons about life, like filling up jars with glass marbles or opening up a magazine and getting them to talk about a Revlon advertisement, about how many people it took to get that image out.
"We'll talk about how many different jobs it took to get that final product. Someone did the model's hair, for example," Hutchison explained. "Someone figured out what the model was going to wear. Another person photographed her and someone was airbrushing and touching her up (throughout the shoot). And someone decided the layout.
"I tell them these are jobs not widely advertised as glamorous, but they are wonderful jobs and you could do them."
The girls love Hutchison's visits, said the home's owner, Edith Byrd. And when Hutchison doesn't show up, they worry about her.
"They get excited to see her come, especially with her disability, just to see how she's overcome it," Byrd said.
"She comes one weekend and over-does it and the next weekend she may not come so they ask about her all the time. They say: 'How come we haven't seen Meta?' and I say well, she's down for the count, but she'll be back again."
And she always is.