Shawnda Sweger and husband Bradley Jones
Nonprofit: Soaring Eagles Youth and Family Services
DRIVEN TO SERVE A giving heart channels heartbreak into purpose. BY JACKIE WELTON DIPILLO
don’t drive anymore, so this takes that worry off my plate,” explains 72-year-old Annetta Waters. “He is such a unique and interesting person to ride and chat with. It takes the emphasis off the disease.” Waters is speaking of Stephen Johnson, who drives cancer patients like her to chemo and radiation treatments as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society. For fi ve years, Johnson was the primary caregiver for the two women he loved most in this world. Then in 2002, his wife died from breast cancer, and he soon lost his mother to cancer, too. Johnson considers himself blessed to have held each woman’s hands as she drew her last breath. “It was as good as it could be,” the 62-year-old says. “When things are really bad, the spirit fi nds a way to lift people up.” After retiring in 2005, Johnson was looking for a way to give back. He’d spent a lot of the
TulsaPeople MAY 2017
past few years in waiting rooms and recalled hearing patients discuss the difficulties of fi nding someone to take them to treatments. He had an “aha” moment. “I’ve got time on my hands, so use me,” Johnson told the ACS. He became transportation — and a friend. Once, while driving through Sand Springs, Johnson’s rider highly recommended Sweetie Pies diner. Shortly after, Johnson discovered its cinnamon rolls, which brought back wonderful childhood memories. Wanting to share that warm feeling, he now brings treats for the patients on his own dime. Now in his seventh year of volunteering, Johnson was named the No. 1 driver in a seven-state area at a luncheon hosted by the American Cancer Society this past fall. “I had no idea that was coming,” he says. Stephen Johnson is a rare breed, an angel among us, getting his wings from two special ladies. TP
Why is this event important to you? I volunteer at the Girls’ Teen Summit because I want to provide a story of hope for ladies who are struggling to keep going. This year, I will be a team leader. My duties include mentoring the young women throughout the event and ensuring they get to experience all that is offered. I also have the pleasure of getting to share my story, which creates an opportunity for a deeper relationship with my team. When I am vulnerable with them, I am giving back. I am showing them that they can have hopes and dreams higher than statistics suggest. I want my life to be a testament that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work to become a survivor, not a victim. The “cycle” stopped with me. I graduated from Oklahoma State University, have a promising future with a reputable company and, most of all, I am happily married to a great man. I am a survivor. — JUDY LANGDON
Fifth annual Girls’ Teen Summit 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Friday; 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m., Saturday. Free. Open to girls age 13-18. Register at soaringeaglesyfs.org/ girlsteensummit.
APPLAUSE: VALERIE GRANT; VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT: COURTESY
American Cancer Society volunteer Stephen Johnson drives patients like Annetta Waters to chemo and radiation appointments.
As a teen in foster care, Sweger had endured years of abuse. Her counselor, Premadonna Braddick, used her own difﬁcult past to relate to Sweger and help her work through her wounds. Today Sweger pays the healing forward by assisting Braddick at the Girls’ Teen Summit, an annual event to encourage, educate and empower at-risk teen girls.