Featuring Luella Gilbert from “How Our Amish Heritage Influences Our Education and Career” Symposium

Luella Young Center

I promised I would publish more posts featuring speakers from the symposium on Saturday. Today I am introducing you to Luella Gilbert. I will allow her to speak for herself, for she is quite capable of doing so. Here she is:

Hi, my name is Luella Gilbert, and I am from Holmes County, Ohio. I currently have my bachelor’s in psychology and am employed with a non-profit agency for Developmental Disabilities called The Society. I also work part-time as a trainer for the NEORTC and a part-time foster-to-adopt Home Study Assessor for a private adoption agency.

 

 

So. How did I get here? When I was first asked if I would be able to speak at the conference today, I willingly agreed, thinking that after all of my years of speaking as a trainer this would come easy for me. What I did not realize is that in my training I speak of the Amish in general and do not divulge much information about myself. This being said, it became a bit of a struggle for me to get started on this project. I wish I could stand up here this morning and tell you that I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be where I am today, but that is not the case. In fact, I was so busy being in survival mode much of my childhood that I was not able to truly think past anything more than my day-to-day activities.

 

 

I was the second youngest in the family. From what I am told my parents had a healthy relationship with my two older siblings but by the time the third child was in her teenage years, things started to unravel. My father started going off his medications after being advised by church members that if he prayed enough God would take care of his mental illness. Being off the medication resulted in him quitting his job, disappearing for weeks at a time, and then coming back home to wreak havoc in the home before getting stabilized on medication again. By 1993, my oldest sister had moved out of the family home, my brother was married and moved out, and my third oldest sister married and moved out as well. This left the three youngest children at home. My older sister was 16 years old; I was 14, and my youngest sister 11. By now I had graduated from Amish Parochial School and was working full time at a local fruit farm, bringing home all of my pay checks to my mother.

 

 

My father had permanently moved out of the home and was living in the dominant world. No longer associated with the Amish church. However, due to his mental illness he could not leave us alone. We were subjected to unannounced visits where I was forced into protective mode for my mother and my youngest sister. Often barricading doors with furniture or my body if furniture was not readily available while he screamed, yelled, banged on the other side of the door, chanting about how we were going to hell. By the time he left I was exhausted mentally and physically and thus began my life-long struggle with chronic migraines that I started getting immediately after the high stressors were over.

My mother did not know how to protect her children. At a very young age I learned I would not be protected when she witnessed a much older man sexually molest me and did nothing to prevent it. Instead, her main concerns were to not falling out of grace with the Amish church and therefore she never signed the divorce papers my father sent to her over the years and never told him he was not allowed back home. This would go against her religion and the church would no longer support her. She spent her mornings waking up to devotionals, followed by sobbing, and then was consumed with anger or bitterness the rest of the day about the life that she had been dealt.

 

 

By the time I was 15 my sister, who was two years older than me and still at home, began her journey of attempting suicide. She overdosed, had her stomach pumped, received electric shock treatments, and went into multiple mental health wards as the years progressed. My mother remained focused on the struggles of her marriage and my youngest sister was born with developmental delays. Therefore, I became my older sister’s caretaker. While I no longer had years of sitting on top of the stairs anxiously waiting for my parents’ physical and verbal altercations to stop, I now found myself sitting on my sister’s bed during the night to make sure she didn’t try further suicide attempt on my watch, all while continuing to work full time and bring my paychecks home to my mother.

During this time, I was approached by the elders of the church who asked if I would be interested in becoming a Amish Parochial School teacher for the upcoming school year. I was so excited. Finally, I found something I knew was my own. Something I could excel in and become proud of. However, Amish school teachers were not paid well at that time and by the end of the school year my mother had worn me down with her constant complaints of not being able to pay the family bills on such an income. I was forced to decline the offer to remain a teacher for a second year and instead found myself working at a local restaurant as a chef.

During this time in my life, I was also faced with the reality that my sister was not going to be returning to my mother’s home during one of her last inpatient treatments. I reached out to my oldest sister, who did not marry and had a home of her own, and asked if I could move in with her. At almost 18 years old I simply could not be in the same home as my mother, youngest sister, and all the chaos that came along with my father coming and going as he pleased. I was seen as the child who worked hard and brought home a steady paycheck and that was all that mattered to my mother. She was much more focused on doting on my youngest sister and consuming her days with working hard while letting everyone know the plight that she had suffered in life. I moved in with my oldest sister shortly after.

What my mother didn’t realize is that by allowing me to work at a restaurant she had opened new opportunities for me. I suddenly had Mennonite and English friends that I was getting to know very well. I was eventually invited to one of my friend’s Mennonite church services on a Sunday and I went. I was in complete shock at how the preacher spoke about God as having a close relationship with him. To me, God was seen as someone you should always be in fear of and never to get comfortable with him because you never really knew if he was going to allow you into Heaven if you missed one of the Amish rules. I was hooked. I found myself attending this new church as often as I possibly could.

I thought I was doing a good job of not making the Amish community aware of it until one evening as I was preparing to head out to church service, multiple buggies pulled into my sister’s driveway and suddenly I found myself alone in the living room in front of 6 ministers and bishops, receiving a lecture about the sinful ways my choices were taking me. After what seemed like hours, when they finally exited from the home, I was even more assured I was not going to remain in the Amish Church because by now I had strayed far enough away that going back was not an option. And from that moment on I chose not to look back at what I was leaving behind.

By the time I left my Amish home I had already purchased my car and found an apartment, all with the assistance from my English friends. I left with my most recent paycheck from the restaurant and that was all I had to start my new life. The apartment was close to the restaurant, so I was getting transportation to and from work from the Amish taxi drivers. I eventually paid my friends for all the items they purchased for me before I was able to keep my own paycheck, so I had a bed to sleep in and food to eat. It wasn’t until I was settled and had my routine going that I realized how very alone I was and that I had just left my entire childhood behind me. Despite my family home being such a turmoil I did have amazing friendships with cousins and girlfriends and those were cut off immediately. So, I married the first man that paid attention to me and could assure me I was not alone. We divorced two years later when I was 22. And this is where I begin my educational career.

The summer of 2001 I signed up for GED classes at the recommendation of a friend. I studied that entire summer like my life depended on it while maintaining a full-time job. The last thing I wanted to do was fail with any new endeavors following my divorce. When my GED report came in the mail, I made my girlfriend open it and the scream that came from my soul after hearing I passed is something that I think echoed around the neighborhood for the rest of the day. However, the same friend who pushed me into getting my GED, did not allow me to relish in my victory for long. “Know what?” she asked.

“What do you mean know what? I am on top of the world! My options are boundless!”

“Wrong,” she said. “You clearly are intelligent. So, what are you going to do with that intelligence?” And before I knew it she and I were sitting in the finance department at Ashland University and I was applying to study there.

By 2002 I was accepted and attending Ashland University. While I initially started out in Early Childhood Education, I changed my major to Psychology after being in a classroom setting and seeing that the children from the dominant world were not those of the Amish world. Who were these screaming, yelling, not listening and hyper children? During this time, I was also completely removed from my family. While my family did not attend a church that believed in shunning, they shunned me on their own as I was seen as a bad influence on my nieces and nephews because of my life choices and was not permitted to be around them. Because college was teaching me all about exploring who I was as a person, I became very wrapped up in the psychology of my family dynamics and I was hooked. Maybe I could learn to understand how my family became who they were and are. So, I dug in from 2002-2004 to learn what I could about how I was raised and what the psychology was behind my upbringing.

In 2004, I met the father of my two boys. I became pregnant shortly after which resulted in my leaving Ashland University, getting married, and starting a family while finishing my college degree online. By now I realized I had developed a personality that immediately accepts change and that I do not realize how the changes affect me until well after I have followed through with the huge change in my life. By the time I start mourning my losses, those around me are wondering why I haven’t moved on from it yet. So while I missed not completing my time at Ashland University, I worked on completing my degree online and by age 30, in 2009, with two boys under the age of 4, being a mom, wife, and full-time employee, I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.

My first job with my college degree, from 2009-2012, was at Holmes County Board of Developmental Disabilities where I worked as a Service and Support Administrator.

Because I wanted to explore my options and further my knowledge, I applied and was hired in 2012 at Holmes County Child Protective Services as an Ongoing Worker. For the next 10 years, I was wrapped up in the world of Children Services and I relished in it. I was able to work with Amish families who had CPS involvement and connected with the children who were being abused and neglected. Being able to speak their language was very gratifying for me. To me, it meant that while no one was there to rescue me and my siblings from our very toxic home environment as children, I was able to help other Amish children experiencing the very same thing.

While working at Holmes County CPS, I was contacted by the Northeast Ohio Regional Training Center to complete training for social workers and other professionals alike on how to work with Amish families when coming in contact with them. My training started in 2015 and I remain a part-time trainer there today.

During my time in Holmes County CPS, I transitioned from an Ongoing Worker to the Foster Care Coordinator position. This allowed me to obtain my Teir II Assessor training to complete foster-to-adopt home studies for families. Following my transition out of Children Services, I was able to maintain that licensure and am currently employed with a private adoption agency where I continue to license foster to adopt home studies as a part-time job.

In 2018, we moved to Medina, OH. While I transitioned to CPS in Medina, I quickly discovered my heart did not have the same attachment to the job as I had in Holmes County. This was also the first time I had officially moved away from Holmes County where I was born and raised. Again, the change happened swiftly, and the aftereffects did not come until weeks or months later. By 2020, my marriage was coming to an end and I asked for a divorce. The divorce was finalized in 2021 and I decided it was also time to switch career paths and I became a Supervisor for Adult Protective Services.

By 2022, I realized working with elderly in the community was not my forte and I began working for a non-profit agency as a Qualified Intellectual Developmental Professional (QIDP) for Developmental Disabilities and I remain there today. I am very much in love with my current job and have become involved in several committees and play several other roles in my position.

I continue to face my own mental health struggles on a daily basis. I have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression and I take daily medication and seek counseling when life becomes overwhelming. I am a strong advocate for mental health awareness. I have no tolerance for people who mock mental health or minimize the mental health struggles of others. I despise immature Amish jokes that people will share with me when they find out my background, thinking I will find it funny. I despise the Amish reality shows that portray how uneducated some of our Amish adults can be. I still pride myself on how I was raised, and I treasure Amish Documentaries that show real facts and feelings and about the pain we have suffered in the hands of those who were supposed to love and protect us unconditionally.

Due to all of the trauma I was exposed to as a child, I continue to struggle with maintaining healthy male relationships, I find myself having little to no patience with those who struggle with changes in life and hold onto things that have no value, and losing friendships in my life does not phase me. I struggle feeling emotions at funerals and I struggle with sympathizing with others. I am very direct and to the point and I hate small talk. I am good with sitting in silence and I taking time to respond to questions. I am able to make others feel uncomfortable by looking at them as though I am peering through their soul (so I am told). I am very hard on myself, and I am easy to forget what I had to go through to get to where I am at today. These are all long lasting effects from being told that I hold no true value in life other then to be a good Amish girl who was supposed to get married to an Amish man, start a family, keep a clean house and garden, and do what my husband asks of me.

So, today, in my Professional life, I am employed full time as a Qualified Intellectual Developmental Professional (QIDP) for Developmental Disabilities, I train professionals all over northeast Ohio on how to interact with Amish families when coming into contact with them, and I work for a private Adoption agency where I am a foster-to-adopt home study licensure assessor.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Amy on June 11, 2024 at 11:24 am

    All I can say is WOW LUE I AM SO PROUD OF YOU ! May u continue to be who God created you to be !What a Story ….Love you ! Bittersweet memories!

    • Luella on June 11, 2024 at 9:49 pm

      Thank you Amy 😊

  2. Nancy Lee on June 11, 2024 at 12:37 pm

    Thank you for sharing your moving account of how you not only survived many severely difficult situations but became someone able to provide the help that others need. Blessings!

    • Luella on June 11, 2024 at 9:50 pm

      Thank you Nancy. Your support is so appreciated!

  3. Celia Crotteau on June 11, 2024 at 4:29 pm

    Congratulations on all that you have achieved, both personally and professionally, and thank you for helping those who are so in need of an advocate.

    • Luella on June 11, 2024 at 9:50 pm

      Thank you Celia 😊

  4. Ruthie on June 11, 2024 at 7:19 pm

    You’ve come a long way!

    • Luella on June 11, 2024 at 9:51 pm

      😊

  5. Donna H on June 13, 2024 at 10:18 pm

    Determined. Motivated. Hopeful. Intelligent. Hard Working. Courageous. Loving. Disciplined. Curious. Just a few words that come to mind when I think of you. Your growth amazes me. So honored to have watched you grow into the beautifully wonderful woman you are today!

    • Luella Gilbert on June 19, 2024 at 12:18 pm

      You have been an amazing support in my life and your own story is one to be so proud of. I love you so much and I am so grateful to have you in my life!!

  6. Aleta on June 14, 2024 at 10:11 pm

    Luella, it was wonderful to have met you. Hearing your story brought tears to my eyes. I’m so sorry you had to go through all of that. But I am thankful to have met the beautiful, intelligent, strong woman you have become because of and in spite of your experiences. God has a beautiful plan for your life.

    • Luella Gilbert on June 19, 2024 at 12:19 pm

      I love, love having had the opportunity to get to know you !! I can’t wait to get to know you even more!!

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