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Ann Evans: “I’ve Come to Celebrate, Not to Tolerate”

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Ann Evans’ story is rooted in the small town of Hamlet, a rural community in eastern North Carolina.  Her early years were filled with poverty, and at the age of two she was diagnosed with polio. She grew up walking with a limp, and easily accepted the limp as part of her persona and did not consider it a disability. In school, however, she had to cope with constant ridicule from her classmates.

Yet, she never used poverty or polio as a crutch to avoid life challenges. Evans went on to become a winner by abstaining from self-pity, accepting and making the best of the challenges that life presented. Evans said, “I believed I was special and the teasing just made me stronger.”

Poverty was a known culprit in rural North Carolina during Evans’ youthful years, which left the family without funds to purchase new school clothing for the children.  Evans created a unique way of obtaining outfits. She would rummage through discarded clothing (prior to thrift shops) salvaging useable items and turning them into suitable attire.  That venture turned into a success story later in her life.

Despite the challenges of her limp and made-over clothes, she managed to make the high school cheerleading squad. Upon completion of high school, Evans opted for vocational school. With a flair for fashion she decided to specialize in hair and fashion designs.

Evans began her career with an established hair salon in Durham, NC.  Eventually, she opened her own salon and it became a huge success.  Later she added two additional salons and went on to become a successful businesswoman.  Life was great until Multiple Sclerosis (MS), her second debilitating disease, reared its ugly head and attacked. The disease forced her into an early retirement and into a wheelchair.

Evans refused to stay down or to allow the disease to get the best of her.    In retirement she founded the nonprofit organization—Helping Our Physically Challenged Everyday (HOPE).  Through HOPE she assists the elderly and disabled. She makes frequent visits to nursing homes, visiting residents who seemed to have been forgotten by loved ones.  Evans needs an aide to assist her with getting dressed and meal preparation, but she rolls merrily along sharing her love, spirit, energy, as well as personal items to the nursing home residents.  Her ability to motivate, inspire and change lives has always been an integral part of her being.

Evans’ gift as a creative entrepreneur has enabled her to take a piece of leftover material, paper, fur, feathers, etc., and turn them into spectacular designs that have been featured in the newspapers and on television.  She tells us that this is the talent she developed from rummaging through trash and turning it into treasures during her formative years. Several of her creations have been on exhibit at the Annual North Carolina State Fair.  Her famous Newspaper Gown was displayed in London England during the Millennium Celebration.

Before MS, Evans coordinated fashion shows, but now she participates in local shows modeling hats she has designed. Her wheelchair does not present an obstacle to her on the runway.  Rolling smoothly in her well-controlled   chair, Evans bubbling personality often steals the show.  Recently, The Hat Lounge, located at a mall in Durham, held its grand opening and placed Evans’ hats on display.

A member of the Mayor’s Committee of Persons with Disabilities in Durham, Evans said, “Through the committee, I speak for those whose voices are not heard and believe I am fulfilling God’s purpose for my life by helping the underserved and underrepresented.“

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27 Comments - (Leave a comment! »)

  • Randy – Ohio said:

    While I’m not entirely sure where the title came from, I have to admit it was the title that drew me into this article. I also have family ties in North Carolina, so I was all the more interested when I read the location of this story. One of the comments made about the article was that there could have been more of a focus on the circumstances surrounding her poverty. While I agree that could have added another element of interest, I think it could have swayed the article too heavily on the side of pity and less on the side of her strength to overcome. We were told she grew up in poverty, and told she didn’t have money for new clothes, and that was enough to catch my attention and see her inspiration of her later creativity. Overall, I think the author conveyed the point that Ann overcame several obstacles that would have stopped most people in their tracks. It was an interesting read, and I would recommend it as a short, sweet, and uplifting piece.

  • Loretta – New Mexico said:

    I think it was great article, showing how Ann Evans overcame so many obstacles in her life. She overcame poverty, she overcame polio and MS as well. She kept a positive, happy and loving attitude through it all.

    It shows that people can over come many things. The will to make it
    in this world, that can be very cruel at times, is there.

    I really enjoyed the article. I read it this morning and I feel as
    if I have a sense of positiveness for the day. My problems do not
    seem that big today.

  • Myson – Arizona said:

    I thought this article missed a touch of regionalism. I know that part of NC and their peculiar dialect as well as the source of the poverty. It would have made a colorful backdrop to the story to describe it with a regional paintbrush. Instead of just showing how Ann overcame poverty, it could have shown how institutional the poverty was, all the more amazing her accomplishments.

  • Christie – Michigan said:

    I loved this article. This magazine is so positive and shows how people can rise from the depths to the top and change their lives and others as well. I love the positivity of the article and how it vividly describes Ann Evans struggles with compassion without leaving you feeling sorry for her.

  • Kristie – Los Angeles said:

    I thought it was really incredible that this woman who has conquered so many obstacles and is still living life to the fullest, was able to have her strength recognized in a public forum like this. It was inspiring to hear her story, and without this magazine it might never have been heard. There are so many people I know of in my area that are doing amazing things and no one but those close to them know about it. This is a platform for everyday people to be inspired by other everyday people.

  • Naima - Turkey said:

    To me this article corresponds with the saying “disability is not inability” which is a good thing as it is encouraging to the group of special people in our world. Am not blaming some of the special people for not acting towards their situation as we all know Rome was not built in a day that’s why writing such kinds of articles is here to create awareness to them. As for the style of writing I’ll say the author targeted the reality in it and brought it out quite well.

  • Bob – Tennessee said:

    I found this story to be inspiring, and written succinctly with no pity asked for. It was a strong statement of here I am, and I like what I have become; you, too, can overcome challenges, and adversity. Very uplifting,

  • Ambica Thakur said:

    I am attracted by your site as I have been working to make this world a better place and myself a better human being. Since the time unmemorable stories are the way to keep the record of that particular time period. This is a great initiative to keep record of people who make history, who are the winners within their selves.

    Ann Evans’s story about overcoming the obstacles life has given her from poverty to deal with the polio and Multiple Sclerosis. While attending High School there were the emotional challenges brought on by those insensitive to her noticeable limp still she managed to become a cheerleader. Adversities did not stop her from moving towards her goal and transforming it into prosperity. She formed Helping Our Physically Challenged Everyday (HOPE) and motivated, inspired and changed lives of people who otherwise would not have seen hope for a better life.

    From High school cheerleader, Created stuff from leftovers the, She owned a successful hair salon, Coordinated fashion shows and formed an NGO. She is a multidimensional successful entrepreneur, innovator, artist, philanthropist and true human being not being held back by obstacle destiny has laid on her way. She is a role model for humanity, symbol of human potential and a winner indeed.

  • Karin – Canada said:

    Well done.

  • Hadassa – North Carolina said:

    I am drawn immediately to the site because I am a Deaf American. More likely, I find it appealing because the articles are highlighting the lives of everyday Americans who have lived their lives beautifully. I am particularly impressed with this article on Ann Evans by Grace Graham posted “I’ve Come to Celebrate, Not Tolerate.”

    The title is a fantastic direct quote from the interviewee. I’d like to hear more about what this means to Ann Evans specifically, I have a feeling it may have been truncated a good deal. However the article gives a general idea of the sentiment behind the statement. The article gave a good overview of her life within the site parameters from what I can tell. I would like to hear more about what the non-profit foundation mentioned in the article, Helping Our Physically Challenged Everyday, does. The work of HOPE sounds very uplifting. This is precisely the kind of work that society needs to read more about. So much of the news and entertainment media is negative, skewered, or sensationalized.

  • John – Nevada said:

    When so many of us are experiencing the ripple effects of the greatest economic slowdown since the Great Depression, the success story of Ann Evens so eloquently speaks to the occasion. No, her life story is not one of instant success where life’s hurdles seem to be totally extinct . Her story is one of overcoming challenges, from extreme poverty to coping with crippling effects of polio. While attending High School there were the emotional challenges brought on by those insensitive to her noticeable limp.
    Adverse circumstances beyond her control did not prevent her from moving forward, reframing potential barriers into opportunities for growth. Even when the odds seemed to be stacked against her, she became a cheerleader on the High School squad.
    Ann Evens had the gift of looking at her circumstances through the lens of growth instead of defeat and victimhood. Such a perspective has allowed her to realize her passion to become a renown fashion designer by piecing together torn pieces of fabric into something desirable to wear down the model runway. She also is credited with owning a successful hair salon. This is indeed not a tale of instant rags to riches. After claiming much success , she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, one more hurdle that would eventually force her into retirement.
    Again, instead of being defeated by circumstance, she reaches beyond herself by allowing “all” of her life experiences teach her the value of greater empathy and compassion toward others. Instead of lying in bed, feeling sorry for herself, she now reaches out to nursing home residents who are without the love and support of loved ones. Her passion to make a difference lead to the formation of her non-profit organization, (Helping Our Physically Challenged Every day) or better known as “HOPE”.
    Perhaps, some may feel an emotional disconnect with Ann’s story in that we are never told about her periods of discouragement and feelings of hopelessness that we all tend to experience when we go through trials. But for the thoughtful reader, we can safely assume that because she is actively engaged in the human experience as are we, she also has traversed through these uncomfortable emotions.
    However, if we’re reading this article and wondering why Ann Evans has a human spirit that soars and we don’t, we need to realize on a cellular level we’re “all” resilient human beings with a innate ability to overcome whatever appears to be blocking our way forward. This particular article gives us great cause to celebrate, as the title implies, the innate ability we “all” possess to move forward even when life circumstances appear to be less than favorable.

  • Hetal -- Arkansas said:

    I have been on the magazine site and browsed through articles in different categories. Not only did i find it very inspiring but liked the fact that the stories of everyday people are shared with a respectful insight into their lives.

    This article does not cover the grandeur of the title “I’ve Come to Celebrate…” the material is all there but it is presented differently. The poverty and disability aspect is more emphasized than her talents. However, overall, the article is very inspiring. and readers will have a moment of introspection.

  • Katie – Wisconsin said:

    This type of feature article is the kind I like. I enjoy reading stories with an inspirational message, without sounding preachy.I was very impressed with your site.

  • Christopher said:

    The first thing I liked about this article was the title. Every time I see a sign saying something along the lines of “Practice Tolerance” it drives me crazy because I think that’s the VERY least of what we should be doing. More than just tolerating, we could be loving, understanding, sharing, being compassionate, and like your article says, celebrating!
    It’s stories like this that help us remember that so many people have it worse off than us, but ironically it is sometimes those people who have a better attitude than us. So life must not be about what we can do, or what we have, but the amount of love and appreciation we have for what does surround us in life.

  • Nancy – Canada said:

    This article is one of stories that stands out. It was great.

  • Brian – Utah said:

    This article by Grace Graham is a metaphor for the larger picture of Ann Evans: it recognizes the many obstacles in the way of Ann’s path, but doesn’t dwell on them, choosing instead to focus on the accomplishments. With each successive hurdle comes an additional affirmation of life’s delight.

    Having grown up in the eternally depressed area of Hamlet, this recession might seem like prosperity. In a time where people are too eager to use the economy as an excuse, Ann Evans certainly sees opportunities. The truth of her story pays homage to the exceptional story of making life what you want it to be and not dwelling on what other people think it should be.

    Such a choice cannot simply be made once. The decision to view one’s situation optimistically is one that needs to be made constantly. It seems harder now, of course, in the light of so much uncertainty and disparity: our leaders refusing to agree or take a hard stance on principal in fear of backlash, turmoil in so many parts of the world, and even nature seems malevolent.

    None of that matters to us. We elect people and hope they do right; if they don’t, we’ll try again. God bless our armed forces, but prayers and care packages are the extent we can do to help from home. Extreme weather is indiscriminate even though it feels otherwise.

    The truth is that we are all too caught up in putting food on the table, rearing our children to be morally responsible adults, trimming the overgrown hedges, and volatile energy prices. If it wasn’t something, it would be something else occupying the too few hours in our days.

    This is the real reason Ann Evans’ story is so remarkable. By comparison, our issues and concerns are trivial. It is humbling to think of the adversity she overcomes every day to do the things we take for granted. Her attitude transcends the self we all get too caught up and in order to spread the joy she sees all around her.

  • Melissa M said:

    I love the positive angle of this site and found this story about a polio victim’s struggles against seemingly insurmountable odds a refreshing break from self-pity. Most of us can use a dose of this on a regular basis, if only to prevent terminal navel gazing self-involvement. I am one who occasionally needs the reminder that A.) I am someone to whom has been given and B.) from whom much will be expected. These biographies supply a much needed moment of chagrin combined with epiphany that screams,”So, what’s your excuse! Get busy!” This is a compelling platform, one that I can see recommending on Facebook and on other social media sites.
    As a former creative writing instructor, I see a few missed opportunities in the piece titled “I’ve Come to Celebrate, Not Tolerate.” First, I might have played much more with the title quote, which sadly never shows up in the article itself…yet is so bold and powerful! I would capitalize on what this woman is “intolerant” of, namely any limitations imposed by her disabilities, weaving in and out of this idea of intolerance…perhaps even as a unifying theme. I might also elevate to the level of central metaphor the fact that this woman has made a career out of taking trash and converting it to treasure. However, I would not allow this to be too obvious or heavy handed, taking care to avoid insult. I am not wild about the lines “poverty was a known culprit” and “polio as a crutch.” The near passive voice of the former does not provide enough punch to this powerful obstacle in this woman’s early life, and the dark humor of the later has no place in this article. Finally, I would incorporate several more quotes from this featured woman. If she can say things like she does in the title, then her voice should be featured more prominently in the entire article. I would have liked to know more about what it was like to be the cheerleader with a limp, or the runway model in a wheelchair–directly from the source. Finally, I find the photo of her entering her van with the bag that says “HOPE” the most compelling of the three. I’m less wild about the white fur piece in front of the refrigerator. She should have a more dignified local for such finery. Overall, I see raw material for something great, but not fully realized in this article.

  • Barbara A said:

    To Michelle…Knowing Ann Evans over 12 years has been an inspiration. The strength and power she demonstrates comes thru much endurance and long suffering offered with a smile. She has an unstoppable flow of energy and a fresh burst of joy. She struggles against the odds thru prayer and esteeming others above herself. She has a overflowing cup of knowledge and pours it out to all she meet, drawing attention and wonder. Her magnetic personailty intices those who meet hsr to question how, why and ask for more. Ann uses resources cast aside and accepts donations to enrich the lives of those less able. She spends countless hours putting together gifts and donated personal items to take to nursing homes where she sets her table with a theme for the season and invite the residents to pick their favorites. This month for National Autism, (As we know there are still peices to the puzzel medical science have not fitted together.)Ann has created a wedding gown of puzzle peices from a bag of puzzle peices she purchased at the strap exchange for $6.00 She made matching shoes, a bouquet and a hat with the open top all adorned with puzzle peices, sequines and flowers. (Last year she made a chair with puzzle peices)
    Anns’ creations have taken her into the presence of royalty. She has many awards and medals for her timeless efforts to bring the abilities of persons with disabilities to the forefront. She flaunts her skills for the good of others.
    She remains happy in her heart for the grace and blessings she acquire everytime she meets and greets others, never meeting a stranger, seeing the angel in them all. Ann goes out to reach out and she promises to continue thru until she reaches the other side of thru… When asked what her goals were for herself. She laughed, “I want a computer that I can talk to and it logs my words and lets me get online so I can write my book. My hands want allow me to type but my mind want allow me to keep silent. I have a legacy and I have to have a way to record it and keep it alive for others who may receive inspiration thru my life story.”

  • Holley D said:

    I do believe that there are miraculous stories being lived every day by people all over the world. I often wonder what it is that drives a person to accomplish great deeds in the face of incredible obstacles. What causes a person to turn their hardship into triumph, when another might just give up? It’s amazing to me what one person can do when they put their heart into it.

    I read this article about Ann Evans. I thought this story illustrated the old phrase that, “neccessity is the mother of invention.” Ann Evans used her creativity and her strength to succceed in spite of her disability and found a way to give back to others in the process. I enjoyed this article. My only criticism is that it’s a little lacking in details and I didn’t feel a strong connection to Ann Evans as a person. It would be nice to have a better feel for who Ann is, what her hopes and dreams are, what inspires her.

  • Brenda M -- New Mexico said:

    I have to say that I loved this article. The only criticism I would have is that it was too short. I believe that stories such as Ann’s should be given more attention. These are the types of stories that everyone needs to know about. Imagine, a poor girl who, instead of living in her pity, chose to take a path that empowered her rather than one that brought her down. This story shows that we are not our environment. While we cannot help but feel its influence, it is something much deeper inside of us that drives our lives and Ann Evans found this through her circumstances and used it not only for her own growth and survival but for the benefit and service of others. In these times, when being a victim seems like an epidemic, this inspirational story and others of the same need to be shared more often.

  • damria -- South Africa said:

    She sounds like a very strong woman who has made a success of her life despite debilitating illnesses.

  • Michelle I -- Vermont said:

    I really liked the article. The title alone is a great introductory to this amazing woman’s life. However, I was a bit disappointed that only once did I get a sense of Ann’s personality when Graham quotes, “….Evans bubbly personality often steals the the show.” Where is Evans personality in the story? I want to know why she’s still smiling in her picture? I’m always looking for inspiration, and I was hoping that the article would draw me in, but unfortunately the title was the only thing that was exciting in the the article. The title was brilliant and beautiful catch for a readers eye. I was thinking Zora Neale Hurston when I saw the picture and title, but again, unfortunately, I only got a cover story of Evans, not the bones of her soul or personality. I think this would have been a stronger read if Graham could have added more personal quotes on Evans that would give the readers a sense of what she’s like or what inspires her to keep going. Other than my criticisms, this article does give a good scope of Evans life and, the pictures also added a sense of humility, too.

    As a reader, I guess what I’m saying, when I read something about struggles/inspiration, I want to remember something unique about that person. Me, I’ve always remembered Zora Neale Hurston, because her personality is hard to miss and her writing style paints a rainbow of color that defies obstacles that she herself has overcome. And even though, I’m not an African American, I can relate to Zora’s personal struggles–through her humor, smiling sentences and celebrated quotes on life.

  • Fiona -- Kentucky said:

    I can’t tell you how much Grace Graham’s piece about Ann Evans resonated with me today. Hearing about the teasing she faced at school, I am reminded of my own niece, a bright five year old with cerebral palsy which affects the lower half of her body. While most of her schoolmates pay no mind to her wheelchair and walker, and welcome her with open arms, there are a few who are not so kind. There are even parents who have complained to the teacher because they do not feel comfortable with her different needs. I hope that my niece will learn from stories of those like Ann as she grows, and will be able to celebrate what makes her different.

  • Katharyn T -- Washington said:

    The way Ann overcame physical challenges in spite of her different abilities is a wonderful role models for not giving up on life no matter what adversities a person faces.

  • Luci McMillan said:

    This is great! I know both of these ladies.Mrs Graham is a wonderful writter.A great woman and person. Ann evans is a talented, energetic person who does not let that wheelchair stop her.
    Well done ladies. luci

  • Rain Sullivan said:

    This article is wonderfully written and the words do not distract at all from the story of this incredible woman. One thing came to mind as I read this: why are school children so cruel? True it makes the recipients stronger, but as humans, they have the ability to reason and therefore understand the effects their actions have on other people. I suppose it’s our ingrained “survival of the fitest” issue. But I digress.
    Ms. Evans is remarkable in many ways, not only for overcoming her many obstacles but also for obviously being kind to those fortunate enough to know her. I may not agree with her use of fur, but I definitely admire her ability to overcome.

  • greynolds said:

    I am so pleased to see Ann receive the recognition that she deserves. As a former student at North Carolina Central University from 1975-1980, I was a recipient of Ann’s kindness and professional ability. I had the sharpest haircuts on the campus. My hair has never been as beautiful since I left Durham. Ann and I continue to foster a great friendship and I know that God has great things in store for her.

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