3 Inspired People

Story Jason Browne | Photographs Luisa Porter

LAUREN ZARANDONA, COLUMBUS

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

In the process of her fourth application for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Lauren Zarandona was procrastinating.

She had to videotape a lecture in one of her math classes at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and write an explanation of why that lesson was important to her students. She also had to explain how she was a leader in her school community and state. Not exactly an exercise in humility.

“I didn’t want to submit it. I had been a state finalist before but never a national finalist. It’s hard to be a runner-up every time,” says Zarandona.

But she had to submit it or forfeit any future lessons to her students about perseverance.

Were she a more natural self-promoter, she would have picked an easy lesson to videotape so her students would seem engaged, then let her leadership statement do the heavy lifting. She could have told the story of how she entered Ole Miss’ Mississippi Teachers Corps program and spent five years teaching in the Delta to help pay for her master’s degree. And despite plans to move to Memphis with her husband and their two sons afterward, she realized within the first nine weeks she was meant to teach in Mississippi. And how that experience was colored by an earlier internship teaching underserved students in East St. Louis, Illinois. And how that experience juxtaposed with another internship at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, where she didn’t get to work with kids but wanted to.

All those things are true, but she didn’t need the emotional angle. She won the award for 2015, along with a check for 10 grand, with a video of her students buzzing over using dice to figure probabilities.

“So much math gets boring if you only talk about it and don’t see it. By being hands-on, students connect to it in a way that the math makes sense,” she says. “People say students don’t want to learn, but when they meet teachers who want to teach and have a plan and a passion and listen to their realities, they want to learn.”

DOROTHY PORTER, COLUMBUS

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Picture an aura. Anyone’s. Yours, sure. What color is it? How far does it extend from your body? Is it round or asymmetrical? Is it real or is it a figment of your imagination?

Supposing it’s real, what if it’s more than just your soul’s neon report card? What if it’s an interactive extension of your physical form, able to be massaged and rejuvenated? Would you let someone touch it?

Dorothy Porter has been a nurse for 50 years and holds a master’s degree in psychology. She taught nursing, even logging a year at Mississippi University for Women, which is where she was introduced to Therapeutic Touch in 1981. Therapeutic Touch evolved into Healing Touch, the practice of diagnosing and correcting the energy that exists just outside the human body by dangling a pendulum (a rock on a chain) above certain body parts and literally pushing the energy with your hands to work the kinks out.

Far-fetched? Porter doesn’t think so. She’s seen it work too consistently.

“I thought it was really interesting, but ‘people will think I’m a nut.’ So, I kept it quiet … until I worked with a lady who had severe arthritis. I massaged her and she said, ‘Whatever you did, I don’t have any more pain,’” says Porter. “I began to look for ways to do it in a hospice setting. I used it in a cardiac unit.”

At various points, Healing Touch landed Porter a job at Slidell Memorial Hospital in Louisiana and a private practice in Jackson. She’s seen it help fibromyalgia sufferers reduce their medication, ease cancer symptoms, comfort the dying and calm mental disorders. She currently teaches Healing Touch in The W’s Life Enrichment Program and has so many stories to tell that she’s writing a book about her experiences. She says science is catching up to the diagnosis aspect of Healing Touch, but the repair part still requires an empathetic pair of human hands.

“The practitioner has to create in their heart and mind a loving energy through prayer or belief in God or meditation to get into a high vibration of loving energy and stay there. That’s the intent that really helps people,” she says.

AVA HARRIS, WEST POINT

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Ava Harris, 39, Deputy Chancery Clerk for Clay County, is the friendliest person in West Point. She even has a certificate to prove it.

“Ava is a very loving person, very caring,” says her boss, Chancery Clerk Amy Berry. “She’s perfect for this job.”

Her love starts with family.

“I was fortunate growing up in that almost all of my family is right here in West Point,” she says. “I think most of who I am came from my parents and grandparents being friendly and kind to each other.”

Her family expanded in a surprising way three years ago when Dennis “Dee” Harris came into her life. At that point, Ava was a single mom with a teen daughter, Mikiyla. Marriage wasn’t on her mind.

“He knew who I was,” she says. “I didn’t know him at all, which is funny because I probably know everybody in town. He told me he had had a crush on me for 14 years. One day he found me on Facebook and we started talking. It went from there.”

Suddenly, she went from a single mom of one to a married mom of five with three grandchildren.

In 2006, Ava answered an ad for a job at the Chancery Clerk’s office. She had considered returning to school, but quickly found working at the courthouse appealed to her.

“The courthouse can be really stressful. Sometimes people have questions. I’ll even help them fill out forms, which I’m not required to do,” she says. “Now, I have people come in who don’t really need anything. They just stop in to see me to tell me what’s going on with them.”

Harris has been named county employee of the year two straight years, but winning the Daily Times Leader’s “Friendliest Person in West Point” in 2016 shocked her.

“There are so many friendly people in West Point. Why did they pick me?” she wonders. “I guess it goes back to my mom and dad. They always taught me to be kind to people. But it’s not something I think about really. I’ve just always loved people.”