{FOF Friends} These women say, when you’re FOF, you’ve got to have friends.

FOFs Leslie Saunders, Marquita Olive and Cynthia Anzaldua are longtime friends with a passion for helping children. This year they launched KitchenKids!, an “edu-tainment” resource for children ages 5-12, that promotes knowledge, self-esteem, healthy eating and relationship building. The women all credit their friendship for keeping them successful, strong and sane through the tumultuous FOF years. Here they describe how one great friendship can be an FOF’s greatest asset.

How did the three of you become friends?

Leslie: I guess I’m the central piece here. My career (management consulting) has afforded me the opportunity to move to several different communities. I met Cynthia in 1986, when I moved to Dallas. We became friends immediately. Two cities later, my career moved me to Memphis, where I met Marquita in 1996. We also became fast friends, and when I introduced the two of them, it was like the three amigas.

What draws the three of you together so tightly?

Cynthia: I think a love of young people has kept us young, and has been the driving force in our friendship. I’m a 31-year veteran art teacher. Leslie used to work for Girl Scouts of America. Marquita has a 12-year old daughter, Grace, who’s been growing up right in front of us as we work together. It’s a love for children, and helping children – that commitment.

You all enjoy mentoring young people.

Cynthia: Exactly.

Marquita: Leslie and Cynthia are the big sisters I never had. They have helped me to grow up, and to be a better mother. Leslie is my daughter’s godmother, and Cynthia is my daughter’s god-aunt, and we’re just one big happy family.

Leslie: I think one of the big pieces of glue that holds us all together is that we like to laugh. Whenever we are together, life becomes hilarious, even though we may be dealing with personal dramas. Over the years, we’ve had so many wonderful encounters together that when we get together, we spend half the time laughing about the crazy stuff that we’ve done in the past. Like Ethel and Lucy: ‘How did we get here again?  And aren’t we glad that we’re all here together?’

Can you each describe how your friendships has helped you in life, though the years?

Leslie: These friendships helped ground me as my professional life took me from community to community.   Sometimes it’s very difficult to get to know new people. As our friendships have matured, we’ve lost parents, and our lives have changed in many ways. But these are the same two sisters who hold my hand through it all.

Cynthia:  I lost my father not long ago, and he was my world, and they have been here for me through thick and thin, through my depression, through everything I had to go through and they’ve made me a stronger person. They’ve made me appreciate life and friends, and friendship more. I know there’s nothing that I can’t tell them. I know that they’re always there for me. We speak to each other one to three times a day. We might start the conversation crying, and then we end up laughing.

Marquita: I’m going to use a quote from A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson: ‘Every encounter is a holy encounter.’  And that’s how I feel about Leslie and Cynthia. When I met them both, we had a spiritual connection, that, as a wordsmith myself, I can’t find the words to describe!

What gets the friendship through trying times?

Leslie: We’re able to be very honest with each other. And we don’t expect perfection. We expect honesty and truth and we know that none of us intentionally does anything to hurt the others. Even if it takes months for someone to say, ‘You know, you hurt my feelings last year, when you said such and such,’ we are still quick to apologize and explain ‘that’s not what I meant, and I need you to understand, because you are more than my friend, you really are my sister.’

Marquita: The three of us love each other unconditionally. There’s no competition here. There are no egos here. There’s just genuine love.

Cynthia: We realize it’s sometimes necessary to say something to one another that might be hurtful. But we’d all rather it come from us than from the outside.

Do you think that level of trust is something you can build, or does it have to be there originally?

Leslie: It’s both. We liked each other, and we wanted to be friends, but friendship has to be tested, nurtured, and well managed.  Those are the things that you work on. Although the three of us have many things in common, we are three distinct individuals, with unique talents, interests and experiences, and we don’t try to outdo each other or compete. That keeps our friendship fresh. There are times when two of us will experience something, and we’ll say, ’Oh Lord, we better call so-and-so and get her take on this!  We know she’s gonna have something hilarious to say about this.’

Marquita: I follow Dr. Wayne Dyer on Twitter. And the other day, he said, ‘Your friends are God’s way of apologizing for your family.’  That’s how I look at these two ladies. They are my family. They are not relatives.

{Family} Separated as infants, these FOF sisters reunited!

Last June, FOF gave away a California Spa trip and Soft Surroundings wardrobe. We asked our members why they deserved the package and were blown away by this message from FOF Leah Houseman:

It turns out, Leah’s sister Beverly was given up for adoption when their parents fell on hard economic times. “It had to be excruciatingly painful to give up a child because of poverty and I try to put myself in my Mom’s shoes,” says Leah. “They wanted someone to give Beverly a good life.”

Leah and Beverly were raised as only children in different households–in the very same town! Leah went to private school and Beverly went to public school (but had they both gone to public school – it would have been the same one). It wasn’t until Beverly’s adoptive parents passed away that she discovered the name of her birth-mother and clues that led her to believe she had a sibling. Beverly, then living in California, scoured the Internet for information to no avail. Then, two years ago, she got a lead. Her birth mother’s very unique name was published on a website. Excited, she emailed to the site’s webmaster but received no response. She had reached another dead end. Or so she thought….

Leah, a writer, living in Florida, had published a story about her family on a website and forgot about it. The webmaster of the site forwarded her an e-mail from a woman inquiring about the family story. Leah brushed off the e-mail at first. “You hear these horror stories about stalkers on the Internet and I had no idea who she was. But, finally I responded…It was just a courtesy thing.”

“Just a courtesy thing,” became a life changer. A few e-mail exchanges and a phone call later, Beverly and Leah discovered they were, in fact, sisters. “When she said my father’s name it sent a shock through me,” says Leah. “It was just too weird.”

Touched by the opportunity to reunite two long-lost FOF sisters, we quickly booked a spa trip for Leah where she and Beverly would reunite (after all they had waited 60 years for this moment!)

The sisters spent three days catching up on each others lives. They were delighted to discover even after years separated they still had common tastes in clothing, books and music.

“The three days settled some identity questions and created a sense of togetherness between the two of us,” says Leah. “It added a dimension to both our lives that is very special.”

Since the trip, Leah and Beverly have e-mailed and talked on the phone weekly. “I just got an email from her,” says Leah.  “She said she’ll remember our vacation together for the rest of her life.”