Take off another wrapping, you’ll find another gift. And then another. And another.
Her gifts are her passion, her perseverance and her positiveness.
“She gives me such a lift,” says IU East Assistant Professor of Fine Arts Carrie Longley.
Llerena’s gifts are teaching and reaching others.
Her gifts are parenting and time-management skills. “My mom is always going, doing something, being a part of different organizations,” says daughter Stephanie Llerena. “For us, it’s normal to see her do everything.”
Everything included holding down two jobs, taking business classes at IU East and tirelessly doing community service. “Other people point out how extraordinary she is,” says Stephanie Llerena. “She always has had time for us and maintained her drive for bettering herself.”
That drive meant there were countless times that Llerena, Stephanie Llerena, and her brother, Anthony Llerena, would all be doing homework together and chatting about their futures at the kitchen table.
They talked about going to college and getting scholarships. They talked about finding the right answers in life. They talked about Llerena’s journey to the United States 31 years ago from Ecuador and her burning quest to help others – and to follow her dreams. “When I moved, I didn’t speak English. But, it always was in my head to get a degree,” Llerena says.
She started on that quest 10 years ago at age 32. She will finish it with a business degree this December.
Stephanie and Anthony would often ride along as their mom sold houses for Lingle Real Estate. Many of her clients are Hispanic.
“I love to work in real estate, to teach people how to buy a home,” Llerena says. “In the future, they will be an investment.”
Piedad would bring them to IU East events because it was important to be supportive of others and to be immersed in an educational environment.
Along with their father, Gustavo, they’d all do volunteer work together. “I have to teach my kids how to be successful in life,” Llerena says. “I have to be an example.”
She is: Stephanie and Anthony watched as their mother worked toward the business degree that she will earn at the end of this semester. “She wanted us to know first-hand how to get there,” Stephanie says.
“She would always have the answers for us when we came looking.”
Now, they are all going to college at the same time. Stephanie is a pursuing her nursing degree at IU East and Anthony is attending Ivy Tech Community College.
Stephanie and Llerena have even taken classes together. “Not many people have that,” jokes Stephanie, who is a junior.
Not many people have the chance to teach a university chancellor how to do something, either.
There’s a back story to that, one that includes passion and dreams and making beautiful things with your hands. It includes finding a new gift inside the box.
Simply put, Llerena has fallen in love with pottery. She reluctantly took a ceramics class to finish her degree, not knowing anything about making pottery. But, it’s become a life’s revelation.
“She is our most dedicated student,” Longley says. “She’s always encouraging, so appreciative and so thankful.”
Llerena created 43 bowls for the sell-out Empty Bowls fundraising event, held Nov. 15.
On the Friday morning before, Llerena helped IU East Chancellor Kathryn Cruz-Uribe prepare four bowls for the event that raised around $4,000 for Open Arms Ministries.
“Carrie Longley showed me what to do, then left me in the hands of the students,” Cruz-Uribe said.
Llerena stepped up to help. “She did beautiful bowls and told me I was a good teacher … and I think she is a good student.”
Llerena made a strong impression for more than glazing. “She was very good,” Cruz-Uribe says about Llerena’s calm style and colorful flair for painting the bowls. “The thing that excited me is she went back to school to be a role model for her kids. Now, she’s finding a passion for pottery.”
And for Empty Bowls. “It hit me in a way that touches me,” she says. “It is a way I can use my labor and use my hands to give back.”
IU East sponsored the worldwide program for the first time this year after a recommendation from Longley, who had worked with the program at another college.
Empty Bowls is designed to fight world hunger by making people think about it every time they fill their bowls for a meal. It is an event that touched Llerena. She knows about poverty and hunger in her home country. She goes back to Ecuador periodically to see family.
She desires to help show the women there that they can follow their dreams and succeed. “I am blessed, but I see a lot of people (hurting),” she said. “That makes me think I need to make more bowls. I need to help more people.”
Llerena hoped to buy back a couple of the bowls that she produced, but hers sold out before she could do that. In fact, all of the 250 or so bowls were gone within 45 minutes of the 11 a.m. opening at First Friends Meeting in Richmond.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Llerena said. “I was really happy. Everybody was buying and enjoying themselves. It was exciting to see so many people coming through.”
Llerena is excited about a major event in her life. She will proudly walk in IU East’s annual commencement next May. “That has been my goal,” she says. “But, it’s not an accomplishment just for me.”
It’s for her husband and two children.
It’s for her teachers and and her countries.
It’s for her fellow students and fellow volunteers.
It’s for those who follow their dreams and find their passions.