“She is my sunshine on a stormy day and she can be my storm on a sunny day. I am so thankful for her because she taught me that we are given our special children for a reason.”
Kimberly McGuiness is an artist, a designer and a woman who stays up late at night, pouring her frustration and her love into her art.
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She is also a fighter, an activist for the deaf community and a recipient of the Presidential Citizenship Medal.
Last but not least, she is the mother of the young woman who inspires her every day — her sunshine and her storm — Julia McGuiness.
- Click here for a link to to Kimberly McGuiness' website.
McGuiness’ daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss at 13 months old. She admits she was angry; she didn’t know what had caused the problem. She asked herself why her daughter had to deal with this. But she knew she had to be strong for her.
When her daughter started school in Orlando, where her family was living at the time, McGuiness said she found her purpose.
“I was at a Pre-K parent meeting with other parents whose children were similar to Julia,” she said. “I shared my story for the first time with them, without crying.”
After the meeting, another mother came up to her and thanked her, saying “now I know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I felt peace when she said that to me,” said McGuiness. “I felt like a light bulb came on, and I realized that this was what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to help people, share my story.”
In middle school, Julia began exhibiting troubling behavior. Only one person in the entire school could communicate with her using sign language.
“We became very frustrated, and knew we had to find a better environment for her,” McGuiness said.
The search began with her writing every deaf school she could find. Many schools wouldn’t even respond to her because the McGuiness family didn’t live in the same state as the schools. One of the two schools that would was Georgia School for the Deaf.
“We traveled here for a visit,” McGuiness said. “It was the first time Julia had ever been in a completely sign language-immersed environment. She loved it. She cried because she didn’t want to leave.”
They packed their things and moved to Cave Spring.
“Everyone thought we were crazy,” admitted McGuiness. “But we told them, ‘Her school is waiting for her.’ It was the best thing we ever did.”
Once they got Julia into the school, the behavior still continued. She was then diagnosed with autism. The autism had been masked by Julia’s deafness for years.
“I was happy, because I finally knew what to do,” her mother said. “I had answers and my daughter had a good place to be, a place that understood her and made her happy.”
Still some things bothered McGuiness. There was no bill of rights for deaf children and not a lot of understanding in the general population about the deaf community.
She began to work with then state Sen. Preston Smith to pass two bills, the Deaf Child’s Bill of Rights Act, which requires local school systems to take into account the specific needs of hearing impaired students and a bill that allows students to use American Sign Language to fulfill a foreign language requirement for a college preparatory diploma.
Both bills were signed into law in 2007.
To this day, a 3-inch binder filled with her fight to get the bill of rights passed sits in McGuiness’ art studio at her home. It is filled with press clippings, correspondence and the picture of her and 13 others who received the Presidential Citizenship Medal in August 2010.
Not that this means she is done fighting for her daughter and others.
“I always wanted to be part of her education and I love to ask questions because I want answers,” said McGuiness. “Sometimes that makes people uncomfortable. But, if you don’t fight for your child, who will?”
However, she realized she needed an outlet for herself. Her love of art came back to her in 2008.
“I always was interested in art, loved to draw, paint, I was crafty,” she said. “That went on the back burner when Julia was born.”
With Julia just a little bit away from graduating, McGuiness decided she would start what she calls art journaling.
“My version is writing positive words or quotes I find in a notebook and drawing what they mean to me,” she said. “I love affirmations and positive things. There’s not enough of that in the world.”
She began doodling, making patterns, then started making collages and mixed media art.”
“It was mainly for myself, my way of meditation,” she said. “It clears my mind.”
Her art spurred interest. She began showing at art festivals and will teach classes in Cave Spring this summer. She found other artists online and began trading ideas back and forth.
Now, with her daughter working at Floyd Training Center and helping out at the Community Kitchen, McGuiness uses free time to work on her art. Her daughter is even following in her mother’s artistic footsteps, creating work of her own which fills two walls in the family’s home.
“She is very independent, she can do household chores, make simple meals,” said McGuiness. “She is also very active and keeps me burning up that road to Rome all the time.”
She still works to increase understanding in the community.
“There is so much beauty to be enjoyed in others,” McGuiness said. “I think it is an education process and the reason we are given our special kids, so we can be advocates for them. Teach others to not be judgmental of the shell, because you don’t know what’s on the inside.”