Amanda Ragadio grabbed her young son and daughter and fled their San Diego home in the middle of the night.
“I was married for 13 years and was abused mentally and physically,” says Amanda. Finally, she had enough. “I packed everything; packed my kids and moved back home to Madera.”
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Even while in survival mode, Amanda knew that she would some day use this part of her life to help others trying to rise above their own victimization of domestic violence.
Fortunately for Amanda, she had the support of family back home, along with solid work experience and medical assisting credentials that she could build upon. She was a licensed vocational nurse and certified nursing assistant who had been a manager in a pulmonary group, worked in a drug rehabilitation clinic, and maintained her own medical billing business since 2003.
But breaking from a life in an abusive relationship opened the door for her to make another important change. Amanda had longed to teach ever since one of her medical instructors recognized her potential.
“He told me I could come back in a couple of years and teach his class,” she remembers. “It planted a seed.”
Just a week after moving back to the Valley, Amanda saw an ad for an instructor position at San Joaquin Valley College in Madera. She applied online, got an interview appointment, and two interviews later she got the news. “I was hired on a Thursday and started teaching three classes the following Monday,” she laughs.
She wasn’t at all hesitant or intimidated. “The first day was really natural,” says Amanda. “It was a great fit, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be.” That seed planted by her instructor started to get plenty of water.
Three years later, Amanda is primarily teaching medical office billing on the Madera campus, and her students enjoy her open teaching style. “Medical assisting is put on a pedestal, and medical billing is looked at as kind of boring,” she says. “But I give them real-life scenarios and put things into perspective so that when they go into the field, it really benefits them. I make it as interactive and fun as I can.”
The education Amanda shares with her students doesn’t stop with bringing the textbooks to life through personal work experience. “I see a lot of myself in these students,” she explains. “A lot of our students have issues. There’s drug abuse and addiction, domestic violence; some don’t have self-love. You can’t thrive if you don’t love yourself. I try to teach them from what stems from my personal history; to rise above all things.”
Amanda has a lot of difficult personal history to draw from. In 2013, while she was still married, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“My husband didn’t pay any attention to it or care,” she says. “I went through chemo treatment alone and went to work every day.” She had surgery to remove an ovary and lymph nodes. “It made me put things in perspective.” She started building up her savings to make her move.
In the three years since returning to Madera, her kids are thriving. “They’re flourishing now,” says Amanda. “My son is in karate; my daughter is in water polo and competitive swim, and they’re focused on athletics and education.”
Sometimes, when you let your guard down, a crisis sneaks back in. In 2015 Amanda was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease. Once again, she has taken control of her medical situation. “I stay up with vitamins and antibiotics,” she says. Holistic health has a big part in her routine. “I truly believe in meditation; it really helps a lot, especially with the physical pain.”
Amanda uses the good, the bad and the ugly parts of life to teach her students. As the associate student body (asb) faculty advisor, she looks for opportunities to introduce students to needs in the community and gets them excited about helping others.
“We do Relay for Life and even have grads come back to help,” says Amanda. They do Car Club, Spring March fundraising for the community and recently partnered for the first time with Home Depot for Fright Night Trunk or Treat. “Last year Home Depot had 200 visitors and only five cars decorated,” says Amanda. “This year we had 30 decorated cars and over 1,000 attendees!”
“As a cancer survivor, Amanda is very involved in awareness and gets her students involved in the fundraising and community Spring March event,” says Jerry Franken, Campus Director. “She also convinced Home Depot to partner with SJVC to make this (Halloween) event bigger than the previous year and a real draw and safe event for the community.”
These life lessons are not lost on her students. Amanda is determined to save them some of the heartache she has suffered – or at least better prepare them to deal with those hardships.
“I just try to make as big of a statement in my little community as I can,” says Amanda. “Education doesn’t just happen in a classroom. We don’t stop learning when we finish high school or college, or at a job. It’s constant.” It is life.
Amanda’s greatest inspiration to hold herself up as an example of perseverance begins at home. “I needed to be a hero for my kids, going through what we were going through,” she says. “Especially for my daughter. I got pregnant when I was in high school, and I wanted to show her that you can do anything. I also wanted her to know that being a teen mom was a blessing; it motivated me to think about my future, to go to school.”
She has well-tested advice for anyone who struggles. “Get through your day by changing your attitude. Do something differently, if you’re not getting what you want. Being able to adapt means being able to grow.”
Amanda takes her own advice. “I’m still not done. I’m only 34 and still have a lot to prove to myself. I kind of try to make everything around me better.”
You will want to sit close to Amanda. Her strength has a way of touching everyone in her line of fire.
Nyla Hallum, formerly of Madera, Fresno and Visalia, is the owner of Outsource Marketing in Riverside. This excerpt originally was written for the SJVC blog. Read the full story here.