She’s a flight nurse and team lead at MedCenter Air and President of Lily Pad Haven, which assists victims of human trafficking.
Carla Downing Tweddale has a saying: "Don't let anyone dull your sparkle." (photo Courtesy of Tweddale.)
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Topics: What I Learned Since Graduation
Flight nurse, wife, mother, “Nana” and a champion for human trafficking survivors, Carla Downing Tweddale ’87 is the quintessential caregiver. A minister’s daughter, she dreamed of international medical missions but found her calling in Charlotte, N.C.
Tweddale saves lives as a flight nurse. She, husband Mark ’88 and their friends do the same through Lily Pad Haven Inc., a nonprofit they launched in 2011. The organization provides housing and healing for female victims of human trafficking.
With four homes in the Charlotte area and plans to open another house in South Carolina, Lily Pad Haven has provided more than 4,300 nights of safe housing for 48 human trafficking survivors and their children.
Through Tweddale’s career and nonprofit work, she has experienced the frailty of life, witnessed the tenacity of the human spirit and picked up numerous life lessons:
You can beat the odds. My mom was diagnosed with cancer my senior year in high school. I met my soulmate in college, and we had so many things stacked against us — we were so young when we got married, my family was far away. But my husband said, “Let’s get married while your mom’s still here. You stay in school full time, and I’ll stay part time and work.” Thirty-one years later, he’s still the love of my life. So you can beat the odds.
“Just be open to where life takes you. It’s OK to be a risk-taker.”
Put family first. I love being a flight nurse, and now we have a nonprofit that we are so passionate about. When you aren’t working anymore, family is what is going to be there for you. Always make time to keep family first.
Live out a legacy. For me, that gets down to who my mom was and who she is in my life. My mom was so special to me. She started in counseling, working with people who were about to lose their homes. She helped work out a plan for them to stay in their homes. The type of housing I’m doing is different [with Lily Pad Haven], but it’s still the same. It’s there to provide safe, protective shelter. In a way I get to carry on my mom’s legacy of caring, being nonjudgmental and having that unconditional love for people I don’t know. Ultimately, it’s not all about you. It’s about others and giving and living out a legacy.
“When you aren’t working anymore, family is what is going to be there for you. Always make time to keep family first.”Carla Downing Tweddale
Life is short. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, she was given six months to live. She lived two and a half years and was able to be at my wedding. She dropped me off in front of Colby Hall, and I remember standing there crying because I didn’t know what life would hold for her or me. I remember having to go home before my finals the year she died and my professors being so supportive and helping me through that. Forty-six years old was way too young. When I turned 47, I thought about the fact that I outlived my mom. Just know life is really short so make the best of it. Always make sure that you stay connected. In my job, I see so much trauma and death. I always keep in mind that life is a gift and it can be taken at any moment, so never take it for granted.
Make memories. Mark and I have stayed connected as couple because we’ve made memories as a couple. Even when our kids were little, we still made time for at least a long weekend away to celebrate our marriage, and we always took family vacations. Our kids are grown and in different parts of the country, but we still make time to all be together. Now that our kids have kids, we do “Grandcamp,” where we get our grandkids for a week, no parents allowed. Our theme is “Grandcamp — where cousins become best friends.”
Be a risk-taker. Mark and I chose to move to Charlotte. We made a list of things we wanted for a place to live: an equal distance from our families, four seasons, a good economy, close to the ocean and close to mountains. We didn’t know a soul when we moved to North Carolina. It was probably the best thing for our marriage because it forced us to be best friends. We made friends together, made decisions together and raised our kids together. We took our youth group on mission trips to El Paso and went into Juárez, Mexico. I was able to go with our mobile hospital to help after Hurricane Katrina. Taking risks to go to those places really changed my life as a nurse, as a mom and as a wife. And I was being a risk-taker by starting a nonprofit. That was not on my bucket list. I still don’t know why God chose me. Just be open to where life takes you. It’s OK to be a risk-taker. And if it works, great. If not, take from it what you can learn to the next thing on your journey.
The joy of giving. When I was growing up, we had foster kids living at my house. We did mission trips. After doing those things growing up, it’s just part of who I am. And being able to do those things as a parent — being a coach, teaching Sunday school, Girl Scout groups, youth groups and being part of disaster teams, then starting the nonprofit — it’s the joy of giving to others and seeing what that does. When you know it has touched someone else’s heart, it makes it all worthwhile.
I have a phrase at my office (where my walls are painted purple): “Don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.” I had a co-worker pull me into the hallway and say there’s no way someone can be that happy all the time. I said it’s a choice to be happy. I am happy, and I don’t have anything to not be happy about. I miss my mom and I wish she could be here. I wish family could live closer. But really, I am happy. I’ve got a great husband, I’ve got great kids, I love my job — I have so much to be thankful for. Don’t let anybody else dull your sparkle. If you’re happy, be happy. If you’re not happy, it’s OK to say, “I’m not happy today,” and to share that with somebody who can help you through it.
In [the theatrical production of] Wicked, Glenda the Good Witch says not everyone rides in on a bubble. I love that phrase. To me, you need to celebrate who you are and what you bring. It’s OK that we all have different gifts and talents. The point is we all bring something special to the table. If we can celebrate who we are and what we bring and also celebrate the gifts and talents that other people bring to the table, then together we are the whole package. We don’t have to feel threatened or feel less worthy because somebody else has a gift we don’t have. Not everybody rides in on a bubble, but we can all be great together, and we can all be that full package by celebrating the gifts and talents we all bring.
Celebrate life. Celebrate successes, celebrate accomplishments and celebrate who you are. Just enjoy where you are and what you have.
–As told to Rachel Stowe Master
Edited for clarity and length.
Your comments are welcome
Also from WICKED…for you, my friend…”because I knew you, I have been changed for GOOD.”
Your mother’s beautiful spirit lives in you–and she is proud. Love you!
Thank you for publishing the article about Carla and her life. She is all those things and more! Her energy is boundless and her creativity shows in everything she does. As Mark’s mother, I could not have chosen a better wife for him. Together they have been a blessing to each other, their children and grandchildren, their families, their church, and their community. They live and model true Christian living. God is with them and may He continue to bless them in all they do.
Carla, is an amazing Woman. So happy to be her friend. Don’t know how she does everything that she does. So caring of others, and a joy to be with her. Live you Carla
Having met this beautiful couple on a cruise several years ago I truly witnessed they love that they share. Carla – this article brought big, fat, happy tears to my eyes. Have followed (on Facebook) your GrandCamp with the kiddos and the love of your family, your work and your Passion with Lily Pad Haven. I know you and Mark are very proud. Opening a home in SC — do I dare hope that’s it’s in Rock Hill? Proud of you Both – Jules
Carla and Mark, what a wonderful article in TCU magazine. You can’t be a “nana”, when I just have a 5 year old grandson. Good to see the nice picture. I am proud of you and your family, still miss you being around the lab. Andy Paquet
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