More Than a Mom
Clay Hunt Fellow Windy Barton reflects on eight years of service and growth with Team Rubicon.
My journey towards believing in me started on a rainy, humid, and damp day in a hot gym in Moore, OK, in 2013.
At that time, I saw myself just as a mom; one who wanted to help her community, but only sometimes did. After nearly two decades in the United States Navy, I’d been a stay at home mom for 11 years.
In that time had forgotten that I needed to “be me”—capable veteran, accomplisher and encourager—in addition to being a mom to the best kids in the world.
That day, in Moore, I was deploying for the first time ever on a Team Rubicon operation, Operation Starting Gun, a tornado response. The first day on any operation can be intimidating, and all that day I found myself asking, “what the hell am I doing here?” Everyone seemed so self-assured and knew what they were doing, and boy, did I not feel that way. I was lost, confused, and couldn’t wait to go home.
On the second day, I pushed myself to go deeper and found myself surrounded by people who really wanted me to succeed. When I got to the FOB (forward operating base) I quickly realized that the mom skills I had and used most commonly weren’t really what was needed. I needed to dig deeper and bring back the skills I had learned while fighting fires on board ships in the United States Navy, things like command structure, teamwork, and the importance of communication.
That’s when I started to transition to the new me. I became more confident like a bubble I had been living in burst open. That bubble popping gave me back me. I was more than a mom and I could do other things. I started to learn the Resource Unit Leader position, though I didn’t understand spreadsheets and Excel. But it didn’t matter what skills I had or didn’t have, I had mentors that taught me if I struggled. (In fact, I have since gone to college and obtained my office professional certification because I wanted to level up my skills with Team Rubicon.)
The skills I did have were digging deep, loving on people, and encouraging them. Later, those soft skills would take me on the path of leadership at city, state and territory levels as an alumnus of the Clay Hunt Fellows Program, and now as a cadre member of the CHFP staff.
That week in Oklahoma kept pushing myself to dig deeper, and at the end of day three I knew I had found what I’d been looking for since I got out of the military. Using the skills I knew I did have made me feel something I hadn’t, until that moment, been aware I was missing after my military service. While volunteering with Team Rubicon, I didn’t recognize that I was healing as I was working. I knew that my mental health issues, including my PTSD, felt relieved when I got off my butt and loved on, encouraged, and helped others. It was very unexpected for me.
Those days on that Team Rubicon operation left me encouraged and inspired, and have been a constant reminder that I can do hard things while being me. When I got on the airplane home, I cried the first 30 minutes of that flight because I knew I had been changed so much in that single week.
Life changed not just for me, but for my family that week, too. When the floods of Longmont, CO hit just six months later my family and I were watching the news and one of the most profound moments of being a mom happened. My son, who was 11, and my older daughter who was eight asked “Mom are you going to go?” When I said “I don’t know,” they responded with “They need you and Team Rubicon. You need to go help.”
Two days later I got the call. Along with my husband I loaded our car up and headed west. We stayed on that operation for close to a month helping homeowners recover from a once in a generation flood. I continued to grow the skills I had been started developing six months before.
Years later, in April 2020, that same son joined Team Rubicon himself.
Five and half years passed and in 2018 I signed up for my first Tough Mudder run. It was right around mile eight that I made another leap: I decided to take a chance and apply to become a Clay Hunt Fellow. Covered in mud (with my sanity probably lacking at that point) I knew the move was a natural progression. While making my mind up to apply was the hardest thing to do—even harder than miles nine through 12 of that race—I knew it was the right decision.
I applied, and when I read the letter of recommendation my at-the-time Team Rubicon regional administrator wrote for me, I cried. I cried because he saw more in me than I ever thought possible. It impacted the way I saw myself: that even others knew I was way more than just a mom. I didn’t make it in during that first application cycle, but during the next summer I decided I would try once more, and this time I made it.
And, I was chosen. In 2018, I became a part of CHFP Cohort-7 and it changed my life. It was in this year long program that I realized once again that I was so much more than a mom, but was a person—a person with hopes, dreams, and goals. My time in Cohort-7 also made me realize that I was a person with the skills and abilities necessary to obtain those hopes, dreams, and goals. I was more than a mom. I was a person separate from my family.
Everyone needs a person to believe in them. Slowly, over the past eight years of involvement with Team Rubicon, I have grown in both skills and confidence. I have been blessed to have mentors in Team Rubicon and Greyshirt leaders who have both encouraged me and given me the confidence to get me where I am now: a staff member of the CHFP program. Those leaders taught me to reach out and try new things. My mentors made me realize it was okay to not get it right the first time, and they’ve had my back as I tried new things—like reaching out to new volunteers, which eventually became the beginning of the Resilient City strategy, which became my capstone project as a Clay Hunt Fellow.
The Branch leaders in Team Rubicon are among the nation’s finest at developing and gently encouraging our volunteer leaders to be the best versions of themselves. I have greatly benefitted from the guidance they have given me.
After the graduation of CHFP Cohort-7, we had the opportunity to present our capstone projects at the Team Rubicon Leadership Conference. I told my co-presenter and other subject matter expert that I wasn’t sure I could do this. After all, I was just a mom. He promptly told me yes, I could do it, and I that I deserved the opportunity to showcase my project and my work. Being in front of that classroom for each session, I would look around and watch others react to something that I spent more than six months creating. My co-presenter was right: the reactions to our presentation left me floored with how positive the reception was. Hearing and feeling that feedback made it that I could no longer claim I was “just a mom.” I was the author of a successful capstone, a graduate of the Clay Hunt Fellowship.
Shortly after that capstone presentation, I took my first job outside of the home since becoming a mom, and began serving as a substitute teacher. It was the first time I had worked in almost 20 years. Since transitioning to the Clay Hunt Fellowship cadre, I have owned the skills I discovered while going through CHFP program that I love to assist people in finding their courage and helping them soar. However, I realized that my own soaring was the greatest reward. My kids tell people all the time that I work for the Clay Hunt Fellowship with Team Rubicon, and I now know that being a mom—maybe the greatest calling ever—is not the only calling I have. I’ve been called to inspire and see the world as the beautiful place that it is.
My journey towards believing in me began on that a rainy, humid, and damp day in a hot gym in Moore, Oklahoma in 2013. If it wasn’t for that day and the desire to aspire to be more than a mom, I never would have found me. Having started on that day to push myself like I’ve never pushed before, I have inspired my children, my family, and most importantly: I’ve inspired myself. All because I believed in the truth—that I was meant to be so much more than just a mom.