The tragic loss of a 24-year-old son served as the inspiration for one city resident to not only get involved in the community, but get involved in a big way.
Liz Johnston list of activities and involvement would tire out most people. A mother, teacher, runner, politician and avid reader, Johnston also serves on the board of the West Haven Community House as well as other endeavors.
Saying her family is everything to her, she credits her parents for giving her the tools to carry on as an adult.
“My parents taught me to love nature, to love literature, and to be kind to others. I have been married to my best friend for almost 15 years and we raised five kids together. We also have the coolest grandson on the planet! Sadly, I lost my son, Jordan Sebastian in 2017. He is the inspiration for all that I do and the reason I started Dominate the Day Foundation, a non-profit that supports kids academically and athletically,” she said.
In fact, Sebastian, a former collegiate football player, was diagnosed with cancer, and succumbed to the disease, prompting her to form the Dominate the Day Foundation. The organization hopes to develop youngsters as future leaders, teaching teamwork, leadership and other qualities that will make their lives, and those around them better.
Deciding in adulthood to make a change, she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and has been a teacher in the New Haven School System for more than 20 years. An avid reader, she said she has an eclectic interest in literature, and has compiled a summer reading list. But that does not mean lounging in a chaise most days.
“I am very active; starting last winter my sister-in-law and I hiked different trails for 25 straight weeks. My summertime outdoor activities include beachcombing and paddle boarding (to which I have introduced my dog Leeloo). During the quarantine, I discovered the joy of making art with sea glass and beach treasures. It is an activity and metaphor that has helped me survive my grief journey: picking up the broken pieces and creating beauty from them, with them,”’ she said.
When she is not doing that, she is an avid runner, participating in five half-marathons and one full marathon in Providence, a feat she said she will not repeat.
When it comes to her involvement in the Community House, it was happenstance more than anything else.
“I was drawn to help at West Haven Community House once I learned of all that they do in the community. This will sound ridiculous because I live one block away, but initially, I did not know what the WHCH did! When I was approached by attorney Michael Todd Taylor about serving on the board, I quickly learned of all that they do for the littlest of folks to the elderly in our neighborhood. Probably our two most vulnerable groups,” she said.
And like most things, she jumped in with both feet.
“I have been on the board for two years and have really enjoyed learning about its history, visiting the classrooms, reading to the kids, and attending the fundraising events for the Community House,” she said.
Before she was a teacher, Johnston worked with large daycare facilities for infants and toddlers, and was responsible for creating thematic programs. The experience gave her insights into programs offered by the city agency.
When she is not working or volunteering, Johnston serves on the City Council.
“I am the councilwoman for the Third District in West Haven, serve on the Democratic Town Committee, and as the secretary for the Community Alliance of West Haven,” she said. “Each role has taught me about the amazing power of community collaboration, and each has taught me grit and perseverance, and lastly, each has taught me that West Haven is home to some pretty special people, indeed.”
Johnston said her spirit and energy come from the kids with whom she works daily.
“The best part of my job as a middle school teacher is kid-energy. I choose to work with kids over adults any day! They are open, curious, funny, hopeful, and enthusiastic about life. But middle school can be a challenging time for kids emotionally, so I love teaching kids to harness the power of writing to channel all that they are feeling and experiencing,” she said. “The most rewarding part of my job is the moment students realize that writing is NOT just for school. Writing is for them. Writing is power.”
As far as her life, Johnston is philosophical.
“I have a busy life, a full life, and I am grateful for it. I consider myself a consummate learner. To me, the best educators (and humans) are those who realize how little they actually know. This is why I keep striving and learning,” she said.
She had a final message and request.
“I would love to see the entire West Haven Community come join us for the 4th Annual Dominate the Day 5K, 1 Mile Walk, and Kids Fun Run on Sunday, Oct. 10, at the Savin Rock Conference Center. All proceeds benefit our programs for community kids! And it is a lot of fun,” she said. “If you decide to join us, please come say hi: I’ll be the one with the shirt that reads Jordan’s Mom, cheering for everyone at the finish line.”
Those wishing more information on the Dominate the Day Foundation, or the run/walk should log into http://www.dominatethedayfoundation.org.