OKEECHOBEE — Prayer is one of the things Patience Washington does best. She was brought to my attention after a little girl in our community suffered a terrible accident that took the life of her beloved grandmother. Little Trisha Entry was injured in a fire a few weeks ago, and although she doesn’t know it, her injury brought out the best in some of the people in her life. One of those people is her second grade teacher, who decided she was going to make it her mission to pray for that little girl every single day, and she does. She prays publicly, on Facebook.
Washington was born and raised in Okeechobee and after high school went to college in Tallahassee and stayed there for four more years after that. “That’s where I met the love of my life,” she said.
This year marks Washington’s 24th year as a teacher. She began her teaching career in Monticello and returned to Okeechobee after her mother passed away in 1999. She wanted to be closer to her father, she explained. “I never thought I would come back to Okeechobee,” she said, “But, I’m glad I did. It has been a great place to raise our children. I have two children, a son and a daughter that I am very proud of.”
She has been teaching at Everglades Elementary School since the year 2000. She taught fifth grade for 14 years and really enjoyed it. “The kids are older and more independent.” She has also taught fourth grade, third grade, and this is her third year in second grade. She has found she likes second grade, too. “The second graders value your opinion more,” she said. “In fifth grade, they’re at that stage where their bodies are changing. It’s all about their peers and what their peers have to say. So, I’m liking second grade.”
Teaching runs in the family for Washington. Her mother was a teacher, too. She taught at North Elementary School for 31 years before she passed away.
“The PTA donated the sound system for the school in my mom’s memory after she died,” she said. “She taught first grade the entire 31 years.”
Before Mrs. Washington’s husband passed away in 2012, he was a football coach and did a recreational league for football and baseball. He also coached the JV team at the Okeechobee High School in the last couple years right before he died, she said. He was a parenting counselor for Castles. They work with children and families, educating parents on how to work with their children and become better parents, she explained. “He had a passion for children as well.”
Washington’s daughter recently graduated from Bethune-Cookman University with a degree in biology. She is waiting for admission to graduate school. She wants to be a physical therapist.
Her son is a unit supervisor at Detox of South Florida in Okeechobee. He has finished his EMT course and is waiting to take his state exam, but COVID-19 has held that up. His plan is to become a paramedic.
Washington attends New Saint Stephen AME Church along with close friend Charlotte Delagall. She credits Delagall with helping her land her first job when she was a young woman. She was home from college for the summer and was heading out the door to fill out some job applications. Delagall had stopped by to give her mother something and asked where she was going.
“I said I was about to go to U Save to get an application.”
She said, “Not dressed like that!”
“I was wearing a T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes.”
Delagall said, “You are not going dressed like that!”
“I told her I was just going to get the application.”
Ms. Delagall said: “You never know. First impressions are lasting impressions. You march yourself right back in there and put on something presentable.”
“I went back and changed my clothes, and I tell you what, when I got there, the manager saw me and he was so impressed with how I came to pick up the application he interviewed me right there and hired me that day. I thank her today for that. I teach a class at the college, a class for 14- to 16-year-olds for eight weeks, career classes and employability skills. That’s the first thing I tell them the first day. First impressions are lasting impressions.”
Although Washington has been inspiring many with her prayers for Trisha in the last few weeks, she said Trisha is the truly inspirational one. Trisha was only in her classroom for a few short weeks, but she noticed right away that there was something different about her, she said. For one thing, Trisha always had a smile on her face, and you just couldn’t help but smile back. She was always happy, too, just bubbly and joyful, but those are not the things she found truly inspiring. What really impressed this teacher of 24 years was the way this little girl treated others. There was another little girl in the class who didn’t have any friends, not one. When it came time for them to do circle time, no one asked her to sit with them. When it was time for lunch, no one asked her to sit with them. When it was time for recess, no one asked her to play. They weren’t outright mean to her. They just didn’t include her. This was true until bubbly, bouncy little Trisha arrived on the scene, she said. That little girl immediately noticed the other girl needed a friend and when circle time came around, she patted the floor next to her and beckoned the other girl over then threw her arms around the little girl. When lunch time came around, she called to the little girl and asked her to sit with her. Before Washington knew what had happened, the other children were being friendly as well, she said. “I call her my little ray of sunshine. She lit up the room from the very first day. I believe her light was so bright it made others want to imitate her.”
Washington has been a member of a prayer line for the last 11 years through her church. When she heard what had happened, she reached out to Trisha’s mom and told her she was praying for all of them. When Trisha’s mom created a Facebook page for prayer requests and prayers for Trisha, Washington felt led to send a prayer every morning. “Trisha is the first thought on my mind every day when I wake up,” she said. “I do my morning devotion and praise God that she is still with us. I check Patty’s page to see if Trisha is OK and then I pray for her, every day. She’s on my mind first thing in the morning. She’s on my mind.”
Many have said they appreciate the daily prayers because they help remind others to pray. Despite our best intentions, sometimes life gets in the way, and we forget to pray, said one woman. When Washington posts, it helps me remember.
Washington has learned over the years that prayer is important and she prays every morning, rain or shine, through hurricanes, through floods. She prays. She prays for what she wants, but she prays for God’s perfect will, she said. “I want to be in his perfect will.”