Florida woman receives warm welcome after arriving in Seymour

Letting the atlas be her guide, Melissa Howell recently made her way to Seymour.

Last year, her mother was going through Stage 4 kidney failure, so Howell left her home in Florida to help take care of her mom in Alabama.

“My dad passed away in 2014. I felt I wasn’t able to be there during the time he was sick, so I was like, ‘I’m not going to do that with my mom,” Howell, 46, said.

Her mother decided she wasn’t going to do kidney dialysis and she wanted to work after receiving approval from her doctor. She also wanted to do some traveling before her health declined.

“I said, ‘I came here for you. You’re planning on doing this.’ She’s like, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’” Howell said. “I said, ‘My kids are grown. I don’t know. Maybe put a big map on the wall, throw a dart and where it lands, start over.’”

She ended up finding an old atlas at her parents’ home.

“My dad kept everything. He was a pack rat,” she said. “They are still working on some of the stuff he kept.”

Her mother told her to close her eyes, open the atlas and put her finger down. Wherever it landed, she would go there. It landed on Seymour.

“I was like, ‘What in the heck is Seymour?’” Howell said, smiling. “She’s like, ‘Go find out.’”

When she arrived in Seymour in the fall, Howell liked what she saw.

“I checked it out and thought, ‘This is absolutely beautiful,’” she said. “Florida, you’re either spread out so wide or you’re in this teeny, tiny small town that you blink, you miss it or you’re in a city and you’re in a house and you spit out your back window, you’re going to hit your neighbor cooking dinner, they are this close together.”

She had two new experiences during that trip: Seeing the fall leaves on the trees and seeing snow on the ground.

When Howell made it back to Alabama, her mother’s kidney function had improved by 20 percent. Howell and her husband of 26 years, however, had grown apart and decided to divorce. The couple have three sons and a daughter.

Her mother encouraged her to return to Seymour and start anew.

“She looked at me and she goes, ‘You’re not staying. You’re packing your stuff back up in your car, you’re getting back up there and you are going to do this. You started this journey, your journey. You’ve got to do this journey for yourself,’” Howell said.

Since her parents had guided her in the right direction all of her life, Howell returned to Seymour in February.

She went to Staff Management SMX in Seymour, where recruiter Emilee Wheatley helped her get a job at the county’s second-largest employer, Valeo.

Once she has proof of income, she will have better luck finding a place to live. Once she has proof of a physical address, she can get a post office box and a bank account.

Howell is happy to see everything coming together as she settles in Seymour.

“I’m not a very religious person, but I believe in angels, and I always think my father is looking out for me,” she said. “It has been amazing.”

She appreciates how much Wheatley has helped her.

“She has been so sweet and so kind and really willing to help with anything. I got her on Facebook, and I’ll be texting her late and I’m like, ‘Sorry. You’re the only person I know here,’” Howell said. “I’ve stayed at the same hotel, and they’ve been very nice to me, as well. The people that I have met so far have been really great.”

Wheatley said it has been a great opportunity to meet Howell and help her find a career and an apartment.

“When she came into the office and I started interviewing her, her story blew me away,” Wheatley said. “I was so intrigued. I felt connected with her instantly. I listen to her tell me her story and was so excited to be a part of her journey here in Seymour. I am excited for her and her journey and am so pleased to have been able to help her in getting on her feet.”

Howell said she’s excited to meet other people in the area and get settled into life in a new city.

“Every step you take, you’ve got to have a bumpy path to understand and to enjoy where you stand,” she said. “I’m Native American, so I strongly believe we all have a path. I have a fork in my path, and I chose to go this way. You never know the trees you’re going to pass by on that path, either, so it’s like this is an all new adventure.”

While it makes her a little nervous and scared, Howell said she also is excited.

“The future isn’t written,” she said. “You make it what you put into it, and if you put into it your everything, you make everything happen.”

Howell also said she knows there may be rough roads ahead, but she’s ready for whatever comes her way because she has experienced those rough roads before.

“That little rock in that path that I step on, it will slow me down, but it’s not going to stop me. I’m going to keep going,” she said.

“If you get into a rut and you get into that everyday same ole, same ole, you get bored. That’s when your mind wanders. That’s when you get into trouble, you do things you regret. But stepping out of yourself, taking a second look and going, ‘You know? I should do this,’ it’s only going to strengthen me, and the stronger you are, the more you can take on those rough times.”