She became a lifeguard without ever having a swimming lesson, made the MU dance team and never took a lesson until she was in high school, has a budding decorative painting business, and no surprise here, never had an art class.
Brittney Emerson’s life brims with “cans” and very few “cant’s.” The bubbly administrative secretary in the College of Information Technology and Engineering (CITE) embraces life with verve, grit and a joyous flair.
Born and raised in Huntington, on Rt. 2, she grew up near the YMCA and relished seeing crowds of people splashing around in the outdoor pool, obviously having a lot of fun. A natural athlete, Emerson loved the water, so it wasn’t long before the self-taught swimmer was proficient enough to pass her lifeguard exams. She even taught herself to dive. So began a 10-year sojourn as a lifeguard, all through high school and college and even for a time after graduation from Marshall. “I worked part-time during high school and college downtown at the YMCA and I loved it, so I just kept doing it,” she says. “At the same time, I also worked part-time at the old Carmike Cinemas at the mall until they went out of business and newer, nicer ones came in. It kept me really busy but I was saving money for college so it was worth it.”
After graduating with a degree in business management, Emerson worked as a temp for the Drinko Academy, where one of the most notable events she worked on was the birthday celebration for one of the Marshall’s biggest benefactors, Elizabeth Drinko. “It was a huge event, a really big bash that took place in the Joan C. Edwards Playhouse with lots of people attending so it was very successful and a fitting tribute to her.”
Since the job was temporary, she soon found a permanent home in CITE working for Engineering and Computer Science. She performs the myriad tasks that helps keep the department running smoothly—working with student assistants, entering classes, ordering books, taking care of travel arrangements and reimbursements. And there’s an added bonus, she says. “ My coworkers are awesome; they make the job enjoyable. It’s actually fun being here with them.”
Married last year to Daniel Emerson of Huntington Steele, she and her husband share a commitment to helping others. They were able to demonstrate that through an unforgettable trip to the Dominican Republic this past July. Through their church, New Song, they were part of a group that spent a week in that country working with Spanish church members and performing whatever work needed to be done—and the chores were many and varied, she says.
“We visited a building they were renovating to open as a school. The men dug ditches and did a lot of manual work and the women painted and cleaned ... and we organized thousands of books into alphabetical order. Now, that was job! We visited orphanages, attended services and handed out food in villages, It was a jam-packed week and none of us wanted to come back. We wanted to stay and work.”
The group was particularly touched by the children in the orphanages. One was an AIDS institution that housed children infected with that virus. Another was an all-girl home where they found that, despite thousands of miles of separation and innumerable cultural differences, at heart young girls are all the same—as a Justin Bieber song was blasting from the stereo when they arrived!
They were particularly moved by the children in the orphanages. Adoption is not an option in that country and there are very strict enforcement laws, she says. But she was heartened to learn that children can be helped through programs that provide sponsorships for everyday needs. Another program allows donors to sponsor training in life skills so that the children will be better equipped to live on their own when they "age out" of the orphanages at 18.
The trip was put together with the help of Scores International, which aids groups planning mission trips to not only the Dominican Republic but to Panama and Costa Rica as well. “We definitely plan to do other trips, probably with the help of Scores so we could be going to any one of those three countries,” Emerson says. “The trip changed our lives forever. It really puts things in perspective. You just want to come home and sell all your stuff.”
And the Emersons have kept the spirit of the trip alive after their return to Huntington. “We realized that there are people in need everywhere, right here in Huntington. You don’t have to go to another country to find someone who needs help.” That’s why often on Saturday mornings you’ll find the couple at Harris Riverfront Park handing out breakfast along with a warm smile and some encouraging words to the people who regularly congregate there. Some are homeless, some have health problems, some are just down on their luck, she says. But, no questions asked, they get a meal from the group that does this regularly.
“We’re dedicated to our church because it’s very mission oriented. ” she says reflectively. “Since we can’t be oversees all the time we can help people right here in our own home town.” She and Daniel are diligent workers throughout the year, lending a hand with the clothing and pantry drives, along with other mission work, and they pitch in to fill food baskets at Thanksgiving which are distributed to the needy. “We each take a laundry basket with a list of items to buy for a family. It’s something we can do that stays right here in the community.”
On Tuesday nights the couple joins others from Tri-State churches for an evening of friendly but spirited volleyball competition. It’s fun and can be intense, a good workout for the athletic Emersons. It helps that she’s a runner—she even completed the MU half-marathon last year—which makes her a formable competitor. She came away from that race with a lesson and a resolve. “I had only trained up to six miles and that race is 13.1 miles, so it was double what I had ever run. But I entered anyway and I did finish but I had to walk a little here and there. I was so sore for a week! My goal is to train better and run the race again, this time running the whole way—no walking!”
Physical activity has always been a shaping force in her life and her indomitable, "I-can-do-that resolve" has led her down some unanticipated but ultimately rewarding paths. Take dancing, for instance. Emerson pretty much gave it a pass until her sophomore year at Cabell Midland High School when her interest was piqued enough to give it a try. Again, with no lessons and no training, she just “picked it up,” as she says.
Luckily, she was a natural from the start so the movements came easily. Her only
formal training came through a few classes she took in the summer. A spot on the
Marshall dance team was a dream but her scant formal training made landing that
spot seem well out of reach. She was astonished but delighted when she tried out
and made the team.
“There were certain skill sets that I just didn’t have, but the coach saw that I had possibilities for improvement so he worked with me and I got better every year. I was on the team for four years and was captain my senior year. It was a blast. We performed at all the home football and basketball games. Just getting the chance to be on the team made me a better dancer. I even coached for one semester after I graduated.”
Again, without any formal training and more or less by accident, Emerson has launched a fulfilling mini-business customizing wooden block letters that spell out a child’s name for nurseries. They’re all individually designed and personalized to the specifications of the parents to match any theme. To date, among others, she’s done Ohio State University—two in fact—superheroes including Batman and Superman, animals of all kinds including safari animals. “It’s so much fun to do knowing that whatever the parents want; they get exactly what they ask for. And each set is personalized just for them.” And as with other events in her life, the business began more or less as a lark. Searching for an innovative baby gift for a friend she came upon the idea of personalized letters. They were a big hit from the beginning. After making them for a niece, she posted photos on her Facebook page just to share and was surprised when she began getting requests from people who wanted to buy them. “It was like I woke up one day and was related to Picasso,” she quips.
And for the active Emersons, even their dog, Kyla, a three-year-old Blue Merle Australian Shepherd is an athlete. “These dogs are crazy energetic, they’re herding sheep dogs, very smart. Ours is very ornery! We spend lots of time with her, walking, seeing that she exercises, giving her a lot of attention as they’re very affectionate. They’re known as the Frisbee dogs, the ones that run after and leap into the air to catch them—they win all kinds of competitions. Kyla loves catching Frisbees and she’s great at it too.”
Right now, Emerson is exuberant about an upcoming dream trip to New York City to see the famed Rockettes perform. “I’m so excited to be going to see them; this is the best Christmas present ever. Like a lot of dancers, I’ve dreamed of being a Rockette. I saw them once in Cincinnati, but that’s not the same as seeing them in New York in their own setting. This is definitely the best of the best of the best!”
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