As I continue along The Road to October 24th, I think more and more about my life and how certain moments and people have shaped where I am now and where I’ll likely be headed in the future. When I think of life from this perspective, I think of how much growth I’ve experienced over the years regarding the management of finances. Of course, it helps when your personal accountant is your co-best friend and one of your closest confidants. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover the story of Deondrea Jones…
THE BACKGROUND. The background between Deondrea and I started with Lairent Williams…the subject of yesterday’s feature. In August 2005, to help out my 1st Enlisted Performance Report, he instructed me to conduct some form of community service. He recommended helping out at Habitat for Humanity or volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club. I wasn’t the type to be out there holding a hammer or painting homes back then so I decided to volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club of Valdosta. I stopped by the office to ask what they needed help with. I was thinking something along the lines of reading to some of the youngsters or teaching them the words to “America the Beautiful”. After all, that’s pretty much all the older volunteers did when I attended the A.G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club back when I used to spend my time after school in the South Park neighborhood of Birmingham. The coordinator there shocked me by saying they had one more slot open for a flag football coach…a group of 5 and 6-year-old kids. I took it thinking that would be as easy as stealing candy from a baby. The coordinator then walked with me back to the front desk, where the secretary gave me a bunch of paperwork to fill out. That secretary happened to be Deondrea Jones—though she went by her maiden name of Tomlin in those days. I remember it well. She was wearing this bright yellow T-shirt, which I made the comment of “that’s quite a sunny shirt you have there”. She was very friendly and seemed to be around my age. On days before my practices, we’d chat it up a bit. That’s how I learned more about her: from a small town called Jesup and a recent graduate of Valdosta State University. From the start, it was strictly “just friends” between us…no romantic feelings. After my 2 ½ months of working with that group of kids ended, me and Deondrea still kept it close. She was like my first non-military friend in Valdosta. She was the one who gave me the scoop on parties at Valdosta State and where the jumping spots aside from Rick’s Someplace Else were. She was the one who helped me get through the tough back end of Principles of Accounting II on the way to my undergraduate degree. We hung out occasionally until she moved to Tampa. Even with her moving 3 hours down I-75, we still kept in close contact. When she’d visit Valdosta, we’d meet up to at least say hello. We always kept it tight through email. I’d venture to say about 10-15% of my day-to-day e-mail traffic was our back-and-forth conversations on a variety of subjects from my failing love life to what’s happening in Valdosta to my failing love life to school to money to my failing love life. That trend continued even when I moved to Japan and eventually to the nation’s capital. In January 2010, after having owed the State of Alabama money at income tax time the previous 6 years, I asked her if she’d do my taxes…making use of her accounting background. A couple of months later, she helped me file a return in which I actually got a refund from stingy @$$ Alabama for the first time. And just like that, she kinda slipped into the role of being my personal accountant. In addition to being the person I trusted in leading me the right way with my money decisions, she also became one of my most trusted friends. When I went through the drama that ex-girlfriend from Jacksonville put me through, Deondrea was there to lend an ear. When I was torn over whether or not to take the Tokyo assignment, she was the first person to tell me that a change of scenery would be best for me. When I dated outside of the race for the first time, she was among my first supporters. I remember the conversation we had when she sent me a Save The Date ahead of her March 2011 wedding and how I reminded her of a conversation we had years prior in which I said “the next time I’d ever step foot in Florida will be to take a picture with you at your wedding”. Turns out truer words were never spoken. For several years, Florida as an entire state didn’t exist to me because of bad feelings but I made a special visit just for her wedding. Today, we’re still tight as ever. When she’s not chiding me about finishing a book that I started and shelved in the Spring of 2007 or telling me how we need to use our collective minds to start a business, she’s causing chaos in fantasy football as a charter member of the Just Juan Football Association…her timely matchups with me often leaving me disgusted in defeat.
THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. When it comes to Deondrea’s impact on me, I have to go back to the desert…to Iraq. In the Fall of 2007, as I was getting through the heart of that deployment, I noticed the increase in money I was bringing in due to the combat zone tax exclusions and all of the other extra pays. I was deep into a lot of debt at the time and I asked her for advice on how to use the extra money to see my way through it. She gave me a crash course, via email, on debt and how to overcome it. I made use of the material she provided and in March 2009, I celebrated complete freedom from debt…a position I’ve been ever since. Her providing me with the course of action of overcome those youthful financial decisions have played a critical role in my approach to finances today…the way I give, the way I save, the way I spend.
HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. In life, I’ve learned that there will be people who come across your path to hurt you. I’ve experienced that a time or two. There will be people who come across your path to advance you. I’ve experienced that as well. But there will also be people who’ll have a special place in your heart just by being there. Deondrea is one of those people. She’s always proven herself to be there for me with her support in my tough moments. She’s certainly worthy of her place in the Elite 8.