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Philanthropist James Keyes Explains Why Education Has the Power to Make the World a Better Place

It hit him like a thunderbolt.

James Keyes, the newly minted CEO of the Fortune 500 company 7-Eleven, was bounding his way across the campus of Columbia University, en route to teach a business class at his Ivy League alma mater. He was nattily dressed in a newly tailored suit, briefcase in hand, daydreaming of past walks on campus.

Then, he was utterly gobsmacked. Walking toward him was a young student, arms wrapped around too many textbooks, his T-shirt preaching the gospel: “Education Is Freedom!” in bright, bold letters.

“I had an epiphany, right then and there,” Mr. Keyes recalled. “It was everything I had believed in and relied upon to get where I was to that day.” He vigorously shook the student’s hand and told him how much he agreed with the idea behind his T-shirt message. They spent a few minutes talking about how education had changed both of their lives. Mr. Keyes told the young man that he was impressed by his passion and vision and wished him well.

“He believed every word on his shirt. Thoroughly,” Mr. Keyes said. “I did too. I just hadn’t thought about it in those terms before.” He reflected on how Columbia and other educational opportunities had impacted his own life and provided him with the freedom to succeed. Back home in Dallas, Texas, he soon rallied like-minded business leaders, government officials, and entrepreneurs, and founded the Education is Freedom (EIF) charitable foundation. The year was 2002. These leaders envisioned a world where every young person could pursue a college education and a rewarding career. EIF would provide students with the tools needed to successfully graduate from high school, attend and graduate from college, and develop their career paths.

Mr. Keyes on graduation day at Columbia University. (Courtesy of James Keyes)

Over the past two decades, EIF mentors and counselors have helped more than 100,000 students and their families in multiple Texas school districts complete the college process. They’ve also provided scholarships to hard-working students. And they’re just getting started.

Now, Mr. Keyes has a new goal: to help heal and educate the entire world. In his new book released in February, “Education Is Freedom: The Future Is in Your Hands,” he outlines how the power of education can not only unlock our personal freedom and improve our individual lives, but is crucial to preserving our democracy. “Our country is so polarized right now,” he said. “We need more knowledge and less ideology. I believe that fear and ignorance are at the root of most of these issues. On both sides of the aisle.”

Mr. Keyes’s book “Education is Freedom” was published in February this year. (Post Hill Press)

Whether it’s fear of the unknown; fear of the “other”; a mistrust of people and institutions; or fear of other cultures or religions—whatever it is, having the curiosity to learn will stomp out that fear. “It’s like when you were a kid in the dark and you were scared. And your mom came in and turned on the light and said, ‘See? No monster here,’” he said. “That’s what knowledge is. It’s the light that conquers fear.”

If we can encourage more people to turn on the light, we can reverse that cycle of ignorance, fear, violence, and anger that tortures the world, he argued. “Sounds a little Pollyannaish. But in so many ways, it is true.”

The Power of Education

Mr. Keyes argues that education can change the world. That’s because people gain the skills, tools, and opportunities to make better informed choices and decisions, he contends. They’re able to pursue their wildest dreams and aspirations and fully participate in the world around them. They can separate reality from fiction, confidence from fear.

One example he cites in his book is the story of Adan Gonzalez. Mr. Keyes first met him when he was a high school student living in South Oak Cliff, an underprivileged Dallas suburb. He lived in a one-room apartment with six other family members in a neighborhood where 32 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. During his sophomore year at Adamson High School, Mr. Gonzalez signed up for the Education is Freedom program on a lark. The program offered Mr. Gonzalez an internship at a local business to help him visualize a better future. “Unfortunately, he turned us down,” Mr. Keyes said. “He could make more money in a local factory. Like a lot of underserved kids, he went straight for the money.”

But in his junior year, Mr. Gonzalez reapplied and landed an internship at a local ad agency. The experience opened his eyes to new career possibilities. He aimed to attend Georgetown University and studied hard. Through grants and scholarships facilitated by EIF, as well as his academic rigor, Mr. Gonzalez got his Georgetown shot. He also channeled his love of fighting into boxing and became a national boxing champion while studying at Georgetown. “Instead of becoming a street fighter in South Oak, he became a college champion,” Mr. Keyes said. “What a story.”

After graduating in 2015, Mr. Gonzalez went back to his hometown grade school to teach math and social studies. He has since earned a master’s degree in education policy at Harvard and a master’s in education leadership at Columbia, and he has founded a nonprofit to provide underserved youth with academic support, leadership training, and community service opportunities. He recently received a White House fellowship, which he hopes can help him return home with the knowledge to improve his community’s education system.

“Adan is just a poster child for the idea that opportunity and education can transform anyone’s life,” Mr. Keyes said, adding that he’s moved by Mr. Gonzalez’s desire to work in the public school system. “He could have taken a much higher profile and higher paying job, but he’s really embraced that, for him, it’s about the freedom to do what he wants to. He has more freedom to give back to his community.”

His Life Story

Mr. Keyes himself has had his whole life transformed after working hard in school, though education wasn’t a priority during his hardscrabble childhood. Keyes was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1955, the youngest of six children. He grew up in a small, three-room shack without running water, plumbing, or heat. His parents, both factory workers, were highly intelligent but undereducated high school dropouts. Their impoverished life was difficult to bear. “Too many kids, not enough money,” he wistfully recalled.

His parents divorced when he was just five, and his mom “moved uptown to the trailer park,” he said. Keyes chose to stay with his dad. Though he lived in abject poverty, Keyes didn’t realize that his family was poor. His “rich” friends always came to his house to play because there were abandoned cars in the yard, tree swings, and creeks to play in. “I was poor but incredibly free and happy,” he said. “It wasn’t about wealth. We saw it as an adventure, like camping! I’ve remembered that all my life.”

But the family also endured hard times. When he was 10, his father was diagnosed with cancer, his grandmother fell ill and entered a nursing home, and their home was condemned by the local sheriff. Dad was sent to a veterans hospital, where he died six months later. Keyes went to live with his mother, who had to work two jobs to support them. “I lived through severe crisis after crisis,” he said. “So many horrible things [happened] before I was even 12 years old. It was then that I understood I had no safety net, no one to catch me if I stumbled or fell. It was up to me.”

Mr. Keyes visits a 7-Eleven convenience store during his executive days. (Courtesy of James Keyes)

At 15, Keyes began working for McDonald’s part-time and became the shift manager within a year. During summers, he worked a second shift as a produce truck driver, and he even made a side hustle out of being a church organist. “Hard work never goes out of style, and it pays off. I learned that early on, too,” he said.

With his earnings and a small baseball scholarship, he was able to attend the College of the Holy Cross. While there, his mother developed cancer, and he helped care for her. He continued working at McDonald’s. It was humble work, but it instilled his lifelong drive to outwork and outperform everybody. He would graduate cum laude with membership in the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society.

He then attended Columbia Business School, where he learned the skills that would jump-start his business career. Mr. Keyes has a profound recognition and gratitude for how education led to his successes. “Education was the key that opened all my doors. It unlocked huge opportunities. It was my path to personal freedom,” he said. He believes that every American—every person, for that matter—needs to explore new interests throughout life.

He, for example, wanted to fly airplanes ever since the 1960s moon missions sparked a fascination with the skies. He learned to speak Japanese after working with Japanese business partners to bring 7-Eleven to Japan and wanting to overcome the language and cultural barrier.

His childhood experiences instilled a fierce sense of independence and an unbridled drive. His positive response to adversity—and his pursuit of knowledge and education—were the beginnings of a quintessential rags-to-riches American story.

He still remembers a poster that hung in the McDonald’s kitchen he worked at. “It still inspires me to this day. It had a famous quote from Calvin Coolidge.” The quote reads, in part: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Persistence and determination are omnipotent.” When he left that job, he asked the owner if he could take the poster with him, and the owner agreed. “I took it to shop class and burned the edges to dress it up. I’m looking at it right now. It’s hung in every office I have ever had,” he said.

After earning his MBA, he joined Gulf Oil and taught himself how to use an Apple computer—the most cutting-edge technology at the time—to streamline operations and replace clunky corporate spreadsheets. After steady promotions, he joined Southland Corporation, today known as 7-Eleven. In 2000, he was named president and CEO. After expanding the convenience store chain into a global brand, Mr. Keyes joined the ill-fated Blockbuster as CEO in 2007. He tried to shepherd in a digital streaming strategy, but money woes and market conditions eventually forced a sale of the company to DISH Network.

Despite setbacks, Mr. Keyes remains highly regarded as a visionary industry tycoon. His days as a CEO taught him one crucial lesson that he also shares in his book. “Yes, it means Chief Executive Officer,” he said. “But more importantly, it means ‘Change Equals Opportunity.’” If you’re knowledgeable, persistent, and dedicated to your passion, you will embrace change not as a negative but as a tremendous opportunity, he concluded. It’s a trait that is necessary for survival in and out of the boardroom.

Mr. Keyes speaking to graduates of a leadership program for entrepreneurs offered at Columbia Business School. (Courtesy of James Keyes)

A Promising Future

Keyes believes that the American dream is still alive and well. “Arguably it’s more alive than ever before in history,” he said. “That’s because of the emergence of technology. Truly and literally, the future is in our hands. There’s no excuse now. Everyone can have access to unlimited learning. The cell phone itself is a portal to unlimited learning.” 

He expressed optimism about how technology can revolutionize education, citing how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated access to technology and educational resources as schools embraced remote learning. He’s buoyed by the future possibilities. “I want to see a future where academic content is as engaging as video games and where students are incentivized for their learning progress—where tech can tailor to individual needs, providing flexibility,” he said. He hopes such technology can supplement classroom learning and inspire people to become lifelong learners.

Someone can take your money, your material things, your job, … but they can’t take away what you know. My dad told me that,” he said. “With knowledge, you can replace anything lost, you can be free to explore the world, you are beholden to no one. That’s the path to real freedom.”

Mr. Keyes visited his alma mater, Columbia Business School, earlier this year. (Courtesy of James Keyes)

The Three C’s

James Keyes defines the Three C’s that have helped him weather challenges, especially during his business career.

Change is inevitable in life, Mr. Keyes asserts. Both 7-Eleven and Blockbuster went through drastic changes during his tenure, and he had to respond—whether it involved restructuring the business or redefining the way the companies delivered and sourced products.

“You have to accept and respond to change, especially in the face of adversity,” he said. “You can’t give up or become a victim in the face of challenges. You must see the learning opportunities that come with change.”

Confidence is essential to responding to such changes. When going through turbulent times, people have a tendency to let fear take over, such as fear of losing one’s job or fear of people thinking negatively of one.

“You must have confidence in your own skills and abilities,” he said. “You must keep your head up and confidently look to the future.”

Clarity is the ability to break down complex problems into their simple components. It prevents one from being overwhelmed and better facilitates learning, according to Mr. Keyes. During times of crisis, keeping things simple is vitally important. “It’s how you navigate to safe harbors,” he said.

From July Issue, Volume IV

Features American Success

How Former Supermodel Kathy Ireland Built a Multi-Billion-Dollar Company by Instilling Trust Into a Brand Name

It all started with selling rocks. When Kathy Ireland was 4 years old, she collected rocks, painted them, and, with her sister, took them door to door in a little wagon. The going price was 5 cents apiece.

That entrepreneurial drive “was in my DNA,” she told American Essence. With her parents’ encouragement, she ran with it, putting up lemonade stands, washing neighbors’ cars, and designing jewelry—whatever she could find to do.

At age 11, she got her first serious job: a newspaper delivery bike route, up and down the hills of her Southern California town, with 100 customers. Her dad told her to give it 110 percent—if customers expected the papers in their driveway, he said, put it on their porch. That lesson in under-promising and over-delivering stayed with her ever since.

To some, Ms. Ireland is best known for her modeling work in the 1980s and 1990s. She graced many magazine covers, including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour. Sports Illustrated featured her in its swimsuit issues 13 consecutive times, including its best-selling 1989 swimsuit issue.

Many ask how she pivoted from modeling to business, but to Ms. Ireland, it wasn’t a pivot. Modeling simply helped her save money for college and fund her entrepreneurial ventures. Even during her modeling years, she was trying her hand at various businesses—and failing a lot, too. But as any entrepreneur knows, failure is an education in itself. In that respect, “I’m very well educated,” she has said in other interviews, with a knowing smile.

Ms. Ireland believes her early jobs contributed to her fearlessness. “I always worked, and I’m grateful because as I grew, it gave me confidence that I could walk away if the circumstances were not good. … I knew I could do anything else for a living.” She’d experienced so much rejection in the modeling business that she became accustomed to it.

Ms. Ireland said actress Elizabeth Taylor taught her a lot about jewelry: “She really educated me so much, looking for the quality inside, outside, every angle.” (Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

Growing Her Company

In the early ’90s, as Ms. Ireland neared her 30s, modeling work grew more scarce. She got to thinking of business ideas that could leverage the appeal of her household name.

Swimsuits were an obvious choice—too obvious for her liking.

But she liked the idea of socks.

The idea was sparked when a request to model socks came her way. Someone else might have turned her nose at the offer. But Ms. Ireland liked the quality of the socks, and she liked the people who got in touch with the request—John and Marilyn Moretz of North Carolina—even more. In the end, she partnered with them, working with her team to put in sweat equity and lend her design flair to the socks; Moretz Mills would manufacture and distribute them.

The choice of product might seem unglamorous, but for Ms. Ireland, it was strategic. The kathy ireland socks served as a litmus test for her brand.

“Whatever little smidgen of celebrity I might have had back in the days when I modeled, I knew it wasn’t enough for a brand and that women were too smart to buy something just because it had my name on it,” she said.

If she could earn the trust of women—specifically busy moms—by offering a product that combined quality and value, then she knew her brand had a chance of succeeding in the long run.

It turned out that socks were just the beginning. Ms. Ireland’s brand licensing company, kathy ireland Worldwide, launched in 1993. As co-founder and chair emeritus, Ms. Ireland took feedback extremely seriously, “taking marching orders from [women],” listening to their needs and coming up with solutions to make moms’ lives better.

She expanded her customer base and diversified the industries she worked in. After developing her line of socks, she went into home furnishings on the advice of Warren Buffett, who told her that home products enjoyed more stability than fashion. These were followed by office furniture, event planning, jewelry (Elizabeth Taylor mentored her), apparel, and real estate, among other industries.

Ms. Ireland’s name now lends its Midas touch to over 17,000 products and services. Those include partnerships with MainStreetChamber Holdings, Your Home Digital, BMG, and Philip Stein Watches; and with retailers spanning from HSN, Camping World, and Nebraska Furniture Mart, to Bed, Bath & Beyond,, Macy’s Backstage, and many more.

Because kathy ireland Worldwide is a private company, owned solely by Ms. Ireland, business numbers aren’t shared publicly. Forbes estimated it generated $3.1 billion in retail sales in 2021. In 2022, Ms. Ireland was inducted into the Licensing Hall of Fame.

As she expanded into various fields, she met with plenty of skeptics and naysayers. “I never liked limits,” she said.

“People said fintech was also an area that we couldn’t move into though nobody had a good reason why, so today we work in the area of credit card processing.”

What makes ireland Pay different from other such services, though, is that 51 percent of the company’s revenue goes to nonprofit causes.

Making a commitment to nonprofit causes is a requirement for any company that kathy ireland Worldwide partners with.

“Something that we do insist upon is that you’re giving back, and we have a list of 10 initiatives that cover everything from supporting our military veterans and their families, fighting human trafficking, working to eradicate disease, hunger, and poverty, [as well as] environmental issues.” It doesn’t need to be a financial contribution, Ms. Ireland explained, but could be a commitment to spread awareness or volunteer staff time.

“We just want to know that if we’re going to invest the time and resources to work together, that we will honor our vision statement—to teach, inspire, empower, and make our world better.”

Ms. Ireland foresees significant growth in the next few years, focusing on products “that might not necessarily have the biggest profit margins but [are] more frequently purchased.

“As we’re learning about the needs and daily struggles that people have,” she’s asking: “How can we make a difference here?”

“Even though we’ve been in business for a very long time, I really feel we’re a baby business,” she said. “We’re just getting started.”

Ms. Ireland and businessman Warren Buffett at the annual newspaper-throwing contest at a Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting. “He’s got a few years on me, but he’s really good,” Ms. Ireland said. Both had newspaper delivery jobs when they were young. (Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

Guiding Principles

Faith is always first for Ms. Ireland. From it, she derives her stamina and perseverance. It also underlined for her the need to consider others more important than herself.

Her philanthropy is extensive, supporting the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation as International Youth Chair; the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation; the Fallen Outdoors, which organizes outdoor adventures for veterans; and Hardwired Global, which advocates freedom of conscience, religion, and belief; among many others.

Ms. Ireland learned a great deal about philanthropy from one of her mentors, actress Elizabeth Taylor. “Her life was big. Her heart was bigger,” Ms. Ireland said. Her philanthropy “had a laser focus.” From her, she learned that “when you work in the area of nonprofit, it’s much like a public company, because you’re responsible for other people’s money.”

When asked about the legacy she wants to leave, Ms. Ireland was incredibly humble. Her simplicity and wisdom shone through as she spoke.

“Well, there’s a song I really like. It says, ‘I don’t want to leave a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.’”

“So I hope my life can point others to the love of the Lord. Not everybody on my team shares the same faith. But my faith is most important to me. I don’t really need anybody to remember me, but if they do, that’s what I would like them to know.”

(Courtesy of Jon Carrasco)

4 Questions for Kathy Ireland

American Essence: You’re such a confident woman. Where do your confidence and your fearlessness come from?

Kathy Ireland: I was the most awkward, shy kid. I couldn’t make eye contact. I love getting older, I really do. I hope I stay healthy. The things that I used to be concerned about, I’m not concerned about [anymore]. I’m not concerned about other people’s opinions of me. I don’t feel like I have to impress anybody, and there’s a lot of freedom in that. It really comes from my faith. In my favorite book, it says over 500 times, “Don’t be afraid. Have courage.” I believe the Lord tells us that because he knows that we can struggle with it. That doesn’t mean that things aren’t hard. We have good days and bad days. Life can be really intense. But I don’t have fear. One of the scriptures that I love is, “If He is with us, who can be against us?”

AE: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in life? What are you proudest of?

Ms. Ireland: Our children. I can’t take credit for that, but it’s more [that] it’s such an honor to be their mom. They’re grown now. We have three kids, Erik, Lily, and Chloe. Erik is married to Bethany, [whom] we love. We claim her, too, but we have to share her with her parents. And we have two grandbabies.

AE: You’ll have been married for 36 years this year. What are your secrets to a long, happy marriage?

Ms. Ireland: [My husband] Greg is amazing. But, it is really looking at marriage not as a contract, but as a covenant with God. When we have the days when maybe I’m not being so lovable, or he’s not being so lovable, we remember it’s OK, it’s not just a promise we made to each other. We made a promise to God as well, that He’s at the center of it. … We need that so that we can see each other through God’s eyes, even when the person isn’t being lovable. He gives us supernatural strength to love the unlovable. And that’s really how we have managed to get through, because every marriage has its ups and downs and challenges and struggles. I think also as you get older, you learn how to change your expectations, not lower them—that takes away respect—but change and recognize that you’ve got two failed people coming together. So you know, how are we going to make this work? And you get in your solution mode.

I’m grateful because He’s solid. He’s not a quitter, and I’m not either. Another scripture that I love is, “Consider others as more important than yourself.” And that is true, whether it’s life or business.

AE: What do you love about America?

Ms. Ireland: Having had the privilege of traveling the world and experiencing wonderful places, I really appreciate the freedom that we have in this country and the Judeo-Christian values that it was founded upon, which promises freedom to everyone regardless of their faith—including those who have no faith at all. Those freedoms are for everyone, and I love that.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

From May Issue, Volume IV


From Playing a Power Ranger to Becoming a Mom Entrepreneur, Actress Jessica Rey Is a Positive Influence

“Where did you get that?” The first time Jessica Rey wore her self-designed swimsuit to the pool, other girls wanted to know. The actress—best known for her role as Alyssa the White Power Ranger in the 2002 TV series Power Rangers Wild Force—spent a lot of time at the pool between jobs in Hollywood, and owned around 100 bikinis. But this swimsuit was different: It was a simple, ruched one-piece reminiscent of the 1950s, based on the vintage styles she loved but modernized with swim-friendly fabric. She had designed it and asked a roommate to sew it for her because she could not find a one-piece in stores that made her feel good.

She realized she wasn’t alone.

That was the impetus for her business Rey Swimwear, designing flattering, feminine, and functional swimwear for women who’d rather not wear a bikini. “I’m trying to give women an option to feel beautiful in their own skin, in their own swimsuit, and feel confident,” Ms. Rey said.

Ms. Rey’s swimwear line focuses on feminine, elegant designs that don’t show a lot of skin. (Cynthia Garcia)

Her foray into entrepreneurship followed a personal journey with modesty—a concept she initially disliked. But as she dove deeper into her faith, she came to a new understanding of modesty as “wanting to uphold the God-given dignity that we are made with, for ourselves,” she said. “I started paying attention to the way I was being treated when I was wearing revealing clothing, and I didn’t like it. So I decided to stop.”

Ms. Rey co-authored a coffee table book, “Decent Exposure,” in 2015, and launched a clothing line, Estella, in 2017. Now, in between running her businesses and brainstorming new ventures, she continues to attend Power Ranger conventions, where she loves meeting fans, and homeschools her three children, ages 10, 11, and 13.

How does she balance it all? American Essence spoke with Ms. Rey about her daily routines, what keeps her inspired, and making the world her family’s classroom.

The first thing I do when I wake up is: offer up a morning prayer. That is the priority. The morning prayer is what I’m going to offer my sufferings and intentions for that day. Then, while I’m still in bed and with my red light on, I do a daily gospel reflection using the Hallow App.

I take care of my health by: creating daily habits. I find that if you don’t have a routine when it comes to this kind of stuff, it’s not going to get done, because who really wants to take supplements or exercise?

I follow my wellness routine as soon as I wake up. I get up and go bounce on my trampoline, which really gets my lymphatic system going and also wakes me up! I am so into weird holistic things. My vision has been going bad, so I’m following a program to improve my vision naturally: While I’m bouncing, I look at something far away for 10 seconds, and then I focus on something close up for 10 seconds, and I go back and forth. Then I go and drink a glass of homemade kefir and go into the office and answer emails while I walk on my under-desk treadmill.

I keep a written checklist, and so in the morning when I do all the health and wellness things on my list, I check them off, and that actually motivates me for the rest of the day. Oh look, I just checked five things off my list—I feel like a rock star!

Something that’s been on my mind lately is: getting into the tween girls’ clothing sector. My daughter is now 11, and I’m discovering that appropriate clothing is hard to find for her. Where do we buy shorts or skirts or dresses for this age group that aren’t mini? It just doesn’t exist for them. I’m seeking out a business partner because my specialty is swimwear.

Ms. Rey’s family photo. (Courtesy of Jessica Rey)

What people get wrong about modesty is: thinking it’s just about clothing. Modesty encompasses not just the way you dress but the way you act, behave, the way others treat you, and your way of thinking and carrying yourself. It has to do with beauty. We are all made beautiful and unique, and what are we going to do with that beauty?

My role models are: Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn. They are so beautiful and elegant. I think their style of clothing is so flattering for most body types, and also really functional.

My personal role model is my mom. She passed away 15 years ago, and she’ll forever influence how I live my life. She was so supportive, always. When I got the job as a Power Ranger, I was two classes away from finishing my MBA. I had to tell my mom, who was so excited about my MBA, that I was going to stop school for a year to go and be a Power Ranger. She had no idea what a Power Ranger was. She was like, ‘You’re going to forego your MBA to be a cartoon character?!’ She did not understand it. She was so upset. But then when the very first episode aired on TV, I went to my parents’ house and watched it with them and she was so proud she cried.

One thing I didn’t expect about being a Power Ranger was: that being on that show would have such an impact on people, and that I would still to this day be meeting fans.

On set, we would often have Make a Wish Foundation kids come. Their last and final wish was to meet us—and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. The very first visitor we had was named Joseph. He was a tiny little boy and he had leukemia. We had been told he was coming and to prepare ourselves, and I didn’t even know what that meant—prepare myself? On set, with cameras on my face, I saw the door open and in walked this pale 5-year-old wearing a blue Power Ranger costume, and I lost it. I just started bawling.

Ms. Rey with young Joseph. (Courtesy of Jessica Rey)

I stayed with him for the rest of the day and got to know his parents. I told his mom, ‘I just know he’s going to be fine. When we wrap this show in a year, I’m going to fly to New York City and I’m going to come hang out with you guys.’ So that was the first place I went when we wrapped the show: I flew to NYC for the first time. We went to the arcade, we had lunch, and I went to their house. I’m happy to say that Joseph is still alive and we are still friends.

As a mom, my homeschooling philosophy is: make it up as we go along. Every day is different, and I think that’s what makes it fun and engaging. One day we might cook all day, and the next day we might do math and writing. We do lots of outings. We have a nature group that we go out with a couple of times a month.

Ms. Rey homeschooling her children. (Courtesy of Jessica Rey)

They learn a lot while we travel—how to make pots in Italy, how to fresco paint in Croatia. We’re going to Umbria, Italy, for the month of May. I’ve set up cooking classes and horseback riding lessons; we’ll go to leatherwork workshops; there’s an amazing insect museum there. The kids will have Italian lessons a couple times a week. A lot of it is hands-on—that’s what makes it exciting.

My favorite way to unwind is: traveling with my family. Seeing the world through my kids’ eyes is so wonderful. My parents worked so hard and taught us the value of work. My mom always said that she would enjoy life when she retired, but sadly, she died a year before retirement. So we teach our kids the value of hard work, but we also want to teach them how to live and enjoy life now. We want to show them that there needs to be a proper balance.

From May Issue, Volume IV