By 2nd Lt. Darren Domingo
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
(Editor’s Note: “I am SCHRIEVER” is a diversity campaign dedicated to recognizing the diversity within our base as well as highlighting the way this diversity makes us stronger and better able to ensure mission success.)
It’s easy to get comfortable with your environment. Having the same friends, daily routine and surroundings can keep us in a familiar world.
Jayla Ray, daughter of Chaplain (Capt.) Jennifer Ray, 50th Space Wing, had her world rocked when everything in her life changed in a short period of time.
In 2012, Jennifer lost her job, then Jayla’s father, Je’Mahl Ray, lost his shortly thereafter.
Difficulty continued as Jennifer’s mother passed away later that year. Jennifer’s mother was a beloved family member who lived with the Rays since their children were born.
On Dec. 14 of the same year, the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, which sparked something in Jennifer’s heart.
“At the time, our kids were four-years-old, the same as some of the [kids] that were slain in the Sandy Hook massacre, and I just could not imagine how something like that could happen to a child,” said Jennifer. “So I said ‘praying is great,’ but I asked God, ‘what can I do?’”
It turned out the Air Force would become her way to help, even though the call to serve came a year and a half later.
When Jennifer made the decision to join the U.S. Air Force, the transition was felt throughout the whole family, especially for Jayla.
But duty called, and the Ray family rose to the occasion. They moved from Georgia to Alabama for Commissioned Officer Training. After graduation, the family traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“When [our kids] got here it was a different environment,” said Jennifer. “My son transitioned OK, but Jayla had a rough time last year with school.”
Coming from a school where there was mostly free play and not a lot of structure, Ellicott Elementary was something unexpected.
For months, she refused to talk or engage with other students and staff.
“She’d even be doing her homework while crying,” said Jennifer.
The teachers and Ellicott Elementary staff played a huge role in supporting the Ray family when they first came to Colorado. Concerned about Jayla’s quietness, they offered to help in any way they could. After understanding her background and transition, they offered a tutoring program, a Response to Intervention program and an in-school peer tutoring program.
“The Ellicott community came together to help Jayla’s transition,” Jennifer explained. “Military and Family Life Counseling helped, the principal helped, the assistant principal and teachers, everybody just came to the rescue. They really welcomed us, they’re phenomenal.”
Je’Mahl explained the Ellicott team went above and beyond in their assistance with Jayla.
“They’re really like a dream team,” Je’Mahl said. “We could tell that they met, without us being there, asking ‘how can we help Jayla?’ They were fully invested and have not stopped [being supportive].”
Even months after, Ellicott staff still ask the Rays how their children are doing.
“That speaks to their integrity and work ethic,” said Je’Mahl. “With people like that, your kid can’t help but succeed. They refused to not allow her to be successful, and for us that means a lot — it puts our minds at ease.”
Today, Jayla is happy here at Schriever with her new friends and school. Jayla recently participated in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics night at the Child Development Center where she enjoyed doing experiments like making balloon rockets.
“They went really high!” said Jayla.
She also loves jumping in bouncy houses-a shout out to Force Support Squadron family events.
Jayla explained although the experience was tough, staying strong through the transition was important to her.
“It made me proud to work hard,” Jayla said.
Jayla’s parents spoke about her resilience through tough times.
“We watched her push through every single day,” said Je’Mahl. “To see her from last year to this year is a complete 180.”
Jennifer recounted a time last year when Jayla was injured by an ice skate blade during Christmas time.
“When she got her four stitches, she growled like a tiger during each sew instead of crying,” said Jennifer. “The very next weekend she wanted to go out on the ice again. We call her Tiger, because a lot of things don’t faze her; she’s our resilient little tiger.”