VIDALIA, Ga. (WSAV) – As a community leader, mother of seven, and eternal optimist, Carmela Spikes-Williams is known as someone who will always help you forge a path forward.

March is Women’s History Month, and as one of WSAV’s Remarkable Women finalists, Carmela is no stranger to adversity.

“I’ve had a lot of really low lows,” she said. “My mom was a single mom working two jobs all the time and three at Christmas. One year I was kidnaped and raped, to dropping out of high school in 11th grade, being a teen mom, going back to school finishing as an honor graduate and then for a couple of years, I was just kind of floating around. Then I went back to school and when I went back to school — everything changed.”

Carmela and her husband Troy Williams

Carmela’s husband of 18 years said he fell in love with her determination and devotion to the people she loves like family.

“It’s not like she tries, she just do. You know, she wakes up on ten. She makes me a better person. She brings out the best in me. She’s seen me at my worst and she’s loved me,” Troy Williams said, describing what he called his wife’s “awesomeness.”

Born in Lyons, Georgia, Carmela said it was her mentors who helped her change her life.

“One day I asked her, I said, ‘why do you help me so much?’ And so she told me her situation and her story, and she said, ‘The only thing I want you to do is when you get on your feet, I want you to do this for somebody else.’ And that stuck with me,” Carmela said, describing her journey of going back to school and graduating with honors in both high school and college.

Now devoting her time to turning dreams into realities in her home of Vidalia, Carmela has created programs to help girls going through similar difficult experiences.

“I was so grateful, so grateful to have somebody to talk to, to share experiences with. Somebody that could tell me, ‘It’s like this now, but it’s going to be better later,'” said Dudley, one of many young moms Carmela mentored through her A Mother’s Crown Parenting Program.

“She made this class and we came in and she talked to us about college, how to accomplish our goals, things that school doesn’t teach you,” Dudley continued. “You know, they just kind of drop you after high school when you need to know these things from an adult. She was there for all of us young moms.

“I had two kids in high school, one at 16 and one at 18. People would think having a baby in high school was a negative situation, but after I met her, we found positives in it and we made it work.”

Now a nurse and a homeowner, Dudley said Carmela taught her the value of making goals and staying committed to fulfilling them.

“Sometimes they don’t have somebody saying, ‘Girl, I see you. You keep pushing. You’re doing an amazing job.’ That’s where I come in and I like to just be that little small, silent voice that’s in their ear saying, ‘You can do this. This is just the beginning,'” Carmela explained.

Ralph Gothe, the president of the Toombs County Boys and Girls Club, said he met Carmela when she was working in customer service for Walmart. Years later, he said her influence on the youth in Vidalia is “remarkable.”

“Miss Carmela was influential not just with my daughter, but a lot of young ladies in that age group. And she worked really well with the young ladies and the kids in the community, and I think that’s what makes her special,” Gothe said.

Michael Johnson is one of those who said he is patterning his life after the mentor he aspires to be like.

“It’s good to always have someone there to remind you that tomorrow can and will be better,” Johnson, now a nonprofit founder, added.

Carmella has a passion for encouraging others to never let their circumstances dictate their outlook on life.

“Keep dreaming. I say that all the time. Let me dream with you,” she said.

What would you do if money was not an object, if money was not an issue? What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Would it be a business? What would your career be? What would your lifestyle look like? What would your home look like?

If I can get you to dream and begin to see it before you see it, then magical things start to happen. Because we have to get them to look outside of their situation. So I would tell you, look outside of what you’re going through, this is temporary. You know, you have to take control of your life.

I don’t care if nobody in your family has ever had a business or no one in your family has ever been an executive, or no one in your family has ever graduated high school or got a college degree. You can be the first. There’s a blessing of being the first.

So I would tell them, you got to do it because there’s other people coming behind you and your family that need to see you succeed.

Carmella helped pave a path for more than a dozen teens in Vidalia through her Rodney Mobley Jr. Memorial Scholarship, created in honor of the 14-year-old who died during a domestic violence dispute.

“If you’re a survivor of domestic violence, you don’t really trust people that well, and so Carmela is one of those that connects with people,” said Betty Dell Williams, the executive director for the Refuge Domestic Violence Center.

Carmela spends time throughout the year working to make sure women at safe shelters around Georgia feel like they have a reliable community.

“She gives them hope to let them know you can move past this. There’s something better ahead for you” Dell Williams added.

Carmela said planting seeds of hope is what she feels she was called to do: “People see the hard part sometimes and they don’t see a way out. That’s my assignment, and I take it very seriously.”

Throughout her 11 years as a pastor for Becoming One Outreach Ministries — the church she co-founded with her husband — Carmela said her faith is what’s given her a foundation and motivation.

I’m going to keep dreaming…

Carmela Spikes-Williams

“We have a whole vision of the next 10 years: how many more young moms we want to help, how many more scholarships we want to give away,” she explained. “Lester Brown says, ‘It’s not that we dream too high, it’s that we dream too low and we hit and we just settle right there.’ So that will never be my testimony, that I dream too low and hit. I’m going to keep dreaming, keep dreaming and keep dreaming.”

Some of those dreams include creating a community ministry complex with buildings to offer resources like her parenting program, baby closet and other youth and community outreach efforts.

“Those are the kind of leaders that we need in our community — people that can interact with all people, regardless of where they come from, their background or financial situation. She can do that and she does it very well. My homegirl, Carmella Williams,” Gothe said.

WSAV News 3’s Jessica Coombs is featuring four Remarkable Women throughout March, Women’s History Month.

The finalists, chosen from nominations throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry, will be featured every Tuesday on-air and online.

The winner of WSAV’s contest will be announced in April and will then be considered for the “Nexstar Woman of the Year” award.