The British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once described how a jeweler displays a diamond on black velvet when showing the gem to a customer. As the facets and angles of the diamond catch and reflect the light, its full brilliance is amplified by the contrast of the dark background. Such is the life of Amanda Wiles.
Amanda’s family has Alleghany roots, but they spent much of her childhood in Wilkes County. As she talks about her early family life, Amanda describes an environment of addiction and domestic violence. There were instances of suicide in her extended family. “While I was a good student,” she said recently, “I definitely fit the modern label of ‘at risk youth.’” As she entered her middle school years in Wilkesboro, she began acting out in a variety of ways. “I wasn’t a bad kid,” she continues, “But, I was moving in a bad direction.”
When she was 13, Amanda and her family moved back to Alleghany County. She had trouble adjusting to her new school and struggled to fit in. She continued to act out and set her mind on dropping out of school as soon as she turned 16. As she relates her story, Amanda becomes reflective. “You know how there are pivotal instances in your life that go unnoticed at the moment, but seem obvious in hindsight,” she asks rhetorically? “I had two of those moments as a 14 year-old.”
The first was a visit from David “Squeak” Edwards. Edwards later became the Alleghany County sheriff, but he was a probation officer when he paid a visit to Amanda. He had caught wind of the group Amanda was spending time with and saw where she was heading unless she shifted direction. She recalls Edwards telling her that she was much too smart to be traveling the path she was on.
Her true life changing moment occurred when she met Jamie Wiles. As Amanda describes their teenage relationship she says, “Jamie was stable. He went to church with his family, and he treated me well. Jamie gave me a glimpse of what a relationship could and should be.” At this point of the conversation Amanda laughs, “I know that all sounds crazy.” Then she adds more seriously, “It points to how chaotic my childhood was and how steadying Jamie was for me.” But true to her plan, Amanda dropped out of high school at 16 and she and Jamie were married. She describes them working 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. Again, she laughs and says, “That’s what you have to do when you do dumb things.”
At 21, Amanda breezed through her GED with little studying. Her 20s were filled with several futureless jobs and raising their family. At 29, she began thinking about going to college with an eye on becoming a police officer. Jamie wasn’t thrilled about her becoming a police officer but viewed her return to college as a positive step. She completed her associates degree, and then enrolled in a criminal justice program offered at Wilkes Community College (WCC) by Gardner-Webb University. Amanda describes these as financially difficult years for their family. It required her to make tough choices about what she valued most. She had to give up a nice car with payments for an old one. It required her to accept grants and loans for college tuition. Government subsistence programs helped fill the gaps as they stretched every dollar.
But the rewards came quickly. Amanda began teaching criminal justice part-time at the Ashe Campus of WCC in 2013. She continued her education and received a master’s degree from Liberty University which lead to a full-time teaching position with WCC in 2017.
Her new job helped create the opportunity for Jamie to open his own garage, Jamie’s Auto Solutions. Amanda laughs once more and says, “Of course as with most everything in our lives, opening a new business wasn’t easy. The day we opened; our checking account was overdrawn by $7.00. Jamie had to change oil using ramps for several weeks. But we looked long-term and made it work.” Amanda helps manage the books and both their children, Auston and Courtney, work at the garage.
As we assess our lives and those around us, we often take a short-term view of how we define success. It is tempting to place labels on others that mark where they are at that specific moment in time. In the case of children, those labels can have a negative impact that follows them into adulthood. Unfortunately, many of us have spoken some version of, “She won’t ever amount to much” about a child who is struggling in a challenging situation. Amanda Wiles’ life forces us to challenge those assumptions and instead look for the sparkles of a diamond against a dark background.