AUBURN — Last January former Lewiston mayor Kaileigh Tara was unemployed, homeless, overweight and riddled with health problems.

This year she’s working at VIP in Auburn. She and her son have a Lewiston apartment. She’s lost 101 pounds.

“I feel great,” she said, flashing a smile. “I’ve had so many people come in here and recognize me, people who knew I’d been in a hard place. People are genuinely happy.”

So is she.

“I’m so grateful for this job,” she said. “I have a great group of people I work with.”

Tara was the mayor of Lewiston from 1998 to 2002. Last January, she was homeless, spending nights in her SUV after losing her job, running out of money and unable to pay her rent. Her poverty followed years of health problems, depression and neurological issues, and unemployment.

After several weeks of sleeping in her vehicle, she got a subsidized apartment and went public with her story to bring attention to others in her situation. Tara is going public again, this time so others who are down might get inspired to pull themselves up.

“I want people to have hope that the new year will bring better things for us in Lewiston-Auburn,” she said. “Anybody can climb back up. It takes time and, in this economy, a willingness to do anything.”

Losing weight, getting hired

Last March, Tara took a “hard look at my fat self and something inside of me said, ‘That’s enough,'” she said. She weighed 250 pounds and didn’t think she could lose the weight. “I was ashamed, uncomfortable.”

Determined, she changed how she ate.

“I cut out all the white stuff,” she said. “No flour. No potatoes. No sugar. No bread.” Her lunch that day was hummus and a red pepper. She eats a lot of protein and vegetables, including salad greens, spinach and kale.

An ice cream lover, she hasn’t had a cone since March. Once she stopped eating sweets, she stopped craving them, she said. When her colleagues go for pizza or Subway, she eats what she brought to work. If it’s worth losing the progress she’s made, Tara said she gives herself permission to eat something she wants, like an ice cream sundae. Having that choice makes it easier to choose healthy, she said.

She also started exercising. She didn’t have money for a gym membership, so she went outside and walked. At first, her walks were short. “A 10-minute walk was hard,” she said. “You can only carry your weight so far.”

The 10-minute walks became 17 minutes, then 20, then 30. “I was competitive with myself. I’d tell myself I was going to walk eight laps.” When she completed eight, she’d do nine. Before getting a job last month, she was up to 10 miles a day, one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon, 5 miles each time.

One trick that helps her is not questioning whether she’ll exercise that day. Exercise must be part of a normal day, like taking a daily medicine, she said.

She’ll do a few biceps curls while stocking windshield fluid at work. Sit-ups and push-ups at home don’t cost anything, she said. “You can fill milk jugs with water for weight training.”

As the pounds disappeared, Tara’s health improved. Her confidence returned. That improved her prospect of being hired, she said. “If I had come here at 250 pounds, I wouldn’t be able to unload the freight I did today.”

She found her job through social networking on Facebook. “I put out this ‘desperately need a job’ message.”

In this economy, there was little chance of her getting a job in her old profession, a nonprofit agency advocate, she said.

A Facebook friend e-mailed, telling her there were openings at VIP, directing her to go to the company’s Web site and fill out applications. She was interviewed and hired.

Tara: Be grateful

In everything people go through, there’s a lesson, she said. She learned to be grateful “for every little improvement. If you can walk one more step one day, tell yourself that was great. If you ate well that day, feel that gratitude and it begins to grow.”

Last summer, Tara changed her attitude about being
unemployed. Instead of focusing on what was bad, she realized she had
“the gift of free time,” and used it to make herself more marketable.

She hopes to someday own her own house again. She hopes to have a yard, a black Lab. She’s interested in public service.

“But I’m where I’m supposed to be right now,” Tara said.”I’m very grateful to have a job, to have hope again. I love
interacting with the customers. I’m coming back. That’s what it feels
like to me.” 

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Former Lewiston Mayor Kaileigh Tara waits on a customer at VIP on Center Street in Auburn. Since finding herself homeless, unemployed and overweight, Tara has changed her attitude, dropped 101 pounds and gotten her life back on track.

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