Your Neighbor: Meet Debbie Neves

Published 12:05 am Thursday, June 8, 2023

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By Mandy Haggerson
For the Clemmons Courier

Debbie Neves was born in Puerto Rico and knew many different places as home as a child.

“My dad’s job at Procter & Gamble and then R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company had us living all over the world,” Neves said. “Up until my senior year of high school, I lived in Hong Kong, Hungary, the Canary Islands and Madrid, Spain.

“Looking back on it, I was very lucky and wouldn’t trade it for anything. However, as a kid, I always thought it was tough to move every two or three years with making friends. My younger brother and I attended American international schools abroad, so we were around kids that had similar backgrounds as us.”

Sports were a helpful way of making friends for Neves as a child and staying active.

“I loved playing volleyball, softball, basketball and soccer,” Neves said. “My senior year of high school, we moved to the United States and lived in Florida. Because I had been living in Spain at the time, I hadn’t been able to get recruited by many Division I colleges for volleyball, which was my main sport. Texas Christian University offered me a spot on their volleyball team, but they couldn’t guarantee me a lot of playing time since I was only 5’3″. I decided to attend DePauw University and played volleyball for them my freshman year.”

Although Neves loved playing sports, she decided to stop after her first year.

“My dad had also played football at DePauw, and I felt like I really knew the school,” Neves said. “I wanted to do other things once I got there, and I really took advantage of campus life. Although, in hindsight, I do wish I had played all four years. I did appreciate my years while at DePauw. I spent my time mentoring first-year students, participating in the club cycling team, playing intramural sports, (being) active in student government, and I was the membership chairman for my sorority.”

Aside from staying very involved at DePauw in her undergraduate years, Neves double majored in kinesiology and Spanish literature.

“I always knew that I wanted to go into sports medicine,” Neves said. “I loved sports, and it made the most sense to me. I thought that I would become a physical therapist for a sports team. I chose my graduate school, Duke University, based on their sports medicine program. The program took three years, and then I had residency for one year after that. Once I began doing my internships, I quickly realized I wanted to go into pediatric therapy.”

While in her graduate program at Duke, Neves also found another way to connect with sports and her dad by participating in marathons.

“I had always trained for a sport growing up,” Neves said. “It seemed strange not to have anything to train for, so we took up marathons. It also was a fun way for us to travel to many different places and take adventurous trips together. The most recent trip we took was before COVID-19 for a marathon, and it was in Tokyo.”

If not studying or running around the world, Neves enjoyed spending time with her friends at school. She met her future husband, Jason, during that time through mutual friends.

“Jason proposed to me in Washington, D.C., where I was in my residency at the Children’s National Hospital for a year,” Neves said. “We were married in 2009, one month after I graduated from my program.”

The newlyweds headed south shortly after getting married because Jason got a job opportunity in Beaufort, South Carolina.

“I began working in pediatric therapy, and not too long after our move, we got pregnant with our first daughter, Lucia, in 2010,” Neves said. “After Lucia was one year old, Jason was offered a project in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At that point, we were in South Carolina all by ourselves, and we wanted to be closer to family. My family was living in Advance since my dad was back at Reynolds headquarters, so we jumped at the opportunity. Jason was excited, too, because he got to work on the Innovation Quarter (and has been for more than a decade).

“As soon as I realized this opportunity was possible, I began looking for jobs. I found an opening at Brenner’s Children’s Hospital and was offered a position immediately.”

Since her husband had to finish a project in South Carolina before moving, Neves headed north first.

“I began working in acute care as a pediatric physical therapist,” Neves said. “At that time, I was the only one working on the floor side covering the pediatric intensive care unit for kids that were post-operation. Later on, I was transferred to the neonatal unit during COVID-19. I had been there since last December and have now been working in their Children’s Developmental Services Agency (CDSA) program.”

The CDSA program is a regional early intervention center for infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities or delays through Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist.

“It’s funny that I wanted to go into sports,” Neves said. “I love coaching, and it seems like I have become a coach for parents to help their kids that have special needs to fulfill their fullest potential. It’s not me with magic hands or making miracles happen. It’s me empowering their parents from birth to 36 months of age.”

The program impacts children who live in Forsyth, Davidson, Davie, Stokes, Surry, and Yadkin counties.

“Living near my family has been amazing while trying to balance work and family life,” Neves said. “Our daughter, Sophie, was born in 2013, and my parents and my grandparents have been instrumental in helping them.”

Neves knows personally how impactful those familial relationships can be.

“I was fortunate that I had a young grandmother, Tata,” Neves said. “She was just 42 years old when I was born, and she was so involved with my mom in raising me. I wanted that for my two daughters with their childhood. That relationship was very important to me. Until Tata passed away in 2020 at 80, she was picking up my kids from school or daycare to help out. I love that my kids have been able to have that bond with both of my parents and my grandparents, who have been such an influence in all of our lives. My mom ran a tight ship and was very nurturing. I wanted to be that kind of mom too.”

As Sophie and Lucia got older and excelled in their own areas, Neves has enjoyed cheering them along just as her parents and grandparents did for her.

“Being a parent is the biggest part of my identity,” Neves said. “I am a mom. I love being a mom. I love my two kids so much. They are very different children that inspire me daily. Whether coaching their soccer team or watching them from the sideline, it can be crazy. But it’s definitely a good kind of crazy.

“We also have started really attacking our bucket list that we began creating during COVID-19. I’m looking forward to taking the girls to Europe. We’re going to London, then Paris, and off to Spain to show the girls where I grew up. It’s fun that they are at the age where they can really enjoy it too. I also love their curiosity to explore the world. But they also have had the opportunity to grow up in a community that is very welcoming. I wanted for them a neighborhood with lemonade stands and always someone you could knock on their door down the street. We’ve been very lucky to find that for them.”