By Katherine Gaines
In college, I was a mentor through Big Brothers, Big Sisters. It was one of the best things I did during my time at school. I had never been on the receiving end of a mentor relationship until this year with Grace-on-the-Hill. My mentor recently encouraged me to write about my time at AJC as we GOTHs prepare to set out on our next phases in life. Before this year, I worked with older adults and adults with disabilities. This was quite purposeful as I am not quite comfortable around children. That can still be said even after a year in a middle school, but these students at AJC have stolen a place in my heart. Above all else, what AJC “does right” is establish and maintain a sense of community, structure, and love that envelops not only the students, but the staff as well. I start each day with picking up students on the bus, greeting each student and wishing them a good day as they depart.
Perhaps the most tangible result of my time at AJC is utilizing my background to teach seven students to swim. Two of whom couldn’t make it down the pool when we started and had a great fear of the water. By the time we finished, they could swim 50 yards without stopping (too much…). That impact will have lasting effects and could save their lives. After my time with the swimmers, I now spend my time with 6th and 7th grade girls “teaching” them lacrosse, a sport I know almost nothing about. Each day with these girls is a new adventure; balancing all of the emotion, energy, and sometimes quite strange behaviors has taught me a wealth of knowledge in remaining both flexible and calm in all sorts of situations.
Perhaps the hardest week at AJC was the week that tragedy struck the AJC community: one of the graduates had been killed. The community came together to support one another while hurting and processing their grief. The resiliency and love shown that week at AJC was more powerful and encouraging than words can describe.
I’ve learned more about trauma, love, resiliency, and the impact the “small things” can have in my year at Grace-on-the-Hill than in my entire undergrad in social work. I knew the technical skills and theory, but never had the related practical experience. The lessons I’ve learned at AJC are truly invaluable and I will be forever grateful to Grace-on-the-Hill for the opportunities I’ve had.