What was your first experience/job in OST?
My first experience/job in OST was when we started the Teen Center with a 21st-century grant back in 2005. I had gone to an administrator with the school district and said we were thinking about starting a Teen Center or something for kids, and wondered if there was anything through the school district that could make that possible. He said that there was a grant that they had tried to get in the past, but they would try to write it our way and see what happened. We were lucky enough to receive the award and have been in operation ever since.
What impact did this have on you?
The impact that it has had on me has been tremendous. The immediate support from the school district was so inspiring because it all started as an idea I had with my family, and they helped us to make it a reality. A lot of people in our area speak frequently about how the Teen Center/Hope Center has made such a difference in our community. However, my staff and I always say that the students who attend the program are what make the true impact! Watching them succeed long past their time with us has been the ultimate payoff!
What are you doing now? Tell me about the team you work with.
We continue to help the youth of the Lamar School District in grades 3 through 12. Our program runs Monday-Thursday from 4p-8p and on Fridays from 8a-4p. When we first opened I was the only full-time employee, and we had two part-time employees that assisted me. Due to our need for expansion, those two positions were moved to full-time, and we have eight additional tutors that help us serve our students effectively. We have a wonderful staff and without them, the program would not be successful.
What was your journey getting to where you are now?
When we started in 2005, on average we had around 30 youth attending the program per day. With increased expansion and community partnership, it has grown exponentially to, at one point, an average of 150 youth a day. Throughout this school year, we serve around 120 students per day.
At its inception, we started out in a small little building provided to us by the school district that was used for credit recovery during the day; students played football in the street and soccer in the alley. In 2011, our school district had to make a lot of cuts, and one was to close an elementary school. It stayed closed for a year and was getting vandalized, so in 2012, they moved our program into that school. Now, we have a full school with a gym, and playground along with green grass for area youth to play football, soccer, or just roll around in the grass, etc., again, provided by the district.
We also have a leadership group called “One Step Up” that meets on Fridays from 11-1 and this group has done so many things for our community. A passionate community member, Emily Nieschburg, once contacted me about her interest in hosting a leadership group for Lamar School District students, and this group has flourished under her direction. Even as a mostly student-led group, they have since helped get grass on our playground, assisted in getting a skate park for our community, started an initiative for tearing down abandoned houses in our area, and got “doggie doo-doo” stations put up around the community, along with many other things.
The leadership skills they have built and the initiative they have taken for bettering our community has been inspiring for us. We used to have a group called, Young Hope Prevention, where we would bring in guest speakers who talked about prevention tactics for kids to avoid using drugs and alcohol, college preparation, and just life skills in general. Additionally, we continue to use some of our funds to take students on field trips in the summer, because most of our students never have the chance to leave Lamar. Those smaller group trips continue to hold a special place in our hearts, and we look forward to them every year.
What is the value of working in this field? What excites you most?
I feel that God has called me to work in this field and cannot imagine doing anything else. I had a tough time having children and was only able to have one, and, in fact, my daughter is the one that first suggested we try and start something like this. When I am around kids, I feel a connection and am excited when we see kids’ faces light up. We provide an opportunity for kids to come to get help and try to assist in making them the best they can be! Everyone that works here at the center only wants to see the best in kids and help them in whatever way they can.
When not working, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I enjoy spending time with family and going to watch the kids at the Hope Center in their athletic events. We have some very talented students, and watching them compete and succeed, even as Hope Center alumni, continues to be one of the greatest joys of my life. My daughter jokes now that I wasn’t able to have more children because they all become my kids in a certain way.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself, your experiences in OST, or the OST field?
I can honestly say I cannot imagine doing anything else. Additionally, I would never want to work with anyone else. Our staff feels like a big extended family, and we are so lucky to have folks in our community that care about kids the way they do. I am blessed to work alongside them every day, and without them, the program wouldn’t be possible. We work in a wonderful school district that supports us in so many ways, and without their in-kind support of our programs, we would not be able to keep the doors open and staff on at the level we do. The district’s support coupled with the many donations from our community and the many grants we have received throughout the years have helped us sustain and serve more and more students every year. Their tireless dedication to our program cannot be compared, and we are so lucky to be in rural Colorado where everyone treats each other like their favorite neighbor.