“When I was sixteen, I wanted to be a stripper,” says a college graduate whose life was changed forever by a caring high school counselor. This Notre Dame of Maryland University graduate was the victim of severe trauma which led to depression. She felt the only thing people valued was her body, and it was the only thing she had control over. Thus, her goal was to become a stripper. She was suicidal and felt hopeless most of the time before she was sent to live with a sibling in Gainesville.  

At the time, she was two grades behind, having just failed 8th and 9th grades and had been told to just get her GED. That changed when a high school counselor instead doubled-up content area courses, encouraged night school classes and, for the first time ever, showed care and concern. The counselor’s compassion, academic plan and enthusiasm helped. For the first time, this young lady moved from thinking “it’s just not worth it” to actually seeing opportunities. She graduated from high school, earned a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing and now homeschools her four children. When asked what she thought would have happened if she didn’t meet her counselor, she said she would have been destined for a life of alcohol, drug addiction, and probably death but that counselor changed her life. 

Stories like these are all too common and are remembered even 20 years after a child completed school, such as when a young man working at Publix sees the counselor who helped him overcome truancy. Who would have thought something as simple as a home visit to a middle school student would change the course of his life? 

Yet, it was that intentional visit and consistent follow-ups by his counselor that brought this young man back to school. The educator set expectations for the student to graduate and said she would be present at his ceremony. And although the counselor didn’t work at a high school at graduation time, the student ensured she received an invitation. Some seven years after meeting the student in middle school, the counselor stayed true to her promise and when the counselor arrived, the teary-eyed, proud mom engulfed her with a huge hug.  

Every school counselor, at every level of education, is making this kind of positive impact for the betterment of children, families, and the community at large. 

While we may be moving to a “post-COVID” world, the pandemic’s effects are still very real for many students, especially the most vulnerable, and they face unprecedented stress as we all try to capture the “new normal.” The CDC estimates 1 in 5 of our students are struggling with a mental health issue, a problem only exacerbated over the last two years. One in five! 

School counselors use the motto “Better Together,” which perfectly summarizes their role collaborating with teachers, staff and families to help ensure the success of each and every student. School counselors provide our kids someone to talk to, who is trained to listen and provide the resources they need. And school counselors promote sound mental health habits and encourage a positive school environment, helping to educate and remove stigmas that hold children back. 

Even removing the effects of the pandemic, the crucial role school counselors play in supporting students is borne out by the research: school counselors help increase student achievement, reduce drop-out rates and help with post-school transitions. 

Join the Chamber Foundation in celebrating the 63 school counselors that serve our students in Alachua County Public Schools. Even the smallest donation will make a difference! With the funds raised, we will put together a gift basket for each counselor. Together we can show our appreciation for this critical resource, and support those who help our kids be the best they can be. 

Everyone who donates $50 or more to celebrate our school counselors will receive a Gainesville Loves the Gators baseball shirt!