Ernesto Sirolli once said, “the future of every community lies in capturing the passion, imagination, and resources of its people.” As advisers serving with the College Advising Corps, we are placed in schools with the understanding that we will only have two years to gain the trust of the community in order to best serve our students and their families. Beginning my first year as an adviser, I quickly realized how tight-knit and protective the people in a rural community are of their shared values, obstacles, and successes. If one had asked me initially how connected I felt, I immediately would have denied having any connection to this small town hours away from anyone or anything of which I felt a part. The excitement of my first “real” job changed into a feeling of disconnect and a realization that in order to be successful, I needed to learn the culture of my new home and prove I not only shared these values but also wished to adopt them as my own. In order to accomplish this, I knew I had to find a way to be involved, visible, and make my presence have added value. While it would be more comforting to retreat at the end of each work day, and escape to the familiarity of friends and family on weekends, this was not an option if my aim was to become a trusted member of the community and perform my role as a college adviser effectively.
One of the most important parts of the culture of any community is their shared successes. In Sparta, where I serve at Alleghany High School, sports are a major catalyst for shared celebration. Most schools have a constant need for adults to coach and mentor students for athletic teams, and Alleghany was no exception. While not part of the official job description, coaching can certainly provide opportunities to connect on a deeper level with community stakeholders as well as show investment. Thus, when I saw an opening for cheerleading coach, I eagerly stepped up - this was a sport I enjoyed as a teen and an area in which I could connect to students and parents outside of my office. Being visible “under the lights” helped me to connect to my cheerleaders as well as their parents and friends and showed the staff (and community) that I desired to “be” a Triojan instead of an outsider merely observing. Likewise, I reached out of my comfort zone and accepted a coaching job for Track and Field when the need was expressed. This was not a sport I had actually participated in previously, but I agreed to take on the challenge in order to expand my presence in the community.
Not only has coaching helped me up my involvement in the community and feel more connected to the people of Sparta, but also gives me the opportunity to continue my advising work outside of school hours. Often I would, and still do, have students or their guardians come up to me at a practice, game, or meet asking questions about college-going culture, graduation requirements, financial aid, and more. Forcing myself into a position where I was not only present but also contributing to the community has given me the opportunity to best serve my students and create a home for myself in Alleghany County.
*Written by CAC Adviser Brooke Barhardt