Why I Love SOAR! - Kaylin Smith - SOAR Daily Staff Member

I absolutely love SOAR. I fell in love with it from the moment that I started working here. It sounds cheesy, but it’s way more than just a job to me. It’s a place where I can go and forget about all my other worries and struggles. I walk in, and I know that the children in my group need my focus way more than my group project. I channel my energy because I know that despite how dirty my apartment is or how badly I need to call my mom back, that these kids are craving my attention. They are looking for someone to care for them and love them well. And by working here, I have declared that person to be me! 

So what is really crazy about this job is that it does so much for you. It seems like a lot of work to focus so much energy on one thing, especially being a college student who doesn’t seem to have enough energy to go around. But this job grows you. This job has taught me how to love others just as Christ has loved me. These kids are cute, but they are also hard. They don’t listen and they can be so stubborn sometimes. But my daily realization when I walk into SOAR is how much more Christ loves me, despite how difficult I am. I love them, not because they deserve it or because it’s in my job description, but because Jesus has revealed to me, through this job, that He loves me more than I could ever love Him. But out of my love for Him- out of that overflow- I will love these kids. And maybe, just maybe, through me loving them, these kids will see Christ’s love. 

It isn’t always easy. They are super cute, but they mess up. But this is just one of the reason that SOAR is such a beautiful place. Love requires grace, and every single day, we get the opportunity to show children grace. The way that we do discipline enables us to whip their wrongdoings clean every evening after SOAR ends, and everyday they start clean. I cannot even count the amount of times I have used this example to explain to my kids what grace is. Grace is loving someone despite what they have done, and I feel like this helps the kids know how much we love them. SOAR doesn’t give up on them. SOAR wants to see them succeed and the people at SOAR will do whatever they can to see that each child does just that. 

And that is why I absolutely love SOAR. That I why I feel like I am a really lucky person to get the opportunity to work somewhere that matters and desires to make a difference. This place has changed a lot of children’s lives, and it has also changed mine too.

-Kaylin Smith, 2-year SOAR staff member

Rise Up!

This August marked my fourth year of working for the best after school program in the nation. We have created an atmosphere that allows students to feel safe and supported by promoting an uplifting after school program experience. Our program enables students to have an amazingly-fun time throughout our jam packed schedule of classes, clubs, and ongoing opportunities. We see growth in our students through the interactions that occur with a team of staff who are dedicated to fostering healthy mentoring-relationships. Our program promotes 6 character traits, which calls our students to act in a manner that raises the bar. We have high expectations for every one of our students, because we are confident that they are capable of achieving greatness. I am thankful for the journey and the experiences that SOAR has provided me over my time here. I know in my heart that SOAR is impacting the lives of every student, family member, and staff that are involved in our programs. SOAR is teaching, using, and challenging Northwest Arkansas to Rise Up and overcome the challenges of living in today’s world.

What has SOAR taught me?

I have learned a lot through working for SOAR; things like improved educational approaches, a wider knowledge of classroom management skills, and a deepened appreciation for staff development. While my educational background has improved, I think the biggest thing that I have been taught is to disregard my insecurities and ignore any hint of uncomfortableness. Once I have learned to master this skill, I can manage anything that is placed in front of me. I work on developing this skill through my weekly routine. My job allows me to interact with students, staff, and parents and help them solve problems in their lives. I learn by working side by side with partnerships that are flourishing well with what they do. I learn educational techniques from a school that has a team of top-of-the-line educators and a highly dedicated administration. I have learned to see students for who they are, not what they have been labeled. I have learned to communicate with parents in a way that is not accusatory or degrading. I have learned to love my staff in a way that makes them feel appreciated and needed within the program. I have learned to encourage students to Rise Up and be who they want to be!

How has SOAR used me?

It is crazy to think about how a role, or position, may have used you--but looking back, I know that I have been given much responsibility and granted much trust from this job. SOAR has used me to love each student and staff individually for who they are, and what they bring to the table. SOAR has used me to carry on the traditions that my former boss started when the first ideas of SOAR were formed. We are passionate about service, opportunity, academics, and recreation. These 4 components are what we stand for and what we create our programming around. SOAR has used me to challenge students to make a difference and apply the SOAR 6 to their life. SOAR has used me to go outside my comfort zone and into the lives of families involved with our program. SOAR has used me to be an advocate, a voice, a friend, a teacher, and a guide in many ways. I hope that I am used in a way that will promote positive community engagement and substantial educational growth for the students in SOAR. I am used well at SOAR when I choose to Rise Up.

How has SOAR challenged me?

SOAR is a place that pushes you to do something different. Whether you are a student or a staff member, a teacher or a parent-SOAR will challenge you. We have a successful program because we have accepted the challenge and gone above “the norm” of afterschool program care. SOAR has challenged me to learn about new groups of people and immerse myself in their culture. SOAR has challenged me to put myself in other people’s shoes and consider different perspectives. SOAR has challenged me to stand up for what I believe and for those who are underappreciated. After working for SOAR, I have been challenged in areas I did not know needed growth. As a SOAR staff member, you will be challenged more than you have in any other job. You are challenged to do better, because you are working with children who desire your best. I want to love well, serve hard, and respond when I’m called. Because of my experience with SOAR, I have been challenged to make a change. I want to eagerly respond to the challenge of rising up, and I want to challenge others to Rise Up!

Growing Together

           As a SOAR staff member, I am always trying to find ways to help better teach the kids educationally and through life lessons.  However, what I don’t think about is that they indirectly teach us, too!  It’s not just a one-way discipline cycle, we all grow and learn through each other and it’s a beautiful thing.

         Monday, September 20th was the very first swimming day of the year.  As a past competitive swimmer I was super pumped to be able to share this past experience with them now.  The kids were super excited when they arrived that day and wanted to fly through dinner so they’d get more time to swim.  As we walked into the hallway the immediate smell of chlorine filled the air and all the kids were jumping with excitement.  Although I had one worry.  It was small and silly but it scared me a little if the kids noticed and reacted.  After we all changed in the locker rooms the kids lined up at the door and met Miss Sam to give them permission to go jump in the pool.  The pool was such a rush; the water is always cold at first but kids never seem to be phased by it.  The boys were throwing the football and the girls playing tag.  It made me happy to see them so happy and enjoying their time. I was just wading through the wavy water making my way around the ecstatic kids.  One boy in particular called me over, and asked me what my name was again since it was only week four of SOAR.  After I told him he remembered saying, “Oh yeah, you wear glasses usually!  And today you look very pretty by the way.”  This struck me as a surprise since he was one of the younger kids and a boy who usually doesn’t think to compliment others at that age.  This comment also happened to confront my worry that day.  My face had been broken out pretty bad and I didn’t want the kids to react in a negative way since we were swimming and it wasn’t going to be covered up.  It’s a silly thing to worry about but it filled my 18-year-old mind.  This little boy’s comment immediately made my day and realized just how thankful I am for their presence in my life.  It’s amazing how they can indirectly make me feel better without even knowing I had the problem in the first place.  The humility children have without even knowing is astounding.  

This experience opened my mind and made me realize this is a perfect example of why Jesus tells us to love others like children do (Matthew 18:3-4).  Children have this unconditional love for everyone.  They accept things in simplicity.  It’s only when we grow up when we start to question everything.  The currency of the kingdom of heaven is faith.  This is why we must have faith like a child.  I am so blessed to be a part of the SOAR family and also have the influence of every single one of these kiddo’s in my life.  We help them, and they also help us develop and learn in the faith, too!

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory now and forever.  Amen.”  2 Peter 3:18

Author: Creighton Panas