Kathy Christenson has been mentoring youth for nearly two decades. For fifteen years, Kathy was a dedicated teacher, educating special needs students from kindergarten through fifth grade. After moving to Jacksonville, Florida, Kathy continued her passion for service and helping youth. When she saw that Habitat for Humanity was in need of a volunteer to assist with educational programming she jumped to the challenge. Kathy worked to establish tutoring programs and recruit community volunteers. Her work with Habitat for Humanity quickly transformed into a full time position where she worked to partner with other community organizations. Through this position, she began to administer Take Stock in Children, a Florida wide program that provides mentors for secondary school students in low income range.
With Kathy’s background in community service and providing assistance to youth being well known, Congressman Ander Crenshaw of Florida’s 4th Congressional District, reached out to Habitat to see if they could adapt The Congressional Award into their various outreach programs. Kathy ultimately decided to, “dive in and see what happens!” as she says. She quickly got a good response from students!
Kathy views The Congressional Award as, “a very personal commitment” and finds it necessary that adults “help them (participants) grow with each accomplishment”. As an advisor she sees an impact in her mentees through, “growth in self-confidence, social skills, and exposure to community organizations”. Kathy’s commitment to The Congressional Award has produced growth in the greater Jacksonville area. She has even inspired another teacher to serve as an advisor for youth pursuing the award. When asked how she would guide a student who was considering The Congressional Award challenge Kathy wisely responded, “I would only encourage a student to begin the journey if they felt they were ready for this commitment. If they are, it can lead to wonderful learning experiences and feeling proud knowing they are making a difference in their community. It will lead them to a sense of gratitude for the opportunity to serve. And, gratitude leads to happiness.”
On January 28, 2014, seven of Kathy’s participants were presented Congressional Awards by Congressman Crenshaw. This was a very exciting event for Kathy and her mentees! One of her participants, Destiny Bronson, reflected on a time when she was presented with a challenge and Kathy was able to offer guidance and support. Destiny recalled, “I was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd of over 300 executive women, but the support from her [Kathy] kept me clam. Overall, the event was great and got press recognition and everyone was so pleased with the way myself and the other girls hosted the event. Kathy told everyone how great I did and how successful the ceremony and I wouldn’t have the experience if she couldn’t have referred me.”
This week is another very important time for Ms. Christenson. Kathy has been selected to present the Congressional Award program as an excellent activity for engaging older youth in after school programs at this year’s National AfterSchool Association Conference in New York City. This further exemplifies Kathy’s passion for the program and getting youth involved in their communities.