Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Teacher Who (Teaches) Me Everything

It was my freshman year of college, and it’s a pretty safe bet to say that I was excited but scared out of my mind. One of my first friends in college was a couple years older than me, and she was a music therapy major.  On Mondays, she led a music therapy session, and she offered for me to be a student assistant in the session. While I was looking for ways to become involved on campus, I was excited to be involved and serving adults with developmental disabilities in this way.  My friend was and is very gifted in her profession, and she was very well-liked among the faculty of the department. Our session met in a classroom that is used as a meeting space for classes, student groups, and many other endeavors. 

One day, about two months into my freshman year, one of the music therapy professors walked into the room to prepare for a class. My friend made small talk, and eventually came to introduce me to this amazing professor, pictured above at right.

After getting to know Dr. Keith over the next few months, attending a concert he conducted, and understanding that we had more in common than most people, I knew that it would be a friendship and a mentorship that would last forever. It was soon discovered that he had longtime connections with a family member, and I felt more comfortable around him than around most people at that stage in life. 

The first portion of my college experience wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses, and there were many rough patches that are difficult to re-tell, to this day.  One of the three or four things that remained constant, however, was Dr. Keith and his unwavering support. There were times where I would walk into his office, even unsure of what was coming out of my own mouth. Dr. Keith simply listened, and he began to teach me valuable lessons for which I’ll be forever grateful.  There was a time in which i had decided to declare a music therapy major, and after many, many sessions of tears and frustration over guitar playing with Dr. Keith, it was decided, and heartbreaking, that it just wasn’t feasible. 

Later that month, Dr. Keith taught me a skill that I’ve used every single day since: how to advocate and educate in front of a group of people. In one of the courses that he teaches, he explores different categories of impairment and various interventions that may be effective in the music therapy setting. Each year, from 2009-2013, I went and told my story to his students. Dr. Keith, in this small way, allowed me to see that my story was important to him and to others, and he gave me an avenue that was informative but familiar.  For the last several years, if you were a student in Dr. Keith’s Principles with Children course, bringing a clean sock to class wasn’t out of the ordinary. 

After a couple years, it came time for me to be able to take Dr. Keith’s courses as electives.  I was overjoyed to be sitting in one of my favorite courses, Psychology of Music, with the man who’d already taught me more than I can ever quantify. It was special. If I was having a bad day, I didn’t have to say anything  for him to know that something was just “off”. It was more important to me to attend his classes out of respect for his teaching and for his knowledge than I ever may be able to adequately express. We would engage in some of the most intellectually stimulating conversation to which I have ever been exposed, and Dr. Keith and I had a special connection.

I knew several things, from a personal perspective, that connected us both at the heart and at the head. I have, and will never have, a teacher who has taught me just as much a about life outside the classroom as the academic content inside the classroom, as Dr. Keith has.  We have shared many laughs, many tears, and many frustrations, and I will forever be grateful for his willingness and for his mentorship. Everyone should have a Doug Keith in their lives. 

When it came time for me to choose an escort for graduation, it was a no-brainer. Dr. Keith, the professor who has fostered my love for music therapy, my love for research, and my genuine love for people, was the perfect person, without a doubt. I’m so grateful to he and “his” Joe for what they mean to me and all that they’ve done.  The neat thing is that just because I’m moving to Kentucky doesn’t mean we’re not there for each other. That simple fact means more than I could quantify!

Thanks a million, Dr. Keith, and just in case you’re wondering, I ain’t lyin’!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

People Are Like Plants

Bear with me for a few minutes here, folks. This is a stretch from graduate school or moving related subject matter, but in an email conversation with a mentor this week that was continued via text message,  I came to realize that people are like plants.

Before I totally lose you. think about it. When you were formed, you were but a tiny morsel, similar to the soil that provides the fertile ground on which you’ll grow and develop. Your root system, your heredity, determines your strength, and to a degree, it determines the way you’ll ultimately see the world and the way that you’ll grow and develop.

In a sense, I’m going through a period of realization in which I must remember my roots.  The flowering branches and the situational evidence for things that have happened in my life have simply colored my experience, all for the better, but remembering my roots is important in this period of stepping out into that field of unknown. When you hear of a plant being re-potted or simply relocated, it must have the exact same  conditions as before, but the fact that the plant is in a new place isn’t changing.

The fact that we need people, we need basic survival materials (food, shelter. clothing, water, etc.), and the fact that we need relationships with said people won’t change no matter where we are. Even though the honeybee sucks the pollen and nectar from the flower at the start, the process will make a beautiful flower, yet again, at the end.  Just as when I begin the great adventure to Kentucky, I’ll need the same things that I needed as a student in Georgia. They’ll be there; I just have to look in different places and become accustomed to the surroundings of Lexington, similar to he process for a plant that has been re-potted.

There’s been an intensely personal struggle with a relationship that everyone needs but that I don’t have for the last several years of my life, and I’ve been the plant with the motto to bloom where I’m planted because the adaptability of my root system speaks volumes. It’s not important to discuss this relationship dynamics, but I a honestly impressed with the resiliency of the human spirit to fill the void with thins that matter, things that can fill the spirit in equal or better ways.

Relocation requires resiliency, and deficit requires compensation, much like in the life cycle of a plant. Bloom where you’re planted,  and good things will blossom.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Why Rehabilitation Counseling? My Story

The number one question that I, or anyone who is entering a new phase of education, am asked is about my program of study. And since many are unsure of the field, I thought I’d take some time to delve into the purpose, the motives, and the duties. Equally important is my choice to enter the field, and there is certainly a story there.

When most people hear the words “rehabilitation” and “counseling”, they automatically think about substance abuse and the like. While we will work with clients who have substance abuse difficulties, we will examine and mitigate the effects of the abuse that may be disabling. In addition, it is nearly impossible for a counselor to serve a client who is an active drug user because of his or her inability to be employed.  For example, a client with many years of substance abuse may have memory recall complications. In that instance, depending on the specific circumstance, the client may find that it affects him or her in the workplace or otherwise. A rehabilitation counselor would work to find strategies to help the client to achieve the maximum level of independence and self-sufficiency possible in every aspect of life. For an adult, it may be focused in the workplace, but for a college student, the efforts would be toward success and mitigation of the effects on academic success.

Most often, according to CORE (Council on Rehabilitation Education), an accreditation organization for graduate programs, “[r]ehabilitation [c]ounseling emphasizes empowerment of individuals with disabilities to maximize employability, attain economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into American society. The philosophical foundation of rehabilitation counseling includes the belief in advocacy and the rights of people with disabilities.  Rehabilitation counseling emphasizes integration and inclusion, focusing on assets of people, and assisting in the pursuit of independence. By moving from a status of dependence to a status of independence, personal adjustment and/or the opportunity to succeed economically, via employment, can be achieved.”

Yet, you still have that question. Why? How?

You see, it started when I was 15 years old. I spent the summer volunteering nearly 50 hours per week at a children’s respite center for children who were determined to be medically fragile.  Ironically enough, most of them shared a diagnostic label with me. And as a just-turned 15 year old, that was hard to see.  I didn’t know, at the time, how to articulate exactly what I was feeling, but I know now that I was grappling with the fact that I honestly didn’t think it was fair that people with the same diagnostic label could perform and such a wide range of levels. Why were these children confined to a wheelchair, but I was the one able to walk? I’d worked brief stints in a self-contained classroom, but giving parents a break seemed like more tangible, meaningful work at that point in my life.

As life progressed and I started having to make decisions, pray over my calling, and devote my life to a purpose, I discovered rehabilitation counseling through a mentor during my junior year of high school. He was the director of disability services during my first three years of college, and he’d gotten his degree at the age of 40 while working full time and raising two children through the online degree program at the University of Kentucky. He does his work with such passion and purpose, and honestly, it was and is infectious.

The fact that my whole career will be spent advocating for and ensuring that people with disabilities are gainfully employed and have means of self-sufficiency just warms my heart. That’s the way it should be. I can’t imagine a place where just because someone looks differently or acts differently, it may affect their chances to enter the workforce. If I put my left leg into my pants first instead of my right, does it mean that I left my house without wearing pants? No. It just means that I did it a bit differently.

Next time you see someone out working in a public place who may accomplish the work task in a non-traditional way, stop and think. Now, you’re also aware of those of us who ensure that everyone is created equal within the workplace.

I ask you: Why NOT rehabilitation counseling?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Kentucky?

People who know me and who have become aware of my acceptance of the University of Kentucky's offer of admission often ask me why I chose it and how in the world I would ever choose to move 400 miles from anything I've ever known.

I thought I'd share the story that's turning out to be quite beautiful. First, you should know that the decision to attend UK and participate in the on-campus program wasn't my original intent.

In late November and early December,  prior to my graduation from college, I had a few interviews with people who worked for companies that had job openings that I desperately wanted. To my surprise at the time, I was rejected from all three and simply got discouraged.

After the first interview that I'd had, that rejection email sent me into a pile of tears for hours. Now, I know that those tears were tears of impatience. Despite the outcome,  I'm more than grateful for the experience now, but at the time, it was ruining my definition of perfect. You know, I was going to live in a quaint college town, get my Master's degree online from the same program at Kentucky, and earn a little bit of money all along the way. Granted, all of the communities and towns that I'd consider couldn't meet my transportation needs as well as actually having a public transit service readily ply available.

I spent the first month after graduation relaxing for the first time in 4.5 years and enjoying the holidays with my family. In the back of my head, there was always that question of "What's next?" lingering in the back of my head.  The end of December came, and I decided that I'd go ahead and get things ready to apply to the program. I started with an email to the Disability Resource Center at UK to inquire about services available to students. My parents and I were tucked away in a mountain cabin for New Year's, and I knew I wouldn't get a response for a few days.

On January 2, I received a phone call from the director of the DRC, and he was genuinely interested in who I was and what attracted me to my field and to the university.  We chatted for a week or so before "it" happened. I went to bed one night really content with the fact that distance learning is quite a bit less in tuition than an on-campus program and felt that I had made the right decision.  The next morning, the friend that I stayed with on my first visit messaged me via Facebook to tell me that she saw that I posted this video and that I was considering UK. She then let me know that she lives  and works in Lexington and wondered if I was actually thinking about moving there.

I hadn’t ever even considered it, and to be honest, I just didn’t think I could do it. All this talk about public transit being a real thing started to seem like just a figment of  my imagination, and more importantly, how would I survive 400 miles from home? I picked up the phone to run the idea by my mom, even though I was still skeptical myself.

To my surprise, my mom was extremely supportive and mentioned to me that I had just received a refund check that would cover my airfare costs to stay with my friend if I wanted to just to test the waters.  I knew that at that point, I had thinking and praying to do like I’d never done it before. Moving that far away from home seems daunting, but I’ve always known that prayer is a powerful thing and is a storehouse for strength when doubt comes along.

That night and for many nights after that, I prayed for clarity. I didn’t pray for answers. The next morning, it’s almost as if God audibly woke me pup that morning. I sat straight up in bed and said aloud, “I’m moving to Lexington.” I was in shock. but I threw my glasses on my face and reached for the phone to call Jake, the director of the DRC. We chatted for awhile, and I remember one of my first questions being whether or not I would be able to physically be at UK and have all of my needs met. He went on to explain that I absolutely would, some of the services that they could provide, and then he let me know that there were many students on campus in similar situations to my own.

At first, I was going to enroll as a distance learning student as planned and then visit to see if I wanted to change to an on-campus student, but I felt such a strong calling to Lexington and to the situation that was being presented that it wasn’t necessary at that point. I was able to go out there three weekends ago and absolutely fell in love.

I was in a meeting with the Accommodations Consultant who was very open in saying that it was a God thing, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m so excited to see how the journey unfolds, and I look forward to chronicling it! Patience is indeed a virtue, my friends, and it may prove that God needs you somewhere other than where you’d originally thought or intended. It’s apparent to me that there are clients in Lexington who need me, and God wants me there to help.

Here am I. Send me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My First Visit

Three weekends ago, I visited Lexington for the first time, and I am more than in love with the city. If you follow me on Facebook, you've seen the trip updates and pictures, but I thought putting them in one place would be nice. Also, I've started a Facebook page for this blog where you can (soon!) find all the posts on this blog, links, resources, and information related to graduate school, relocation state-by-state, neat Kentucky facts, and more!

My flight was at 7:00pm to leave Atlanta for Lexington. Boarding was quite simple between the gate attendant and the flight attendant's assistance. I was so excited to know that it was so easy! This, the view from my window in Atlanta:


Because what's a Delta flight without Coke and peanuts? The in-flight snack really helped to calm my overly excited nerves!


As we made initial approaches into Lexington, the man in the seat next to me taps me and whispers, "Here we are!" and I leaned over to grab this picture:

When I got to the airport and saw my friend from all the way back in 3rd grade, it was like no time had passed. Even when we were best friends at 9 years old, we'd spend hours on the phone. (Think teenage girl on your favorite sitcom.) The whole weekend was one big phone conversation catching up on college events, family happenings, and the like. We graduated high school together, but somewhere between third and twelfth grade, we just lost touch. It was so nice to chat literally all weekend. I was starving by the time we'd gotten to her house, so we had spring rolls and rice for a late dinner. 

Early the next morning, I was awake at the crack of dawn out of excitement. I had scheduled paratransit service from my friend's house to campus, and I was told that they'd be there by 8:30. At 8:15,  there was a knock on the door. The driver had come all the way to the door to assist me with steps, bags, etc. and onto the bus. For the small fee that it costs, the service is wonderful! I'm so relieved that the level of independence that the service offers will be available, and I just can't wait! I had a 9am meeting with the Accommodations Consultant in the Disability Resource Center, and I can say for certain that the services and the willingness to help makes me all the more excited for four months from now! Then, I was graciously given a private golf cart tour of campus (thanks, Sarah!) sponsored by the UK Visitor Center.  Check them out if you're interested in a campus tour! It was phenomenal. The guide even stopped so that I could take a few pictures along the way:

This is historic Memorial Hall. Aside from the library, when you see a picture of UK, it's usually of this building. It is absolutely stunning, and its architecture reminds me of my undergraduate institution.

This is William T. Young Library, probably the most famous building on campus. It is the second largest academic library in the nation next to Harvard, and most importantly, it has a Starbucks inside.

That afternoon, after having lunch in a tall tower in the center of campus and visiting the bookstore, I used the paratransit service to head home. The same quality was presented on the return trip, and to be quite honest, it makes me so much more excited to be in Lexington. We enjoyed dinner and frozen yogurt after both of our days had ended, and then we headed off to the Movie Tavern, where you can order food and beverage while you watch a movie. It was a neat experience, and I would highly recommend checking to see if there's one in your area!

On Saturday, we started by apartment hunting and touring a bit of the city, and then we stopped off at Good Foods, the co-op in town that has all organic, non-GMO products, along with a cafe and bakery. I was fascinated and plan to take full advantage.

Probably the highlight of my Saturday, aside from finding the perfect apartment complex, was meeting the AcoUstiKats and seeing them perform at the Woodford Theatre. They are UK's premier male acapella group and have been made recently famous by NBC's The Sing Off. Getting to meet and take photos with these guys was so much fun!

Then,  on Sunday, we toured the town and the downtown areas, and a few pictures that I took are truly what I've always thought of Kentucky to look like. Take a peek:


Unfortunately, early Monday morning meant it was time to head to the airport to fly home. In the time that I was there, I became even more excited to call Lexington my new Kentucky home in four short months and can't thank my friend Robin enough for being such a wonderful tour guide and hostess. I'm so thankful for such a warm and inviting place to call home soon!