By Rae Jefferson
Some believe having a passion for Jesus and a love for impacting the lives of others is enough to serve a community.
Austin senior Nicole Rohrer and Grand Lake, Colo., senior Samantha Cartmel are doing just this by hosting a night of family fun at a local high school.
A match made in the Baylor School of Social Work heaven, these two have paired up in an internship with Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas at Waco High School to coordinate Fall Family Night.
All students and their families are invited to attend the event at the school, which serves many at-risk youths.
The event, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. today in the school’s cafeteria, will include a free meal from Mexican restaurant Chipotle, a guest speaker, student performances and family resources.
Fall Family Night will be held with the intentions of increasing Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas’ relations with parents, students and school staff.
“We want for them to know that everyone is pushing for their child’s success,” Rohrer said. “We really want for families to understand what [Communities in Schools] is for so that they can utilize all the different resources that we have.”
Cartmel said the event will aim to help families understand the importance of the family unit in the lives of high school students.
“We really feel that family support is a great asset,” Cartmel said. “A lot of kids at Waco High don’t get that family support, so we want to give their families a chance to see how important that really is.”
Rohrer said families will also have access to information about resources such as food pantries, counseling centers and services to help with financial need.
“Sometimes that’s what a lot of social work is,” she said. “We refer people to services that can better meet their needs.”
According to the program’s Baylor Webpage, Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas is a non-profit “dropout prevention program” that serves schools in Waco, LaVega and Marlin Independent School Districts.
Cartmel and Rohrer intern as caseworkers within the program, which fulfills academic requirements in the Baylor social work academic track, and were assigned as many as 21 students at the beginning of the semester. They are responsible for meeting once a week with these students who face obstacles to their learning.
“If they have behavioral issues, we’ll address those things,” Rohrer said. “If there are things going on at home, we’ll connect them with resources so that they’ll have food over the weekend or have coats for the winter, or whatever they need.”
Rohrer said students are referred to the program by parents, teachers or school staff members who see a need for one-on-one guidance.
“We assess the areas in which they need to improve so that they can be successful in school and life,” she said. “We deal with a lot of different things – we wear a lot of different hats.”
The event is open to the families of any student attending Waco High, even if they are not involved with the program.
“We extended it to all of Waco High so that students who may not know about CIS can come and get involved if they need it,” Cartmel said.
She said she is not as concerned with the number of attendees as she is with getting needed resources into the hands of those who attend Fall Family Night.
“Honestly, I’m not expecting a lot of people to come,” she said. “As I said, family support is not where we’d like for it to be, but the success of it is that the people who need help and support are able to get it.”
Guest speaker Nancy Grayson, owner of Waco’s Lula Jane’s Restaurant, will speak to attendees about healthy living and building community, Rohrer said.
“She’s going to talk a lot about healthy living,” Cartmel said. “A lot of these students don’t necessarily eat the best — they may eat out at fast-food restaurants a lot — so we want to help them understand how do good things for their bodies.”
Student performances will include spoken word poetry and freestyle rapping.
“We’re really excited to showcase some talent and make these guys feel good and let them know that they’re valued,” Cartmel said.
Cartmel and Rohrer planned the event to help fulfill a Communities in Schools of the Heart of Texas internship requirement of executing a “macro intervention” within their internship site. Rohrer said macro interventions focus on impacting a large group of people at once.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What does that look like at a school level?’” Rohrer said. “We can’t really advocate for change to school policy — we don’t really have the time, authority or research to back that up, but we could let people know about the most important thing — the program resources — on a larger scale.”
Although the event was a mandatory project, Rohrer said she was motivated by other factors when planning the event.
“I just love the idea of having students, teachers and parents come together and there being a community feeling,” she said. “Going to school on a day-to-day basis can become monotonous, but seeing that there are cool, creative things going on with other students or seeing that someone cares about you changes the atmosphere and how students react to school.”
Rohrer said her passion for social work and the Waco High internship were birthed from the same place.
“What motivates me to do social work motivates me in everything I do,” she said. “I love the Lord. I love Jesus. My life is for him, and I feel like he has called me to the field of social work to fulfill the call on my life of loving on others.”
Cartmel said she endures the time- and energy-consuming field of social work because she loves to engage with people.
“I’m one of those people who just enjoys listening to others,” she said. “I enjoy helping people and meeting their needs, and letting them know that they’re valuable.”
Although Cartmel and Rohrer are not permitted to pray with students or engage in evangelistic ministry, they both said the internship has challenged them to show the love of God to others through actions, rather than words.
“In a public school setting, I can’t run down the halls yelling, ‘You need Jesus, he’s the only thing that’s going to help,’” she said. “But I can pray by myself — pray over the school while I’m walking the hallways. I can bring hope and joy and peace into this place. Sometimes it’s even just encouraging them in their strengths or letting them know someone cares about them.”
Rohrer said coordinating the event has been a challenge, but she knows the Lord is planning great things for everyone who attends.
“I’m excited about this night — what the Lord is going to be doing in this school and among these families,” Rohrer said. “Whether or not his name is talked about, or his name is said out loud, Sam and I are both people that love the Lord and are carriers of the presence of the Holy Spirit, so he’s going to be there whether or not everyone invites him there.”