Rollins' Graduate Students Support Local Nonprofit Organizations

April 09, 2009

At Rollins' Hamilton Holt School, graduate counseling candidates in the mental health counseling program of study have a unique opportunity to gain real-world experience at the Practical Academic Cultural Education (PACE) Center for Girls in Orange County.

PACE is a Florida-based, nationally-recognized nonprofit prevention program for adolescent at-risk girls. Through education, training, counseling and advocacy, the dedicated team at PACE provides young women with the opportunity for a better future. Recognizing the great work achieved at PACE, Professor of Graduate Studies in Counseling Kathryn Norsworthy saw a unique opportunity for her students to support the organization’s mission through staff support.

Each Wednesday, Norsworthy and her team of Rollins College graduate students provide mental health support to the staff at PACE in individual and group sessions. The afternoon begins with one-on-one listening partnerships between staff and students.

PACE teacher advisor Laverne Jordan described the experience as awesome. “It has been so enlightening because this work forces me to give out all of the time,” she said. “When you’re at that level 24/7, you get burnt out. I was burnt out. My listening partner helped me to find ways to focus on me. She’s helped me to make some profound changes and has helped tremendously.”

Following their session with listening partners, participants can experience a unique, group stress reduction program co-facilitated by Norsworthy and her students. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Group was developed at the University of Massachusetts  by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. The program focuses on body awareness exercises and meditations to decrease stress. PACE science teacher Josh Loebenberg participated in the group session because of his high stress level.

“I’ve learned to take time for myself and to live in the moment,” he said. “At first it was daunting, but now I look forward to it every week. Actually, I wasn’t feeling well this morning and thought about taking the day off today. But I remembered that the Rollins students come on Wednesday and I changed my mind.”

Both individual and group sessions are held at PACE during the staff’s regular work day. PACE executive director Jill Gentry saw the program as a great employment benefit. “It was an easy choice to make this part of their work day. They have to be ‘on’ all of the time for the girls we serve, but this is an opportunity for them to take care of themselves,” said Gentry. “I have a funny feeling that they’ll want to continue the sessions long after the eight weeks are over.”

Special projects manager Charity Frankowski of PACE loves to bring Rollins students to PACE. “We have had such a positive connection with Rollins through a number of internship programs and we are just so grateful and look forward to having the students on site as much as possible.” 

According to Norsworthy, the strength of the unique PACE-Rollins partnership is in its mutuality. “We’re training future counselors and social change agents. Our students have the opportunity to not only gain a deeper understanding of the stresses and strains of those currently doing advocacy and social justice work, but the students also gain a deeper understanding of what it means to counsel people with a wide range of human experiences,” notes Norsworthy. “Their preparation at PACE teaches them a lot about what it means to be global citizens.”

- Megan Licata (Rollins MBA, Class of 2010)

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