CYP: Being Our Best Selves

Kathleen McEvoy has served as executive director of Community Youth Program (CYP) for the past three years. This summer, she leaves St. John’s and Roanoke to pursue graduate work. Jackie Smith, program coordinator, will be succeeding her as executive director. Kathleen reflects on her work before she heads into a new adventure.

My office cork board is covered in notes from students, from flower drawings to handwritten Christmas cards to funny notes left as little surprises on my desk. One of my favorites reads, “Hey Ms. Kat, Don’t work too hard or you’ll get white hair.” These notes serve as constant, sweet reminders to not take life too seriously, but to work hard each day for their creators.

The note that catches my eye almost daily is from a rising fifth-grade student. She comes from a school with a rough reputation and was my homework buddy for her entire fourth-grade year. She comes from an established CYP family – her older brother and cousin attended the program too. In her Christmas card to me she wrote, “Thank you for pushing me to do better.” And at our core, that is what CYP does for everyone – it pushes us to do better.

During my time as executive director, we pushed, coaxed and encouraged students to do better in all facets of their lives. We held our children to the highest standard. We gave leadership roles to students who would typically be overlooked. We celebrated 100 percent scores on spelling tests like they were Olympic gold medals. We encouraged students to explore, to create, and, most importantly, to dream.

This spring, I watched the nervous sixth-graders, who started with me in 2015, accept their promotion to high school as confident eighth-graders. I’ve been to fifth-grade promotions, band concerts, science fairs, spelling bees and basketball games. My staff and I have stood in as faux parents when work schedules and life messed up the plan. And while we, as the adults of CYP, are often credited for creating these impressive outcomes from our students each year, it is the children of CYP who push us to do better. (Shameless brag – this school year, 81 percent of CYP students either maintained an A/B average or improved one letter grade in their math classes, along with 63 percent of students seeing the same improvement standards in their English/language arts class.)

I will be forever grateful for my time at CYP. In the same way it shapes the children we serve, CYP has molded me and I’m thankful it pushed me to do better. I started when I was 21 years old, and now at 24, I too feel like I’ve grown up with CYP.

CYP’s board of directors is unlike any other. They are always there for our students and families, and I’m incredibly humbled that they are my first “real-world” bosses. I am thankful for their countless hours of mentorship and their taking a huge leap of faith in hiring a very excited recent graduate from the University of Florida three years ago.
I am so appreciative of the genuine love and support the St. John’s community as shown for CYP. Serving as tutors, donors, and advocates for the program, we’re changing lives together.

Finally, I would like to thank my students and their families for pushing me to do better, to go into my office and win every opportunity I can for them. These children are our future, and I am honored to have been a part of their lives for three years. Every time I drive a student home, I say – “Have a great day at school tomorrow! Make a new friend! Be an awesome opossum! Be your best self!” My older students, often embarrassed by my shouting in front of the other neighborhood kids, yell back with a too cool eye-roll, “You too, Miss Kathleen! You be your best Miss Kat! See you tomorrow!” This August, when I am down at UGA for my graduate program, those car rides are some of the biggest moments I will miss.

This fall, CYP enters into its 20th year of programming. I cannot wait to see what the next 20 years of CYP has to bring.

CYP is on Facebook here.

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