Guest Author: Lauren Yates

There is a quote on the wall of my office that I look at daily to remind myself how far I’ve come and to get me through the day. It reads: “Someday, everything will make perfect sense. For now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.” My 18-year-old high school senior self would never believe that the path I started on would land me where I am now. My name is Lauren (Aspel) Yates and this is my Give Back Story.

I am humbled to say I am one of the founding scholars through Give Back. I still remember my interview; how nervous I was, what I wore, and two of my finest answers to the panel’s questions- how I would come home to spend time with my family using the Peoria Charter Coach and how I wanted to give back to the community through music. To say I was ecstatic when I found out I was one of the selected scholars would be an understatement. In that moment, I knew becoming a recipient of the scholarship was an honor and very significant, but the impact it would have on my future I wouldn’t comprehend for some time.

The Give Back scholarship lifted the financial burden of college for my family. I was able to graduate in 2008 from Bradley University with a degree in Music Education not only debt free, but also as the first person in my family to do so. Without the scholarship, my dream may never have become a reality. Once I started teaching, my students were constantly asking for my advice or coming to me about their problems. I knew there was more I wanted to do to give back and impact their lives. I began spending time with school counselors and realized this was the role I was searching for. I stepped away from teaching to pursue a Master’s Degree in School Counseling in 2012, graduating from Quincy University in 2015.

Shortly after graduating, I was lost and confused and felt that I would never get the chance to give back through being a school counselor. Staying in retail because it was the “easy” choice was a reality that I felt I had to settle for. I was so upset with myself for not living up to the ideals of Give Back, that I felt that I had been unworthy of the scholarship. When I hit that point, I knew I needed to snap out of it. Give Back isn’t just a monetary way to achieve a dream, it’s an ideal to strive for.

Everything does happen for a reason, and this past summer I became a school counselor at Ottawa Township High School in Ottawa, IL. I work with juniors as they navigate college applications and work with them to decide on what they want for their futures. I get to give back by helping them connect their academic, career, social and emotional development to their future plans. Being able to help plant seeds for students to see a world of possibility in front of them is contagious. Seeing them start reaching to achieve those possibilities makes my circle complete. I am giving back in a reflection of the way Give Back helped me.

Without Give Back, I would not be where I am now. Give Back provides life lessons and ideals that stay with you in every facet and journey your life takes. Give Back doesn’t give up on you, and you can’t give up on it or yourself. Your dreams can come to fruition, even if it may be a bit different than you first imagined. Never take for granted where you have come from and how far you’ve grown.

I can never thank Bob Carr enough for selecting me to be in one of the first classes of scholars and for the impact the organization has had on me since. Aside from my work with students, I hope to become a mentor and eventually grow more involved with the alumni. I am excited for the day a student at Ottawa Township High School gets to be a part of this life-changing opportunity. I can then say my Give Back journey really did happen for a reason.