By Linda White
Special to The Toronto Sun
If returning to school as mature students was a leap of faith for Glenys Acorn and Carolynn McCully, fulfilling their dream of making a difference in the lives of children and parents assures them they have safely landed on their feet.
"As a child and youth worker working with children and families, the most rewarding thing is knowing that I have helped to facilitate the achievement of their goals and helped them get to a healthier and happier place than they were before they came to us," says Acorn, 53.
Creation of S.E.E.K.
The pair met at Lambton College in Sarnia, where they were each studying to become child and youth workers (CYW). A class project and common interests brought the pair together and led to the creation of S.E.E.K. (Social Emotional Education for Kids) Services.
Acorn had held various jobs since graduating from high school, including owning and operating a gourmet catering business. A long list of volunteer experiences, including working with teens in a program called Rebound, led to her career change. Valedictorian of her graduating class in 1997, the Bright's Grove resident earned the Governor General's Award and Dean's Award.
McCully, 59, had worked primarily as a hairdresser since attending cosmetology school after high school. The Sarnia resident has also held a variety of volunteer positions, including a one-on-one counsellor at a special needs camp for autistic youth and adults.
Returning to school allowed each to pursue their dreams. "I had always had a great interest in working with children and youth and often regretted not getting the education to make it a career," McCully says. She also graduated with a Dean's award.
After graduating from Lambton in 1997, the pair delivered a CYW pilot project to local school boards. When one of the boards sought bids for a permanent CYW program in 1999, Acorn and McCully established S.E.E.K. and answered the tender.
Though they lost the contract, they remain focused on their goal. They decided to open their own business and in 2000 began offering individual and group counselling for children, youth and parents.
"Local needs assessment outcomes indicated that many children and families were falling through the cracks of service because of wait lists and/or not being deemed a critical needs case," McCully says. "Our goal was to fill those gaps in, providing early intervention and prevention services to address social and emotional needs of these clients."
The pair created numerous programs, including The Mask Project (Don't be Fooled by the Face I Wear), designed to improve a child's self-esteem. Other children's programs deal with bullying, coping with grief and adjusting to separation and divorce. Parent education and support programs include 1-2-3 Magic, which explores effective discipline for children, and Into the Fray, which deals with anger management.
The business continues to evolve. In addition to offering in-house counselling services, Acorn and McCully specialize in developing and delivering programs for community agencies and school boards. In June, S.E.E.K. was successful in its bid to supply contracted CYWs to Lambton Kent District School Board.
The pair was proud to be nominated by the college for a Premier's Award from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, presented to college graduates who've made a significant contribution to society. Though they didn't win, they did receive a certificate of recognition from the Ministry in 2002.
That year, they established S.E.E.K. Publishing to distribute the books and manuals they had been writing. The latest, Writing Matters, is a guide to report writing and record-keeping skills for those working in human services professions. It is currently being used as a course text in five colleges in Ontario.
Returning to school has served as an important reminder that learning never ends. Acorn is working as a part-time instructor in the college's CYW program and is taking courses in curriculum development and group dynamics. Both are working toward their teacher of adults certificate.
"I am constantly learning to be open to the lessons life is teaching me, both personally and professionally," Acorn says.
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