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Do what you love, love what you do

Ashley Dawson is the Project UNIFY Manager for SOMO. You can reach her at 

I’m one of those truly lucky people who get to wake up in the morning and love what they do. Of course there are frustrations, because what fun would life be if everything went smoothly and you never encountered an obstacle. But I get to wake up and go to one of two jobs – mom to my almost 3-year-old, or Project UNIFY Manager for Special Olympics Missouri. When I first decided to stay home with my daughter almost 2 years ago, I never imagined there would also still be a place at SOMO that fit me so well. Working with my boss to make a plan for how I could still make an impact at SOMO and help support my family and be home with my daughter more, we created a position to manage the very large job of overseeing youth initiatives and reporting data in accordance with our substantial grant.

My expectations were pretty low (don’t tell my boss!), knowing that I was leaving a position I loved, that suited my strengths very well, and taking a position that had seemingly less to challenge me professionally. After a year of getting my feet under me, I feel like I’ve only grown more and more to see the potential of youth in Missouri and am daily inspired by what schools and teens are doing in their local community. I’ve watched high schoolers step up and lead a school-wide Respect Rally. I’ve heard teachers sit down side-by-side and discuss roadblocks – not to complain, but to find a SOLUTION. I’m fortunate to get to peek inside the challenges teachers face, and lucky to be able to sit and think about how I can work with them to overcome obstacles that stand in the way (often inadvertently) of creating a welcome, inclusive, positive environment in schools across the state.

At our last YAC meeting, a room full of students was led by a freshly elected president (a freshman in college). They hammered out sub-committees, and identified adult advisors (teachers and staff). They worked independently to accomplish goals they set for themselves. At the same time, our ELN sat in a room and heard from several people about presentations and conferences they had attended and were inspired by. They brought back tons of information to share with other teachers in our group.

For a girl who always dreamed of being a teacher, being surrounded by so many inspiring teachers and students each time I set foot in my office or attend a meeting, is a real blessing. Not only do I get to see young students well exceeding people’s expectations (mine included!), but I get to work with them and challenge myself and them to dream even bigger.