A mainstay in the Joliet community for more than 90 years, the Greater Joliet Area YMCA brings families together, encourages good health, and fosters connections through fitness, sports, fun and shared interests. For former YMCA summer day camp staffer Mariah Johnson, the Y not only helped her build connections in the community, but also supported her goal of becoming a teacher.
From an early age, Johnson knew she wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of children. With her mother being a Family Ministries Pastor, she always found herself surrounded by children and she loved every minute of it. Yet the defining moment for Johnson came in eighth grade when she took an aptitude test, which is used to determine an individual’s potential to succeed at any given task or role. And, she was surprised by her test results.
“My suggested profession was to become a teacher and I remember telling my teacher at the time that I wanted to be a mother when I was older,” Johnson explained. “But my teacher opened my mind to the possibility of being both a mother and teacher one day—which was something I had never thought about before.”
From that conversation forward, Johnson set her sights on becoming a teacher. And, upon graduating from Minooka Community High School, Johnson was accepted into Wheaton College, where she went on to study elementary education. While in college, Johnson knew she needed to get some experience working with children before jumping into her career. During her job search, her friend from church encouraged her to apply for a position as a summer day camp counselor at the Smith Family YMCA in Joliet.
During her interview at the Y, she knew instantly that it was a perfect fit.
“I loved that the Y was a Christian organization that instills positive values, and they provide activities for children that go beyond the mind,” Johnson said.
Johnson worked as a summer day camp counselor at the Smith Family YMCA for three consecutive years while she was in college. Although she fully enjoyed each of her three years working as a camp counselor, this year’s summer camp experience proved to be the most transformative thanks to a chance meeting with a local school district superintendent.
Last spring, just before the beginning of camp, Mariah attended an open house with Smith Family YMCA Executive Director Donnie Chestnutt for the Y’s new off-site camp at Fairmont School. While at the open house, Chestnutt remembered that Mariah had just graduated and she was seeking a career as a teacher. And, knowing Johnson’s passion for working with children, she introduced her to Fairmont School District’s Superintendent Diane Cepela.
From that moment, everything seemed to fall into place. Superintendent Cepela gave Johnson a tour of the school that same day, and Cepela was immediately impressed by Johnson’s ability to articulate, her composure and her demeanor.
“I could feel her character, which is a hard thing to describe, but I could tell she was a caring person and working with children was her calling,” said Cepela.
After a short tour and conversation, Cepela quickly scheduled an interview with Johnson for the following Monday. And, by Tuesday, Johnson was offered the position as a third-grade teacher for the 2019-2020 school year.
Overjoyed with her job offer, Johnson couldn’t believe the opportunity that was in her ‘backyard’ and was grateful the YMCA helped her to see the community in ways she never imagined.
“I wouldn’t have known about Fairmont School District or even applied for the job without the support and the community the Y provided me with,” said Johnson.
With the school year underway, Johnson is adjusting nicely to her new role at Fairmont School. Numerous students recognize her from the Y’s summer camp and they enjoy spending time with her at the beginning of the school day; even if it’s just to say ‘hi.’ In the future, Johnson looks forward to many fun and rewarding moments with her students. And, she is eager to help shape the minds of many students in years to come.
Congratulations, Miss Johnson! We are proud of you and the amazing work you will do at Fairmont School.
If you’re are looking to take an active role in bringing about meaningful, enduring change right in your own community, the Y is looking to fill a number of positions. To view all available positions or to apply online, please visit www.jolietymca.org