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Catawba College's Tara Ketcham Receives Statewide Community Impact Student Award

November 16, 2006

Category: Academics, Religion & Philosophy, Students


Tara Ketcham Receives AwardTara Ketcham, of Catawba College, received the inaugural North Carolina Campus Compact (NCCC) Community Impact Student Award on November 11, 2006 at North Carolina State University during the annual NCCC Student Conference. This award will be presented each year to students who have made significant, innovative contributions to campus-based efforts to address community needs. Ketcham was one of 21 college students from across North Carolina to be recognized for their outstanding achievements.

North Carolina Senator Janet Cowell and Representative Linda Coleman presented the award to Ketcham during the conference's Awards Ceremony Luncheon before an audience of more than 240 college students representing 26 schools and 3 states.

Ketcham, who hails from Plymouth, Ind., is a junior majoring in Religion and Philosophy. She enjoys listening to others and is an active mentor and plans to pursue a career in social work. She is a tutor and mentor at Knox Middle School and has also worked with Habitat for Humanity and other service organizations. Tara is a member of Volunteer Catawba, the service organization on campus.

North Carolina Campus Compact (NCCC) is a growing statewide coalition of college and university presidents and chancellors in North Carolina established to encourage and support campus engagement in the community. 

For more information, contact Juliet Burras at (336) 278-7278.  ;


Tara Ketcham's Op-Ed on Her Work at Knox Middle School ;

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Editor's Note:  Tara Ketcham is a junior religion and philosophy major at Catawba College who plans to pursue a career in social work. She is also the recipient of Catawba's prestigious First Family Scholarship. 

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She has worked with the Communities in Schools (CIS) program at Knox Middle School since 2004, logging more than 1,200 hours. There, she has mentored about 50 students on a regular basis, and still others on a less frequent basis.

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In recognition of her volunteer work at Knox Middle School, Tara was recently awarded the inaugural N.C. Campus Compact's Community Impact Student Award. 

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Her ultimate goal, she says "is that when I die, I want everyone at my funeral to talk about what a wonderful person I was and how I made a difference in the world and be able to tell the truth."

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Following are her thoughts on her work at Knox Middle School, in the first person.

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With Love and Compassion
Tara KetchamWhen I started at Knox Middle School in August of 2004, I did not know what to expect. I came from a rather sheltered background. I am from Plymouth, Indiana. It is a very small town that is predominantly white, middle-class, and Christian. I did community service work in Plymouth, but it still did not prepare me for Knox.
I had worked with elementary school children who did not speak English. I tutored middle school students who were emotionally and mentally challenged. I worked with older adults, with and without physical disabilities. All of these helped me to see that people do have challenges.

When I stepped foot onto Knox' campus, I was expecting it to be like the middle school that I had attended. It was not. First of all, Knox is predominantly African-American.  Also, a majority of the students there are in poverty. Some of their parents lost jobs when the textile mills closed in Salisbury. I thought that the students would not relate to me because I had such a different background from them. I was wrong.

The kids welcomed me. They thought I was interesting and cool. I was a college student taking interest in them. That was all that mattered to them. I was amazed.

Soon after I started, I realized that these kids were different than kids in my middle school. I started to pay more attention. I started to listen and watch. I realized that these kids had far more problems than I could ever have imagined. The kids opened up to me. I found that some of the kids had been abused, some of them had drug-addicted parents or parents in prison, and some of them just had parents who do not care. As a result, a lot of them were in trouble constantly and always acting out.

I did not know where to start to help these kids. I tried desperately to make them focus on their schoolwork. This was not helping. I knew I had to go deeper. A child cannot be expected to concentrate on what happened in 1776, or how rocks form, or why verbs are important if their home life is a mess.

So I listened and let them vent. I gave suggestions and used positive reinforcement. Drawing helped some of them. Writing in a journal helped some of them. Just walking around campus quietly for half an hour helped some of them. It is tough to figure out which child needs what. But it is definitely very worth it. The kids who I help today can go on to make a difference in the world.

I have learned so much from the kids at Knox Middle. They have seen a whole lot of things that I hope I never have to see. And they are so young — eleven to fifteen years old. But they just keep going. They never give up. And that is something that I know a lot of adults could not do.

These children are strong, despite their disadvantages in life. They taught me to keep going no matter how rough life can get. And they have taught me to never take life for granted and to be thankful for all of the things that I have in my life. And most importantly, these kids taught me to never judge. They made me feel welcome despite my differences. And that is how I learned to help them – looking beyond their differences and problems. They have taught me how to relate to others in my everyday life — with love and compassion.