Hometown Heroes: Jacqueline Roland is doing her ‘dream job’
|Published: 06-23-2023 10:00 AM
Jacqueline Roland thought it would just be a summer internship as a 19-year-old college student at Southern New Hampshire University in 2016, working in marketing and social media at The Grapevine Family & Community Resource Center in Antrim.
But that was before she “fell in love” with the teens, families and volunteers. Now, the 26-year-old Nelson resident is director of teen programs at The Grapevine’s Avenue A Teen Center, which serves more than 300 youth from the ConVal region.
“It’s my dream job working with Avenue A,” she said. “I just couldn’t leave, and that’s why I’m still there. I feel it’s my life’s work, the best work I could be doing anywhere.”
Roland is is the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s Hometown Hero for June, having been nominated by Richard Wood, Sue Conklin and Shelly Connolly, who wrote, “The world needs more Jacqueline Rolands!”
Wood, a volunteer at Avenue A for approximately five years, wrote that he has seen the teen center grow immensely under Roland’s direction.
“Attracting youth to any event is difficult but due in large part to Jacqueline’s leadership and caring for everyone she engages with is something rarely seen,” he stated. “Evidence of her success is the continuing turnover of youths who attend programs over the years as older youths age out of the programs.”
Roland joked that the people who nominated her were biased because they are Avenue A volunteers, but added that if people knew about the teens at Avenue A, that’s who they would nominate.
“They’re really amazing people, and that’s what inspires me and the volunteers at Avenue A and our other staff,” said Roland, who added that her mentors at Avenue A have been Executive Director Melissa Gallagher and Family Support Director Carol Lunan.
Avenue A offers programs for youths from fifth through 12th grade, and has also started working with youths taking a gap year after high school. Programs include woodworking and carpentry, a “Write Out!” group and outdoor adventures, along with open hours Friday evenings for eighth- through 12th-graders, but Roland said the ideas all come from the teens.
For example, she said Avenue A is starting a fishing group because teens in the cooking program suggested it over dinner.
“We just want to listen and honor their ideas,” she said. “It’s always fresh and exciting and new.”
And there are always more teens and families to reach.
“I just tell myself, ‘We’ll get there,’” she said.
Roland said her job is liking walking with the youths through their teenage years.
“It feels like such a privilege to have the front-row cheering section for what they’ve accomplished,” she said.
However, that walk has its difficulties, as Roland sees the challenges youths go through.
“I’m a human, so I really feel for them,” she said.
Over the past five years, Avenue A has provided grief and loss groups for tragedies involving young people, working with counselors David Cope and Tina Borsa. Roland and Gallagher has also become National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Connect trainers, offering training in the community.
“We’re just always trying to be responsible to what we can do to support the community,” Roland said.
Along with the teens and families, Roland said working with the volunteers is a highlight.
“They’re really amazing people to work with,” she said. “They really love working with our teens. Just being a fly on the wall to that is really special.”
And it’s something she plans on doing for a while longer.
“I haven’t found something else that I love as much as this, and there’s more to do here,” she said.
Each month, the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript will recognize one of our region’s many Hometown Heroes. Nominate a Hometown Heroat ledgertranscript.com/SpecialPages/Hometown-Heroes.