It is with full hearts that GRACE says goodbye this year to our Lower Campus Principal, Kathie Thompson. For every family that has been a part of GRACE in the last 30+ years, it is likely that somewhere in their GRACE memory is a fond one of Kathie. It is fitting, then to close out this school year, and the last Staff Spotlight, to get to know a little more about Kathie, her faith, her passions, and her hope for the future.
Kathie grew up in Elon, North Carolina. When she lived there it was called Elon College, because of the local college. When Elon College reached university status and changed their name to Elon University, her little hometown became Elon. Kathie has one brother, who is three years younger than she. When he was born, Kathie really thought he was all hers! Her brother is a pastor now and she is so proud of how he loves and serves the Lord as he teaches God’s Word and loves and shepherds people. The two siblings have always been close, but the last few years have been especially precious as both their parents are now deceased. Although Kathie only has one sibling, she has a large number of cousins and we are very close too. They spent lots of time together growing up and many of them are closer to her than many folks are with their siblings.
Not surprisingly, Kathie remembers that she “absolutely loved school” and has many wonderful memories from her days in elementary, middle, and high school. She shares that her love of books definitely comes from the exposure to great books by many of her teachers. Some of her best memories are of special activities that her teachers planned for her classes. She specifically recalls that her fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lowe, loved folk dancing so they learned the presidents’ names as well as the states and capitals to dance steps. To this day, Kathie admits that she goes through the dance steps in her head when she is trying to remember those facts.
Kathie shares that another highlight from her school days was when a new high school was built and her eighth-grade class inherited the home economics wing of the old high school building. She remembers that their “classroom” was like a mini-house, complete with a kitchen, dining room, and living room. They utilized all the space for projects, experiments, etc. and had lots of freedom /privileges within their classroom, and were allowed to try non-traditional methods of learning. Their teacher, Mrs. Parrish, instilled in Kathie a thirst for learning. She challenged all her students to stretch themselves as scholars and attempt the more difficult assignments and lessons. Kathie concludes, “Much like GRACE teachers, she gave Kathie and her classmates the opportunity to experience learning.”
Kathie’s long career in education bears witness to her passion for children. Kathie has strong memories of her eighth-grade teacher, Wilma Parrish, and the example she set of being an excellent teacher. Kathie has stayed in touch with her and has been able to thank her for her influence. Another mentor for Kathie was Martha Barbour, the principal of the first Christian school she taught in. Martha loved the Lord passionately and she fulfilled her calling to love and lead the children He placed in her care with humble dedication and service. Kathie is grateful to her for the impact Martha has had on her life. Kathie also cites her grandmother as a wonderful spiritual role model. She had a strong faith in the Lord and loved Him deeply. Kathie remembers her as a humble lady who served others in simple, yet powerful ways. Kathie remembers her sitting at the kitchen table reading her worn Bible each morning and fondly recalls seeing her kneel by her bedside at night to pray.
Kathie taught school for several years before her daughter, Krista, was born. About the same time Krista was ready for kindergarten, Kathie was ready to return to teaching. Kathie and her husband, GW, attended a Christian music concert at Mount Olivet Baptist Church and discovered that there was a Christian school there. Mount Olivet Christian School was a small school, but they immediately felt at home when they visited. Kathie interviewed for a teaching position that was open and realized that her philosophy of Christian education that prepared students well academically was aligned with that of the school’s.
As a teacher, Kathie loved watching students get excited about learning and seeing them love reading. She enjoys the same thing as a principal. She enjoys watching her students grow and mature. It’s especially exciting to see how God’s plan for their lives comes about and seeing them as adults with families. She also loves “doing life” with students and their families. Celebrating and laughing through the joys of life and weeping together through loss or sorrow builds a strong community and Kathie enjoys being part of a community.
Given that Kathie has spent her entire career in elementary education, it is not surprising that her ministry focus over the years has also been with children and youth. She has been involved with various youth and children’s ministries within her church and through other ministries, including mission trips to Eleuthera, Bahamas with GRACE and to South Africa and Zimbabwe with an organization called Reaching a Generation. The ministry Kathie is most passionate about is Royal Family Kids, a ministry to children in foster care with a mission to create life-changing moments for children of abuse. Kathie has been involved with RFK for twenty-one years and considers it a privilege to fulfill the meaning of James 1:27 and share God’s love with the children and give them hope in their lives.
When asked about the Bible, Kathie admitted to many favorite and significant Bible verses, but one that has been meaningful to her over the years is Micah 6:8. She likes it because she believes it gives her direction for how I should live. Although she may not always be successful, she tries to do the things as Micah 6:8 directs, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
When asked to share something that most people don’t know about her, Kathie replied, “Most people do not know that when I first entered college I planned to get a degree in social work and join the Peace Corps.” She also shared that both her mother’s maiden name and her mother-in law’s maiden name was Marie Thompson. She says this makes for many funny and interesting conversations at family gatherings.
When asked to share some final words of wisdom, Kathie replied, “I want my students to know how much I loved the Lord and I want each of them to have a personal relationship with Him. I also want them to have seen me serve Him with my very best. I want them to know that I love and believe in them. I want them to know that every moment matters!”
Whitney Spencer teachers 6th grader English and School Success and enjoys both passing on her love for literature and equipping her students with the organizational and time management skills they need to be successful in life.
When asked to share a memory from her own school days, Whitney was quick to recall multiple performing arts events. In elementary school, she was selected to participate in a play put on by the Virginia Ballet Company. Whitney was a dwarf in their rendition of Snow White and the EIGHT Dwarfs. Perhaps it was this twist on a classic tale that gave Whitney her passion for literature! During her middle and high school years, Whitney was home-schooled which gave her the time necessary to continue her pursuit of acting, and during her teen years, she was a member of a community theater apprenticeship. Homeschooling also gave Whitney the opportunity to participate in a lot of hands-on and trip-based learning experiences and she remembers first-hand the impact these “out-of-the-classroom” experiences had on her desire to learn.
Whitney’s desire to be a teacher has been present since kindergarten. She admits to lining her stuffed animals up and “teaching them” what she was learning in school. She was motivated by many who taught her as well as her mom, who passed away four years ago. Whitney loves working at GRACE and says it is the best Christian school she has taught at. She loves the level of professionalism and our loving and Christ-centered community, and she loves coming to work every day!
As a teacher, Whitney enjoys building relationships with her students. She shares that not only does she love being able to reach her students both academically, but loves having the ability to speak truth into their lives and love on them in Christ! Whitney has a strong desire to see them believe in themselves and strive for their best! She wants her students to know that that hard work and effort are the keys to overcoming, but more importantly, she wants them to know that they need Christ as their Savior, that their self-worth and identity should be found in Christ, and that they should view learning as the greatest journey they could ever take. She also wants them to know that they, like she, are not a finished product and there is always time to improve because they have the power of “Yet” on their side!
During her own teen years, Whitney remembers being teased a lot for not doing things that her friends were doing. She recalls, “I knew they were things I shouldn’t do, and I knew the Lord wouldn’t want me to participate, but it was hard to stand on the outside of the circle and feel like I was missing out.” During this time, her favorite Bible verse was Proverbs 23:17-18, “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” Whitney explained that these verses helped remind her that she wasn’t missing out! she was doing exactly what her Savior would have her do!
As an adult, Whitney’s favorite verse changes with whatever season she is walking in. Currently, her family is facing some hard times, and her verse has been Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Whitney explained that this verse is a great reminder that sometimes the Lord calls us to stillness and resting in His promise to take care of our circumstances. Whitney and her family have allowed themselves to be part of God’s care for children who are hurting, have been hurt, or who need for basic amenities that aren’t supplied to them. Their family is proactive in helping care for the hurting through their church, and on their own. The Spencer home is currently a refuge to some in need. In this capacity, the Spencer’s are part of God’s provision for those in difficult circumstances.
Whitney was born in Richmond, Virginia and lived there until she was nine. At that time, her family moved to northern West Virginia, near the Snowshoe and Canaan Valley Ski Resorts. The timing of this moved seemed providential as Whitney was nine years hold when she met the man she now calls her husband. They started dating when they were juniors in high school, broke up during their college years, reconnected after college, reunited, and were married five years later! They are parents to three boys, Hunter (4), Thorin (2), and Lincoln (newborn).
Whitney has many hidden talents including being a featured artist on a southern gospel CD that her dad recorded. He has recorded three CDs and is working on a Christmas album this summer. Whitney also shares that she was, in fact, a princess in the Mountain State Forest Festival that takes place in Elkins, West Virginia each fall! Elkins is a small, sleepy, Gilmore-Girls-like town with a year-round population of 7,000 and attracts more than 70,000 visitors each year to the festival. Whitney was selected by both city and state officials to be part of the royal court.
This week’s spotlight is shining on one of GRACE’s staff couples (this year there are three sets of couples where we have both the husband and the wife on staff). Kristin Foxworth-O’Brien (Mrs. FOB to her students), and her husband Daniel joined the GRACE staff three years ago when they moved to North Carolina. We recently asked them each to respond to a few questions to get to know them better. The questions and their responses appear below.
Would you be willing to share a memorable event from your own elementary, middle, or high school experience?
Kristin – I wore duct tape to my senior prom! I was in a crafting phase where I loved making things out of duct tape–purses, wallets, belts…so when I learned about the scholarship contest for students who make their prom clothes out of duct tape, I was all for it! I made a dress for myself and a dress for my best friend, and I wore it for the entire dance. It was terribly uncomfortable and I was sweating like a pig the entire time, in case you were wondering (you probably weren’t).
Daniel – When I was seventeen I accepted Christ at a youth group bonfire after a football game. It changed my life.
What is your favorite Bible verse and why is that verse meaningful to you?
Kristin – I love Matthew 6:34, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I am a planner! I hate surprises, I hate not knowing what comes next, I hate not being in control, so this verse is a great reminder for me to just trust in the Lord to provide for me and His plan is better than mine. I need to remind myself to quit worrying about the future and just trust Him.
Daniel– My favorites passages of Scripture are Psalm 34 and Psalm 57. They are both reminders to me of God’s control over everything and encouragement to put all faith and trust in Him, especially when I’m anxious and worried about things.
Where did you grow up? What are some memories of your family, siblings, pets, friends, etc.?
Kristin – I am a military brat and a pastor’s kid, so I’ve been moving around my entire life. When people would ask me where I’m from, I used to joke and just say, “my mama” because it was easier than explaining how much I’ve moved around. But my family roots are really in Georgia, where my grandparents lived for most of my life, and where I spent my teenage and college years. I’m also the middle child of three girls, so I learned early on to be a flexible and cooperative person. I attended the University of Georgia where I got my degree in English education and ESOL certification. After graduating I took a position with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and moved to Koriyama City, Fukushima, Japan. I taught English there for two years before moving back home and teaching at a public school in Georgia before marrying my husband and coming to GRACE.
Daniel – I grew up in Chardon, Ohio, about 20 minutes east of Cleveland. I have one sister, and our family has always had cats. In high school, I was interested in art, comics, and music, and was generally an all-around nerdy person. I’m still best friends with my high school buddy Jake, whom I’ve known for over 15 years. I attended Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio where I originally intended to major in art. But I ended up changing my major to English education when I realized I didn’t want to do art as a career. From there, I substitute taught in public school for a little while before moving to Funehiki Town, Fukushima, Japan to teach with a missionary program called Wakakusa English. I worked with them for three years before coming back to the states to pursue library and media studies at UNCG. I actually graduated last Friday on May 4th!
How did you meet?
We met at a small Baptist church in Koriyama when we were both in Japan. Kristin was late to church, and Daniel sat in her pew. The rest is history! We dated long distance after Kristin moved back to the states and were finally reunited on June 20th, 2015 when we got married.
What is something that most people do not know about you (besides Kristin’s duct tape prom dress) that you are willing to share?
Kristin – I was a huge anime nerd in high school and college. I went to anime conventions and even cosplayed!
Daniel – I first started playing electric guitar for my best friend’s punk band, and then later joined him in a polka band. The band still exists and sounds a whole lot better than when we started. I don’t play in it anymore but always catch a show when they’re playing nearby.
What does life look like in the O’Brien house?
We currently live in Cary with our cat, a nine-year-old orange tabby named Canyon. We attend Fairview Baptist Church. Together we love to travel, hike, play tabletop games, and collect records.
What is a ministry that you are passionate about?
Together we lead the college and international student life group at our church alongside Byron and Marcia Wingerd. Daniel also plays guitar in the worship band and Kristin loves assisting with crafts during VBS.
What motivated you to become a teacher and how did you both end up on staff at GRACE?
Kristin – I started to feel God’s call to teaching in my life not long after I became a Christian in 4th grade. It sounds strange to be so young and know that, but I’ve always felt very strongly that this is the spiritual gift God chose to bestow on me. I have also had some wonderful teachers in my life, who have inspired me in so many ways. My high school drama teacher, Patti Wurtz, stands out to me as an example of a teacher who was fully committed to her students and fully committed to the Lord. I still have several books she gave me when I got my first teaching job, including a book of poems she was given by a mentor when she first became a teacher. I treasure it greatly.
Daniel: God chose GRACE for us! In the months leading up to our wedding, I was in North Carolina searching for a media specialist position and Kristin was searching for an English teaching position while still in Georgia. When I interviewed at GRACE, I was asked about my teaching degree and whether or not I would be interested in teaching English. My reply was, “I’m not, but my fiancée is.” So here we both are!
If there was one “thing” your students learned from you, what would you want it to be?
Kristin – I would love for my students to leave my classroom with empathy and compassion for others, and to realize that they can pursue their passions AND glorify God at the same time. Another thing, and this is going to sound so cliché, but trust the Lord in everything. Every time I have tried to plan things for myself, things never work out. It’s only when I surrender my plans to the Lord and submit to His will that He opens a door I never even knew existed, and is so much better than what I planned for myself.
Daniel – You can still be an individual and be a Christian. When I was growing up I felt a lot of pressure to fit in, but when I became a Christian I realized I didn’t have to fit into a specific mold to please anyone else. It wasn’t about “conforming to the shape of this world” as Paul wrote, but about the transforming of the mind through Christ–and I could have a transformed mind and still be a misfit nerd who loves comics and record-collecting. There is joy in the freedom that comes with being fully redeemed and also fully yourself.
Miranda Kaluka grew up down the street from GRACE in Hillsborough, North Carolina. According to Miranda, it was a pretty small town back then and a place where everyone knew everyone. Miranda recalls that no matter where they went, even the gas station, they would see someone they knew. Miranda has fond memories of growing up and spending her childhood with her younger sister, Jessica, playing in the woods or in a pretend world with their Barbies and baby dolls. Growing up, Miranda was very involved in their small Baptist church in Durham. When not in school, church, or playing with her sister, she danced (ages 2-17), played soccer, and was a cheerleader.
Both of her parents worked full-time, so summers were spent with her grandparents on their ten acres of farmland in Mebane. Miranda shares that some of her happiest memories come from those summers on the farm. She also confesses that her summer memories are what likely fuel her passion for the show “Fixer Upper” and why she longs to one day have a farmhouse with a bunch of chickens running around.
After high school, Miranda moved to Lynchburg, Virginia to attend Liberty University with the plan of transferring back to NC State to get her civil engineering degree. The Lord had other plans for her though. On freshman move-in day, at 17 years old, she met a handsome New Jersey boy named Jesse. Miranda recalls, “I had never met anyone quite like this fella and his heart for the Lord was the main thing that attracted me to him.” After dating a year, Miranda began to reconsider moving back to NC and pursuing her original plan. Jesse asked her if there was something other than civil engineering that she might be interested in and Miranda answered, “Well, I like kids so maybe I could teach?” Miranda admits that yes, she changed her major to teaching…for a guy. Three years later, that guy became her husband and after six moves, they settled in Apex where they live with their three kids: 4th grader Miller, 2nd grader Ellie, and TK-er Thaxton.
After taking a nine-year break from teaching to raise her three kiddos, Miranda returned to the classroom full-time when she stepped in last January to fill the void left when a job transfer took her predecessor to Chicago. Miranda shares that each of her children are wildly different and they have helped her connect with her students in a whole new way. She hopes that when students enter her classroom, they feel accepted, they learn to love learning, and they understand that a relationship with Jesus is what she wants most for them in their little lives.
Miranda and Jesse have been members of The Summit Church since 2010 and have been very involved in their children’s ministry. They started at the Brier Creek campus where Miranda briefly ran the Awana Cubbies program, worked part-time as a Children’s Director, and led special needs classes. Since settling in Apex, the Kaluka’s now attend Summit’s Apex campus.
When asked to identify her favorite pastimes, Miranda replied that outside of her family, she loves being outdoors, working in her gardening, doing yard work, and watching her kids do what they love to do (both boys play soccer and Ellie is involved in gymnastics). She also enjoys going on dates with her husband, girl’s nights with my Bible study friends, and missions (especially those involving children).
Miranda shares that the very first verse that her preschoolers had to memorize in Awana Cubbies was Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Miranda explains that this is her favorite verse because it puts us all on an even playing field, “As soon as I start to think that I am awesome or somehow worthy of God’s glory on my own, this verse reminds me that I am part of the ALL here.” She also stated that she loves how it doesn’t just end there as verse 24 continues by saying, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” This is the verse that drives her to want to tell the world that we are ALL justified because of Jesus!
The quintessential California skateboarder/surfer, Jonah Bookman, was actually born in snowy Minnesota and lived there until he was six. At that point, his family moved to Dallas while his dad attended seminary and three years later, when Jonah was nine, the Bookman family moved to California. Because California is where he grew up, Jonah considers himself a Californian. Jonah has two older sisters; Erika, the oldest, lives in Savannah, Georgia with her husband and their five adopted kids. Kea is the middle child, lives in Cary and has three daughters enrolled at GRACE and one GRACE alumna (Class of 2016) who attends UNC.
Jonah chose to teach at GRACE in part because his family had all left California for North Carolina and they had been trying to get him to move here for years. One day, when he was feeling particularly grumpy about his life in California, his sister Kea called and said there was a job opening at her kids’ school. Jonah shares that he applied for the opening, somewhat on a whim, but admits that God opened doors in such a way that was impossible for him to deny that this was the next step for him. Since moving here three and a half years ago, Jonah was introduced to his beautiful wife by a GRACE student (pictured above). They married after 11 weeks of courtship and now they have a beautiful baby boy. Jonah concludes, “God is incredibly good.”
Students on the upper campus enjoy learning history from Mr. Bookman, but most of them don’t know the very unlikely path that brought him into a career in education. When asked about his own school experiences, Jonah admits that he didn’t technically graduate from high school. He tested out during his junior year because he was a horrible student and couldn’t stand school. This lack of academic focus continued for several years while Jonah worked every job you can imagine and pursued a variety of interests. His attitude toward school changed when he decided he wanted to be a teacher. At that point, he was 31 years old, but he states, “I rolled up my sleeves and got a degree!”
When asked to share a memorable high school experience, Jonah replied that aside from leaving high school early, he remembers his 10th-grade biology teacher, Mr. Jolley. Jonah mostly remembers arguing a lot about evolution vs. creation, but also remembers that Mr. Jolley was hilarious and a nice guy who made an effort to connect with him. He even went surfing with Jonah a few times! Coincidentally, it was Jonah’s frustration at not being able to answer Mr. Jolley’s Darwinist arguments that encouraged him to dive into the study of that controversy, which slowly turned him into a huge creation science nerd, which is how he got into teaching about 10 years ago. So, thank you, Mr. Jolley!
When asked to share his favorite Bible verse, Jonah admits that his “favorite” changes often, but his current favorite is Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his path.” Jonah shares, “Life hasn’t turned out just how I planned it, and the Lord’s plan is turning out to be so much better than I ever even imagined it could be!”
Jonah’s dad is his mentor, and he always has been. Jonah comments that he knows that some people think that mentors should be someone other than your parents, but Jonah has always wanted to be just like his dad, and he honestly can’t ever remember feeling otherwise. Jonah’s dad leads trips to Israel about six times a year and Jonah is passionate about helping to lead these trips. He’s gone on four of his dad’s trips and loves learning about the land and its connection to the Bible, and his dream is to one-day lead trips of his own after he learns the ropes from his dad, who is a walking encyclopedia of Biblical knowledge. Jonah recommends that every believer, who has the resources, visit the holy land at least once in their lives as it’s an awesome opportunity. Last year they brought a group of high-school/college age students with their families and chaperones, and they are doing it again this June and fellow faculty member Nate Dewey is coming along. Do you want to plan a study trip to Israel in June 2019? Jonah states, “You’ll never read your Bible the same way again…”
GRACE’s youngest students are introduced to the magic of books in the lower campus library by Susan Walker. Susan comes by her love of books partially from her great-aunt, Doris, who was a children’s author, poet, and librarian. From this side of the family, books were often given as gifts and Susan treasures the signed copies of her aunt’s works that she owns. Susan also fondly remembers her 2nd grade teacher reading a chapter of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White each day after recess and during snack time. Ironically, in high school, she didn’t do so well on her Grapes of Wrath exam and learned the starting lineup for the University of Kentucky basketball team for extra credit (her English teacher was a UK grad).
If you think that someone who is a librarian is only fond of quiet, sedate activities, a brief survey of Susan Walker’s life will expand your opinion of librarians. In high school, Susan was part of the drill team and marched in the Kentucky Derby parade. When Susan was a senior in college, she spent a year living with a Japanese family in Nagoya, Japan while attending Nanzan University. While in Japan, she shares that she climbed Mt. Fuji one night to see the sunrise. She has also ridden an ocean zodiac in Alaska (she does admit to screaming) and enjoyed white water rafting on the Ocoee River.
As Susan reflected on her favorite Bible verse, she shared that, “God truly cares about what is important to us. I have shared my dreams and desires of my heart with the LORD. He has graciously done more than I could ask or imagine.” Not surprisingly, her favorite Bible verse is Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory…”
Reflecting on her life and God’s faithfulness, Susan is able to see His provision for her and her family. Susan and her husband, Will, have been married for 24 years. Together they have three sons, Conner (age 21, a junior at NCSU), Colin (age 19, a freshman at Clemson), and Cameron (age 17, a junior at GRACE). Over the years, God has provided for the Walkers throughout all the years of their marriage and about 17 years ago, that included bringing them to GRACE. One of her first memories of GRACE is wheeling Colin and baby Cameron in the stroller as they dropped Conner off at school. Every day they made a stop to see a friend who worked in the GRACE library who let them check out books. Susan thinks it is apropos that she is now the one checking out books to students!
Susan has a great love of history and enjoys learning about different cultures. This may have started with her high school history teacher, Mr. Mayhab, who brought history to life with impersonations or when her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Japan. During her time in Japan, Susan was able to visit Seoul, Korea and recalls visiting Olympic Park where the summer Olympics were hosted in 1988. Susan and her husband have also been able to travel to many countries to visit missionary friends and they have special memories of each of these trips.
Susan and her family attend the Blue Ridge Campus of the Summit Church where Susan serves on the Hospitality Committee. In that role, she enjoys making people feel welcome. Susan is no stranger to welcoming people as she has been greeting families at GRACE during morning carpool for a number of years and serves as a tour guide for prospective families visiting GRACE. Her favorite school events have typically involved watching her boys pursue sports (mostly basketball and football) and cheering them on with the rest of the GRACE family. She also enjoys helping with the student servers each year at Grandparents’ Day and Celebrate GRACE.
Susan remembers that her first-grade teacher, Mrs. Ross, always had a smile and hug when the students came into the classroom each morning and Susan strives to provide a smile to everyone who walks through the doors of GRACE each day. As the TK-3rd grade librarian, she endeavors to pass on her own love of reading and adventure to the students. The fact that “Librarian of the Day” continues to be a favorite item in the annual Celebrate GRACE Auction humbles and amazes her. Combined with the wonderful notes & hugs she receives from students, and the prayers and encouragement from faculty and staff, serving at GRACE is a ministry Susan is thankful to be a part of.
Julianne Donoghue joined the Upper Campus Math Department at the start of the 2017-2018 school year after teaching for several years in Charlotte, NC. Julianne started her teaching career as part of Teach For America after she graduated with a degree in business administration from NC State University. She decided to give two years to Teach For America because she believes that education is one of the most sustainable ways to make a difference in the world and she recognized the incredible educational privileges she had growing up. Julianne believes in the saying, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime,” and felt called to make a difference in schools that were in need of teachers who truly cared about their students. During those two years, Julianne saw students accomplish things they never thought were possible. She taught alongside a great group of teachers that worked tremendously hard to motivate and empower students. After her two-year commitment was done, she felt called to stay and continue the projects she had started.
Julianne’s heart for the underprivileged is something that characterized her well before her time with Teach For America. In high school, Julianne and two of her classmates created a project called the Giving Tree. Julianne and her classmates modeled their project after the concept of the Angel Tree seen at Christmas. Instead of Christmas presents, the project provided third graders at a local elementary with a new book of their choice as many kids in that school did not have a book to call their own. The students decorated bookmarks with their book request which were then hung on trees for people to select. They partnered with churches and stores to display the trees. At the end of the project, they presented the books to the third graders through a book giving ceremony. In advance of the ceremony, they asked some of their classmates to dress up as book characters and the students loved it! Julianne recounts, “It was such an awesome experience to see the kids so excited to have a book of their own. The coolest part is the high school students have continued to do the project each year. This year when I was home for Thanksgiving, a high school student in my church made the announcement that the Giving Tree was starting and I was so excited that they continue to do it each year!”
Not surprising given what we’ve already learned about her, when she was in college. Julianne traveled to South Africa to volunteer in an orphanage for a month. She lived outside a township and traveled to the orphanage during the day to teach English. She shares, “It was such an awesome experience and South Africa is so beautiful. It was truly life-changing to see people that have so little live life so fully!” As an added bonus, while she was in South Africa, she got to go on a safari and go shark cage diving with great white sharks.
When asked to share her view of ministry, Julianne replied, “I believe that you can minister to those who are right around you every day. I love to be in community with others. I currently host a bible study for young women out of my apartment. It has been amazing to see God work through the time we spend together each week. I am reminded that serving God and making disciples does not have to be a complicated thing. It can be as simple as opening up your apartment and your heart to sharing how God is working in your life.”
We asked Julianne to share her favorite Bible verse and she selected Matthew 22: 37-39 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Julianne believes that this verse sums up what we are called to do with our time on earth. We are called to love God first and to love others. This means to love everyone, even people that are vastly different from us. In order to live like Jesus, we must live out this verse. Julianne knows that sometimes we get caught up in everything we are supposed to do or not do and she thinks this verse simplifies it. If we love God and love one another, we are able to live a life that glorifies God.
When asked how she ended up at GRACE, Julianne was quick to credit God with choosing GRACE for her. She was teaching in Charlotte after completing her commitment with Teach For America and looking for jobs in Raleigh and Charlotte. She applied for a job at Charlotte Christian (where GRACE Head of School started as a teacher), but they filled their open position from within. At about that time, Mr. Bradley reached out to his former school and asked if they knew of any good candidates for math and Julianne’s name was passed on. When Mr. Bradley reached out to her, Julianne was really struggling with what to do next and feels that God gave her a clear sign to stay in teaching. Once she visited GRACE, she immediately felt that the school was a special place to be. From the students to the teachers to the administration she felt God’s love and grace. She states, “God was and is so faithful through the process that I felt good that this was His plan for me.”
As a teacher, Julianne wants her students to be able to see that joy that comes from living a life for Christ. While there are many trials and hardships in this life, there is also so much genuine joy. She wants them to know that they have the opportunity to find joy in each day and be able to live life abundantly. Julianne shares that her favorite part about teaching is the opportunity to build relationships with students. She loves getting to know them and watching them grow over the course of the year. Julianne shares, “It is such a humbling profession and I consider myself extremely blessed to be able to teach every day.” She loves helping students to learn how to have a growth mindset. She believes that any student can be a great math student if they are willing to work hard!
Julianne grew up in Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. She moved to NC from Baltimore, Maryland in the 2nd grade so she claims North Carolina as home. She is the middle child and has an older sister and a younger brother. She loved being the middle child because she felt like I got to be friends with both her sister and her brother. She is also very close with two of her cousins and is the proud aunt of her nephew John Davis.
While Lynnae Morris may be a relatively new face on the GRACE administrative team, she is certainly not new to education. As a an only child growing up in King, North Carolina, Lynnae “absolutely LOVED school” which, she says, may be why she spent so many years in school and chose education as a career for herself. In the ten years prior to her arrival at GRACE, Lynnae worked in school administration at both elementary and middle schools in Durham and Wake counties and brings tremendous knowledge and experience to the GRACE team.
Lynnae received her undergraduate degree in science education from UNC-Chapel Hill as part of their Teaching Fellows Program and taught high school science for five years after graduating. While some may live in a house divided, Lynnae could be described as a person divided as she later earned both her masters and doctorate degrees in science education from NC State. During this time, she taught undergraduate science labs, worked with student teachers, and intended on becoming a college professor. Lynnae met her husband, DeShannon, while at NC State and they started their family as she was finishing up her PhD. Later, Lynnae returned to Carolina in their Principal Fellows Program and earned her masters in school administration.When asked which school has her loyalty, Lynnae was quick to respond “Go HEELS!”
Lynnae shares that her journey to GRACE started a few years ago when God first brought her husband here to coach basketball, then to teach. The following year, they enrolled their three children, Hannah, Kynndal, and Colinn. Then, last year, He made His plan clear to Lynnae and made a way for her gifts to be used to serve Him at GRACE. Lynnae shares that she loves working within a community of believers, and feels fortunate to be able to share her faith freely at work, something that has not always been possible. Lynnae views her work as an educator as a calling rather than as a job and believes that God equipped her for her responsibilities and expects her to use them to advance His kingdom and glorify His Name.
When asked to share her favorite Bible verse, Lynnae quoted Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid… for the Lord your God… will never leave you nor forsake you.” This verse serves as a reminder that God wants us to be bold in Him. He is always with us, so there is no need to be fearful of any situation or circumstance with which we may be faced. Lynnae believes that one of the best ways to serve God is to serve others. She learned this lesson from her parents as she observed them constantly looking for ways to give back to the church, to their local community, and to individuals in need. Her parents taught Lynnae the value of service at a young age and she and her husband desire to instill this in their own children as well.
Lynnae was asked to share what she enjoys the most about her role at GRACE, In response, she said, “The thing I love most is connecting with the children and their families. My favorite part of the day is morning carpool, when I get to welcome everyone coming into the building. Relationships are really important to me, and I always find joy in knowing that I have made a difference in the life of a child. Children need to feel welcome and loved at school in order to learn, and I enjoy finding new ways to make that happen! I also enjoy building relationships with the staff and love finding creative ways to highlight and best utilize the God-given talents that they all bring to our school and community.”
Lynnae is an avid sports fan and has been for as long as she can remember. She played a variety of sports growing up including playing softball for Carolina. When asked what her favorite sport is, she stated that basketball has always been her favorite. Given that she is married to GRACE’s varsity basketball coach, and her daughter is on the varsity girl’s team, she’s glad she loves the game so much as she spends a lot of time courtside.
On the upper campus, you are most likely to find Jenny Bomgardner in the lab, blowing things up (in the name of science, of course), sitting in a cardboard chair (made by a physics student), or drinking coffee.
Jenny graduated from NC State University in 2006 with a major in physics and a minor in Japanese, and in the “I just graduated from college and I’m applying everywhere” phase, GRACE was one of the places she applied. Two years later, she was working at Wachovia Mortgage and decided she would be willing to accept a much lower salary if it would mean doing what God wanted her to do. The very next day, she received a call from GRACE as her resume had “somehow” surfaced after two years on file. As Jenny explains it, “Coincidence? I think not! God literally called me to GRACE!” Since coming to GRACE, Jenny has earned her Master of Arts in teaching from Liberty University as well as her NC, VA, and ACSI teaching licenses for secondary math and science.
When asked to share what she enjoys most about teaching, she replied, “I love teaching teenagers because they’re questioning what they’ve been told all of their lives and are really looking for the truth of things while also trying to figure out who God wants them to become.” Jenny considers it a privilege to lend “even one iota” of wisdom to them figuring out the answers to their questions. In her own words, “it’s really cool” to be part of the process.” In fact, the relationships that she develops with her students are the most important and rewarding part of teaching; getting to teach subjects she loves is, “icing on the cake.”
Jenny wants students to get that religion is about developing your relationship with God and not about acting better than you are. She also wants them to understand that you can work hard and have fun at the same time, that money won’t make you happy (even if you have a lot), and that people are more important than things. She encourages her students to develop and work with the gifts God has given them and promises them that using their gifts the way God intended will give them the most joy!
Jenny grew up in Florida as an only child and spent part of almost every day at the beach. She’s always had pets – sometimes as many as four or five dogs at a time as her stepmom showed and later fostered Doberman Pincers. Currently Jenny and her husband, Matt, are proud parents to a dog named Snickers and a Guinea Pig named Maggie and expecting to add a human to that mixture soon.
You might think that someone who majored in physics in college would only be interested in math/science things, but during her own high school years, Jenny was very involved in theatre behind the scenes. She recalls that in the final show she worked on, The Sound of Music she was both stage managing and in charge of set design. She admits that it was a bit of an over-commitment, but it was one of the most enjoyable things she recalls having ever done. She had, at that point, decided that she wasn’t willing to do technical theatre for a living because of the requirement to work nights and weekends. In that final show, she remembers soaking in every moment. As it turned out, these skills did not go completely unused in college as she got hired (and paid!) to do technical work at Stewart Theatre at NCSU while she was enrolled as a student. Even though it wasn’t much, she had fun designing and running lights for a few more years.
Jenny would not describe herself as a sports enthusiast in the traditional sense of the word, but she does really enjoy watching esports (that’s right, video game competitions) and is more of a fan of esports teams than she will ever be of any football or hockey team. She even went to watch an MLG tournament in Raleigh and got pictures with her favorite esports players at the time!
As a couple, Jenny and Matt support the Raleigh Rescue Mission as they feel strongly called to support those in their own city who need food and shelter. Knowing that their contributions go straight to feeding hungry people is important to them. When asked to quote her favorite Bible verse, Jenny quoted Zechariah 8:16-17, “Fear not; These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgements that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another and love no false oath.” Jenny explains that she leans on these verses as a simple summary of what God expects and it’s comforting when it seems like there are many expectations of her from many different sources.
Melissa Hendges joined the GRACE community in 2005 when her oldest child started kindergarten. She joined the staff in 2008 and since then, every visitor to the lower campus has been buzzed in and greeted by Melissa. Melissa was delighted when this job became available as it allowed her to be on the same schedule as her kids and stay involved in their school lives. She shares that God made it very clear to her that she was supposed to be at GRACE and He has made it clear recently that she is supposed to stay, at least for a while! Melissa loves her job as it gives her the opportunity to meet so many GRACE families. She shares that in her role, she tries hard to shine the light of Jesus to all who come through our doors.
Melissa is not only a North Carolina native, she is a Wake County native! She grew up in Apex, graduated from Apex High School, and attended Salem Baptist Church for over 35 years. Melissa’s only brother is the pastor at Kennebec Baptist Church in Angier and this is where she now attends and serves in youth ministry. Melissa teachers the girls high school Sunday School class and has hosted an in-home Bible study with them as well. Her prayer is that she can be an adult in their lives that they feel comfortable talking with and someone who can encourage them to grow in their faith in Christ.
Melissa met her first husband, Greg Douglas, at Salem Baptist and when he passed at a young age, Psalm 139:16 is a verse that brought her peace, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” She shares that this verse reminded her that God was not surprised by Greg’s death and that there was nothing she or the doctors could have done to change the timing. Melissa is now married to Kevin Hendges (who she met at Kennebec) and their four children, ranging from 6th-12th grade, all attend GRACE.
When asked to share memories of her childhood, Melissa was quick to name her grandparents’ farm in Elizabeth City. She states, “It wasn’t my favorite place to be when I was a teenager, but when I was young I loved being able to play with the chickens and see the cows and pigs.” More than the farm animals though, Melissa loved the time she spent with her grandmother and describes her as an “amazing woman.” Melissa remembers many times seeing her kneeling by the sofa or her bed in prayer and is thankful to have been brought up in a Christian home and to have had two sets of very godly grandparents. As an adult, Melissa sought out her grandmother for advice, knowing that she would listen and give godly counsel.
When asked how she spends her time outside of GRACE, Melissa was quick to name sewing and running. She has had a sewing business since 2003, which started more by accident than anything. She had decided to make some home décor items for her home when she couldn’t find what she liked in the stores. Then, several of her friends asked her to make items for them. After doing this a few times, one of her friends encouraged Melissa to start her own business. At the time, Melissa was a stay-at-home mom and it was a perfect way for her to help with the family finances. She attended a week-long school to learn the “industry standard” for home décor products and she has been sewing professionally since then. Melissa loves being able to help people make their vision for their homes a reality and gives God all the glory for gifting her with this talent.
In her own middle and high school years, Melissa was passionate about the performing arts not athletics and was much more likely to be found on a stage than on the track. About six years ago she was walking for exercise, decided that the walking wasn’t quite enough of a work out, and started to jog. She decided that jogging wasn’t so bad and began to extend her time and distance. The day she jogged 6.7 miles, she decided to train for a half marathon! Her first half marathon was not a great experience, but she describes her second half marathon as “amazing.” Always one to progress to the next level, training for a marathon became her next goal and crossing the finish line after her first marathon was a huge accomplishment! A GRACE colleague gave her a book about the Boston Marathon and after finishing the book, Melissa had her next goal in sight. For 16 weeks, she ran 13-20+ miles every Saturday, and woke up at 4:30am four times a week so she could train before coming to work at GRACE.
At the 2016 Myrtle Beach Marathon, she crossed the finish line in just under 3 hours and 52 minutes which allowed her to qualify for the Boston Marathon. She shares that running in the Boston Marathon was one of the most gratifying things she has ever done and also the hardest she has ever worked to meet a goal.