Counselor says care first, student success will follow

“Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”

Those words from Josh Shipp, a youth motivational speaker, stick with Victoria Ware every day.

“Every time I see a kid that like is struggling, I know they just need one adult that can just care about them, just pour into them, love on them, help as much as you possibly can so they can be successful,” Ware said.

Ware is a counselor at Phoenix Academy, and every day, she tries to be that caring adult encouraging success in her students’ lives.

The Winchester native was home-schooled most of her life before attending Bluegrass Community and Technical College. There, she took an introduction to social work class and fell in love with the subject. It prompted her decision to transfer to Eastern Kentucky University after completing her associate degree.

“I started the classes, and I loved it,” Ware said. “I knew that’s what I needed to do.”

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 2013 and graduated with a master’s in social from Campbellsville University in 2016. In her spare time, Ware said she likes to paint, cook, kayak and travel. She is also planning a wedding for the summer; her fiance is finishing up his degree in aerospace engineering.

Ware’s first job was at the Cairn. She said it was there where she first started learning about the needs of children and teenagers in the community.

“A lot of the kids would come, and they’d ask to help, do chores, take out the trash for some food because they were hungry,” Ware said. “ … That really kind of changed my focus. And I want to work with kids. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I didn’t want to teach a lesson or anything like that. I just wanted to be that person they could go to if they needed help.”

Ware, along with Rowland Arts Center Executive Director Joseph Miller, wrote a program, called Project Launch, to train community students on how to be a good employee.

“And it was just to help them create a resume and have something because high schoolers, when they go to get a job, they usually have nothing, “ Ware said.

During her undergraduate years, Ware completed an internship at New Beginnings, furthering her passion for helping people. Ware’s first job in social work was as a case manager for Bluegrass.org. She worked there for three years.

Ware also worked an internship at Phoenix Academy, where she worked with the counselor who had her job previously and knew she wanted to make it back there someday.

In November 2016, Ware returned to Phoenix, where she said she belongs.

“That was a sign from God,” Ware said. “ … Phoenix is where I want to be.”

Ware said the students she works with have had a rough life. Many of them go back and forth between their parents or live with other relatives.

“Things just fluctuate so much in their lives,” Ware said. “But I want to be the one that’s constant, that they know is going to be here when they show up every day. And whether it’s giving them snacks or food or just listening to them and talking to them, congratulating them … just being that person to cheer them on and help them get somewhere.”

On a typical day, Ware said she might have multiple individual counseling sessions and a group counseling session. She and her students will work on resumes and transcripts or talk about family life.

Ware said she also facilitates community service projects for her students. Some of her students volunteer their time to mentor students at Shearer Elementary School.

“They can play games with them or help them with different projects,” Ware said.

Next week, the students are participating in a trash pickup to raise money for an end-of-the-year trip to the Kentucky Kingdom. Ware said many of her students don’t have the opportunity to leave Winchester, so many of them have never been to an amusement park or even Louisville, so it’s great to give them that experience.

Ware said one of the priorities at Phoenix this year is changing the perception its students have about the community as well as changing the attitude some people may have about Phoenix’s students.

Ware said she thinks some people in the community may think Phoenix is where the “bad kids” go, and that’s an unfair label to put on her students.

“I hate that people think that because a lot of our kids just have challenges the other kids haven’t had to face,” Ware said.

For Valentine’s Day, some of the students went to the cosmetology school to get their makeup and hair done. In return, the students made food as a thank you. Ware said that event was one way she could show her students not everything is terrible in Winchester, which is a perception many of her students have.

Ware said Phoenix is for the students who want to keep trying. That’s the advice she gives her students, too: Don’t give up.

Ware said her favorite part about her job is seeing her students be that success story.

“We get a lot of kids who maybe are seniors, or they’re 18, and they should be ready to graduate, and they’re not,” Ware said. “Maybe they have 10 credits but are only halfway through the program. And they’re like, ‘there’s no way to do it. There’s just no way. Nobody in my family’s graduated, or it’s so much easier if I drop out and do this.’

“And to be there in that moment, when we kind of look at it and say, ‘Hey, if you buckle down and do this, you can graduate, you can be the first one in your family to graduate. Just because they mess up, you don’t have to.’”

Ware said she is grateful to be surrounded by fellow staff dedicated to helping and caring for these students, and to see their work and the students’ work pay off on graduation day, which is one of the staff’s favorite day of the year. It’s a day to commemorate their students’ success.

“A lot of times you don’t realize what a big day that is,” Ware said.

Like the school’s namesake and motto, Ware’s students “rise from the ashes.”

“The things these kids overcome, oh, my goodness, I don’t know, if I could, and just to see them doing well, and doing so much better than they ever thought they could do for themselves, it’s just amazing,” Ware said. “It makes you so happy just to see that they have a little hope.”