Ask Chase Hill how a 23-year-old man from western Kentucky wound up in Sequim, and he just grins and kind of shrugs.
“It was really in the back of my mind to do something with kids,” he says. “The change of scenery was a bonus.”
Hill attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious studies. He then applied for a position with Americorps’ VISTA, a national service program created to fight poverty.
One of the program’s targets, Hill notes, is early childhood education.
Hence, the First Teacher and the First Step programs, where Hill has split his working hours for most of the past year.
First Teacher is, as its name indicates, a program designed to help parents become their children’s first teacher by providing educational materials such as development cards and books. The program hosts several regular reading times and special events throughout the year.
First Step provides support and education services to encourage healthy development of families throughout Clallam County.
In terms of preparedness, Hill says he had little training. “I’ve been kind of figuring it out as I go,” he says.
With First Teacher, previous coordinators showed him the proverbial ropes while with First Step, it was looser; he had to design his own events, so he worked at distributing books throughout the county and working with the Clallam County Literacy Council.
After a year of hard work, Hill’s VISTA service ends. At the end of the work day on Friday, he’ll say goodbye to First Teacher parents and youths, and begin packing for the long trip home.
Dr. Cynthia Martin, president of Parenting Matters, the umbrella organization that runs First Teacher, says the First Teacher program has never had a male in the role of program coordinator.
“It’s really nice to have a man there with the families,” Martin says. “I was little worried about that at first but the little boys absolutely love it.”
Martin says she’s never had a male even apply for the job.
“He’s done well working with people in the community. He’s had to make all those contacts. That’s pretty good for some one coming in and not knowing anyone.”
Hill describes working with Martin in vivid terms.
“Like being strapped to a rocket ship. She’s a go-getter,” Hill says. “You’ve just got to go with it.”
The best part of the First Teacher job, Hill says, comes in the form of First Teacher’s youngest constituents.
“It’s watching kids be kids,” Hill says. “It’s totally wild. I’ve gained other job skills but (the best part) is talking with them, watching them play. It’s the most enlightening thing.”
“He’s great with the kids,” First Teacher mom Lisa Bridge says. “My daughter, she’ll name Chase at home.”
The day after his last afternoon with First Teacher, Hill turns 24. The VISTA volunteer says he’ll likely still be in town saying goodbye to friends. Then it’s back to Lexington, Ky., where he’s got a job lined up with an upscale pizza joint.
“From there, who knows?” he says. “I’m just happy to pay the bills.”
After nearly a year working with children and young parents, Hill says that if he decides to have children, he’ll be better prepared.
“I’m slightly more fearless,” Hill says.
“But only slightly.”