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My JLC Experience: Mary Hedger

Mary Hedger is the Director of Julie Learning Center in Park Hills, Kentucky.

Providence brought me to Julie Learning Center (JLC). I had recently retired from a 42-year career as a teacher and principal and received a phone call from Sr. Margene Koester, who mentioned that JLC was looking for someone to work with the SND preschool ministry, and would I please apply. I laughed and told her that 26 years of teaching junior high was as far removed from 4-year-old children as one can get. Still, I applied. Within about a week on site, I was engaged, energized, and definitely hooked. Being with the children, having the daily contact with the sisters who live in the same building, and working with our dedicated staff and volunteers are the best ways to enjoy this post-retirement career!  

JLC is not an ordinary preschool. It’s a place where the staff continuously work to create experiences that allow the children to understand their relationships and responsibilities as children of God. We stress the importance of taking care of each other, our families and our communities. Although the pandemic has temporarily curtailed this, we interact with the Lourdes Hall sisters, exposing them to the differences and unique needs of older people.

We use prayer and good works as a connection to our faith; we stress the importance of being good citizens, and we engage the students in their learning. 

Whether it’s feeding the fish in the pond, looking for insects among the flower gardens, sweeping the floors after lunch, or making mud pies, learning at JLC is active, inquisitive, and fun. Our staff members are amazing. They give so generously of their time, work to make sure the children have as many unique learning opportunities as they can, and they are committed to the well-being of our students. 

The sisters and employees here go out of their way to make everyone feel welcome and important to the community. Whether it’s the sisters who encourage, thank, or invite us to be a part of what’s happening, or the employees who answer our calls for everything from maintenance to requests for special items, the atmosphere is one of inclusion and appreciation.

For children this age, their communities are mostly defined as school and home. Judging from comments and interactions we witness, the children at JLC certainly seem to bring a smile or laugh to the St. Joseph Heights community. We invite the sisters to our events as they do to ours, and it’s usually difficult to tell who’s having more fun. 

Within their families, parents tell us how much their children have absorbed about helping each other, showing empathy, and contributing to family responsibilities. Grandparents often remark that they are happy to see their grandchildren learning about their faith at such a young age, and they enjoy the events they are invited to throughout the year.

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