By ROSANNA VAIL
At age 10, Rachel (Berreckman) Hays was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a blood-related cancer.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, she traveled between her hometown of Holdrege and the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, receiving multiple rounds of chemotherapy treatment and procedures. The experience shaped what she wanted to achieve as a student at the University of Nebraska at Kearney – and how she wanted to make a difference.
“During my many visits (to the hospital), I was exposed to and interacted with other youth and children going through similar situations,” Hays said. “I also was impacted by doctors, nurses and others in the medical caring profession. This overall experience was a significant factor in my decision to become an advocate for children and families.”
Hays found a program of study at UNK that combined her passions into one educational pursuit: the online Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood and Family Advocacy. Through her studies and work experiences, including the UNK Child Development Center, Hays realized that part of her role as an advocate for families was to help them develop skills to advocate for themselves and their own children.
“I recall addressing many case studies and having class discussions about topics and issues related to effective family advocacy and child development,” she said. “These formative experiences were especially relevant to my career.”
After graduating in 2016, Hays took a position as an Early Head Start Home Visitor at the Northwest Kansas Educational Service Center. She spent several years working with prenatal mothers and families with children from birth to age 3. Her caseload consisted of 10 families, each of whom she visited weekly to discuss health, development and effective parenting topics.
A few weeks ago, she became a parent herself.
“At this time, I have chosen to put my work on hold, while I attend to being a new mother,” she said. “My husband and I welcomed our son in late January, and now we will be putting into practice many of the things I have been passionately passing on to others.”
In fact, passing on the passion for early childhood and family advocacy is central to UNK’s program.
“Overall, my classes and course of study, along with the influence of several passionate professors, gave me a solid foundation from which to begin a career in early childhood and family advocacy – one that I am committed to and hope to return to in the near future,” Hays said.
“Their contributions and efforts of those who passionately pursue this field will make a significant and positive impact on family dynamics in our world today.”