Girl’s Got Grit

Savannah WaszczukAccess Launch, Success Stories

Recent Parkview High School graduate Alissa Schilling balanced a schedule of volunteering, working and learning with Launch—and she won local, state and regional Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year awards along the way.

You probably wouldn’t have found 8-year-old Alissa Schilling playing with her classmates at recess. “Instead I would have been tucked away in a corner somewhere, reading chapter books,” she says. Alissa is 18 years old today, but she recalls these childhood memories as if they just happened last week. “The only time I really socialized with other kids was at the Boys & Girls Club,” Alissa says. “I went there after school almost every day since first grade.” 

Fast forward 10 years, and Alissa now works at that same Boys & Girl Club unit as a COVID-19 Youth Development Professional. She’s also a full-time student at Missouri State University, where she’s using many of her hard-earned scholarship dollars to continue on a path she’s always dreamed of. “I grew up in poverty,” Alissa says. “I’m the first of five kids to go to college. A lot of generations in my family didn’t graduate high school. I did what I had to do to break the cycle.” 

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Finding the Balance

Alissa hasn’t lived with either of her parents since age 14. “I was in middle school at the time,” she says. But despite her non-typical home life, she always made it a point to strive in school. This came naturally during her elementary years—but things changed. “I remember going into middle school and how classes got a bit harder for me,” she says. “And then in high school, math and science got a lot more intense.” 

While a schedule filled with honors classes kept Alissa busy studying, her life outside of school was time consuming as well. She was also volunteering at Boys & Girls Club and, later, working a full-time job. “I moved into my first apartment at 16,” Alissa says. “I worked at Rib Crib as a host and server. It was really hard to keep work-life balance.” 

As the days went on, they became more trying. “What I used to tell myself was, ‘If I can just do this 100 more times, I’ll be okay,’” Alissa says. “I would have to talk myself up, sometimes multiple times a day. But I wasn’t sleeping much at all, and it really wasn’t healthy.”

Alissa eventually reached out to her school counselor for help. “That’s when I ended up moving to Launch classes,” Alissa says. “Launch gave me a lot more flexibility, and I was able to manage school and working at the same time.” Launch also helped Alissa with another issue—a lack of transportation. “I couldn’t always make it to school because I didn’t have a way to get there,” Alissa says. “I was always bumming rides and trying to figure out how to get to class.” Thanks to Launch’s expanded course catalog, Alissa was able to continue taking honors classes online. She continued to give it her all, and she eventually graduated from Springfield’s Parkview High School with a 4.8 GPA. “I was one of the top 10 students in my class,” she says. 

Becoming Youth of the Year

While Alissa’s school and work schedule became more intense over the years, she never gave up on the Boys & Girls Club. Many of her elementary and middle school days were spent there out of necessity, and she continued attending as a volunteer during her high school years. “It was important to me that I continued to help,” Alissa says. Her dedication and desire made her the perfect applicant for the Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year—an award that recognizes outstanding contributions that an individual has made to their own family, school, community and Boys & Girls Club. The award also takes an individual’s personal challenges and obstacles into account. 

Alissa was chosen as Springfield’s Youth of the Year from a sea of a dozen competitors, and she continued on in the competition to take the top prize of Youth of the Year at the state level. “After that I moved on to regionals,” Alissa says. “I made it to the final two of the regional competition.” 

While a great academic record and many volunteer hours helped Alissa’s award application shine, her efforts around mental health awareness took it to the next level. “By the time I was in eighth grade, I could list five people I knew who killed themselves,” Alissa says. “I organized a movement around mental health awareness that addressed suicide.” 

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A Day in the Life

Alissa is currently attending MSU full time and works 25 hours a week at Boys & Girls Club. Her years of volunteering gave her just the right experience for her current role—a COVID-19 Youth Development Professional. “It’s essentially a crisis teacher,” Alissa says. “I help students complete their school assignments.” Alissa had a taste of elementary school education by taking part in the GO CAPS program in high school, so she went into her new position with a bit of experience. “I learned a bit about teaching then, but I’ve also learned a lot in my time here,” she says.

As for what’s next, Alissa isn’t exactly certain—but she is confident that she wants an office job. “I just want to work somewhere with no bright lights or screaming children,” she says. “I’m studying graphic design. I’ve thought about making business advertisements, or running my own online business.” And while there are still endless possibilities for Alissa’s career, there’s one thing that’s certain—once she decides on her dream job, she’ll put in the work it takes to get there.