Class of 2020: Early heartbreak helps Soroco senior mentor, care for others
OAK CREEK — For a person who has experienced sudden and tragic loss at key moments of her life, Soroco High School senior Anna Long brings a sense of stability and warmth to those walking the halls of her small high school in Oak Creek.
“Anna is the most empathetic person I’ve ever met,” said school counselor Jaime Dulberg. “She takes her time to be kind and accepting, and she’s just … well, you’ll love her.”
Anna, a fifth-generation Routt County native, has every reason to be embittered. After all, she unexpectedly lost her father at age 9. Then her grandfather also died unexpectedly when she was a freshman in high school.
While tragic, Anna turned her losses into a mantra.
“It really just shaped me into being a person that doesn’t take life for granted,” said Anna. “I appreciate the time I get with people.”
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Fortunately for Anna, she grew up with family and cousins who rallied around she and her mother. Still, anxiety would haunt her, especially after her grandfather died.
“I just lost a lot of motivation, and school wasn’t my biggest priority,” explained Anna. “I struggled with anxiety and would have to work 10 times harder with studying.”
By sophomore year, something clicked for Anna.
“I remembered something my grandpa told me … that I would excel at amazing things if I put my mind to it,” she said.
Anna turned to counselors and health professionals for answers.
“I became confident when I understood that who I am is OK; that it’s OK to ask for help.”
Soroco’s social worker Megan Whykuis is amazed at Anna’s innate compassion and empathy, traits not too common in teenagers, she said.
“She is an incredible human. We call her our counselor-in-training,” Whykuis said.
“She is willing to go above and beyond to get help for people who need it, as well as being their go-to support person.”
Whykuis and Dulberg have watched Anna navigate leadership roles in Soroco’s youth resiliency group and peer mentoring of middle school students.
“Whenever I have kids in my room dealing with issues, she’s one of those people I pull in and I just trust her, and I know she will say the right things,” Dulberg said.
“She makes people feel special, and she’s kind, always thinking about others.”
Anna felt mentoring middle school students was important, given her own stress in high school.
“I became a listening ear for the middle schoolers,” Anna said. “It’s a time when you’re growing as a person, and I wish someone would have been there to tell me to ask for help and that it’s OK not to be perfect or get all A’s.”
So it’s no wonder the Oak Creek senior will be seeking a degree in social work when she attends the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs this fall. She’s also looking at specializing in hospice work, where death will once again follow her.
“The losses I’ve had in my life were so sudden, but I think hospice would give me relief and a sense that I’m helping family members,” she said. “We celebrate new life when a baby is born. It’s just as important to celebrate someone’s life as they’re passing away.”
Anna credits her mother and extended family with instilling her with kindness and compassion.
“My mom is my best friend. She loves people with her entire soul,” Anna said. “I don’t know what I’d do without her … and my dad’s family stepped up and loved me. Nobody could ever fill the spot my dad had, but there’s some of him in all of them, and that has helped mend the sadness.”
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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