April Garley’s head was spinning, her hands shaking, her heart racing.
She was moments away from reading what could possibly be the most important letter she’d ever receive in the mail. The words on that piece of paper would either dictate her future or devastate her present.
No wonder Garley was a bundle of nerves as she wrestled with herself to open the white envelope from the University of Wyoming. She managed only to read a few words before her emotions went wild. “As soon as I saw I was accepted, I cried I was so excited,” Garley recalls with a twinkle in her eyes. “I didn’t know what else to do but cry.”
Garley’s admission into UW’s master’s program in counseling represented a critical step in a dogged quest rooted in her teenage years, when she was touched by the influence of two women whom she hardly knew but now will never forget. Elaine Kies and Jenneine Rowley, her counselors at Downers Grove South High School in Illinois, didn’t just help her grieve the traumatic loss of her mother but unknowingly provided her with a life’s purpose.
“They were just there for me. In a big high school—I graduated from a class of 700, 800 students—I didn’t feel like I fell through the cracks,” says Garley, who moved to Wyoming in 2005 to intern at Life Choice Pregnancy Care Center in Cheyenne as part of her undergraduate studies at Lincoln Christian University. She liked it here so much that she stayed, working at Laramie County Head Start before applying to UW.
“When I think about the way that my school counselors made a difference in my life, to think that I can have that kind of impact on someone, that’s powerful.”
So convinced that Wyoming’s university was the right place for her, Garley didn’t apply elsewhere. Her faith in UW, she says, has been rewarded with professors who have exceeded her expectations and internships that have afforded her opportunities to work with students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The UW program also reinforced Garley’s deep desire to help others in the way her counselors did through her darkest days. It was spring of Garley’s freshman year when her mother, Pauline, died from a pulmonary embolism following a non-life-threatening surgery.
When Garley returned to school, Kies and Rowley rushed to her aid. They plugged her into a grief counseling group and referred her family to counseling services in the community.
“I think, from that point on, I knew I wanted to be a school counselor,” says Garley, who hopes to work in Wyoming following her UW graduation this month. “I feel like kids, sometimes, just
need that one person to walk beside them, that one person they can trust, that one person who’s always cheering for them.”
She smiles and adds, “I want to be that one person. I want to, somehow, make a difference.”