January 04, 2022
Written By: Michael Neary, Rapid City Journal
Kaylee Wood relishes the process of painting. Now a junior at Rapid City High School, she’s been painting in earnest since the sixth grade, when she flourished in an art class that she loved. She’s drawn to creating landscapes and scenes dotted with a touch of the fantastic.
But as she described a project she recently completed with Black Hills Works, an organization that helps adults with disabilities, another passion emerged – one that entails striking up strong and empathetic connections with people.
Kaylee recently led an art session with a group of adults at Black Hills Works as part of the Rapid City Area Schools Service Learning Capstone at Rapid City High School.
“She identified community needs, assessed her own talents, and then created and implemented a project plan to better the community,” said Kristin Kiner, youth engagement coordinator for Teen Up - RCAS, in an email. Kiner called Kaylee, who’s 16, an “amazing young leader.”
Kaylee recalled the opening moments of the art session she led at Black Hills Works.
“When I first walked into the room, I was very nervous,” she said. But as the activities began, her artistic prowess and her kind manner with people seemed to take over.
“I made my way around this little table,” she explained, showing her students the sample sketches she’d made of a snowflake, a Christmas tree and a snowman.
“I gave them the three options because I wanted them to make it their own,” she said. “I wanted them to add whatever they wanted.”
Kaylee brought a whiteboard with her, modeling some drawing techniques as the students sketched and painted. She was especially impressed by the work of one man in the group.
“We finished his Christmas tree and put a star on top, and he asked, ‘Do you know how to do a reindeer?’” Kaylee recalled. “I liked how he took control of that, and I showed him how to do a reindeer.”
Still a young student herself, Kaylee seems already to have absorbed some nuances of teaching. She described the need to slow down sometimes and to assess what was happening with her students.
“Sometimes I would help someone with certain disabilities, but I wasn’t sure just how to help,” she said. “So I needed to pause for a moment and decide, ‘How can I help you?’”
Kaylee characterized the service she performed at Black Hills Works as falling close to home.
“It’s really personal to me,” she said. “I am very close with family members who are disabled.”
Kaylee described her service as a way of giving something to her students—an art lesson—that in turn helped her students to give something—their paintings—to someone else.
“I wanted them to make something for someone they loved,” she said.
Amanda Thomson, an advisor and teacher at Rapid City High School, praised Kaylee’s quiet leadership, initiative and positivity.
“What I have seen Kaylee do in her three years of high school exceeds what I have seen successful adults accomplish in their lives,” Thomson said.
As Kaylee recounted her service at Black Hills Works, she also reflected on her career goal. It’s a field that would also allow her to interact closely with people, though in a much different context.
“I want to be a paramedic,” she said. “By being a paramedic, I feel that I could really do some good and get that one-on-one time with people.”
Kaylee enjoys science class, and she was especially intrigued by the unit on the circulatory system in her anatomy and physiology class. Her personality, she added, is well-suited to the work of a paramedic.
“I’m good on my feet, so it just kind of seemed natural that I would become a paramedic,” she said. “When I showed the man how to make a reindeer, I didn’t come prepared to make a reindeer. But I was able to improv something right then and there.”
Kaylee’s thought about ways she’d like to help people—or to continue to help people—outside of her work. She imagined what her life might look like some years down the road. Her work life, she said, would likely include service as a paramedic.
“In my free time, it looks like hanging out with people with various disabilities,” she said. She mentioned teaching another painting class, but she also emphasized the importance of spending time casually, outside of any defined activity, with people who have disabilities.
“I know that people with various disabilities are kind of segregated into their own area,” she said, stressing that there can be little crossover to people outside that area. That’s something she’d like to help change.
“I know my cousin loves it when people come talk to him,” she said. “And I figure other people must like it, too.”