My Heart Remains

Kristin Walko Profile
Article by Kristin Walko
Dean of Students

"Because it’s more than a job. It becomes who you are."

Sixteen years ago, the year was 2007. George W. Bush was President. The minimum wage was $5.85. The average gallon of gas was $2.80. The very first iPhone was released. At Gateway Woods, Cypress House had just opened and accepted its first residents.

In 2007, I became the science teacher at Gateway Woods School. My classes dissected fetal pigs, watched plants grow, created imaginary animals living in different types of ecosystems, learned to track the stars, and much more. In 2014, I became the Dean of Students, where my focus was more on the therapeutic aspect of the school: dissecting student behaviors, watching students grow, creating school-specific goals for students to achieve, tracking student behaviors, and much more.

Celebrating almost 16 years at Gateway Woods School was not necessarily in my plans but then again, I didn’t give myself a timeline. I had just graduated college with my education degree when I moved from Illinois. I had no family and no close friends in the Fort Wayne/Leo area. It was a huge step for me, but I fell in love with the mission and Gateway Woods – the people, the school, the life – became like home.

I’ve worked with hundreds of students and many staff and have heard farewells from more than I can count. Now I am the one saying farewell and it feels surreal.

Transitions are a funny thing though. After losses and struggles, my husband and I are praising God and looking forward to holding our miracle baby in our arms this summer. This is everything I’ve always wanted, but I didn’t realize the mourning that would take place when I would leave Gateway.

Because it’s more than a job. It becomes who you are.

You are challenged in ways you never thought possible. You are loved and supported by people you work with and people you’ve never even met before. You laugh, you cry - sometimes at the same time. Some days you can feel unqualified and at a loss, and other days, you are amazed at the progress. You create relationships not only with staff but with students who need someone to listen to them, to encourage them, to not give up on them. You pray without ceasing and praise when God continues to show Himself over and over and over again.

God is at work here and He can use you here, too. He can use you as a prayer warrior, as the next Teacher or Houseparent, or as the next volunteer. While my role with Gateway Woods will soon look different, my heart for the mission and people remains.

Kristin is currently the Dean of Students at the Gateway Woods School.