My name is Ashlee Gilot and I am a prevention educator in the Stepping Stones Program at YWCA Mclean County. I began working here on July 9, 2012 and already feel as if I have gained so much knowledge and information to help me become a better leader in the community. Working at YWCA McLean County is more than just a job to me. It is an opportunity for me to learn, grow, inspire, educate and empower other individuals. As a prevention educator, my mission is to educate people on how to keep themselves safe and healthy.
So far, I have been primarily working with kids ages 3-10 and it has been a very rewarding experience for me. I spend most of my time thinking of different ways to engage the kids and keep their attention. You may be shocked to hear this, but I have learned very early in my prevention education career that a group of kids will likely not sit and listen to a 20 minute lecture. So that is where the fun begins! I get to come up with different activities for the kids to do to help them learn each lesson. As a musician, everything in my mind is connected to music, and I love that I am able to incorporate that skill here as well.
So far one of my favorite games that I have created is called “Dance, Freeze and Share.” The kids love this game. I bring my guitar into the classroom and the kids dance around in a circle. When the music stops, they suddenly freeze and share something we talked about such as an example of a safe touch, a trusted adult they can talk to, or one of the three steps to safety (Say words that mean no, Get away, Tell a trusted adult). My goal is to create a fun and creative environment that is conducive to growth and learning. I also incorporate things such as art work, physical activities, books and movie clips to give the children a different scope and experience with the material. There are so many serious and important topics that we discuss such as bullying, safe touching vs. unsafe touching, healthy relationships, respect and how to recognize others’ emotions. As I create lesson plans for the kids that are fun and memorable, they are more likely to pay attention, remember the information they are learning and apply it to their lives.
When I look around me, I see so many things that are detrimental to our kids and to our community. Still, I believe that as long as there are organizations like YWCA McLean County filled with people who are devoted to evoking change in the community, there is hope. One of my favorite quotes is “Change happens one choice at a time.” Some people may look at the problems we face and think that they can never change, but I beg to differ. As we educate people in our community on how to make healthier choices at work, home, school, with their families, in their relationships and in the community, we can slowly but surely change the world. I heard this guy named Nelson Mandela say that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and for some strange reason, I believe him.