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Submitted Photo Lakeyta Potter (center) is shown with parents, Mike and Suzie, at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where she earned a master's degree in school counseling.

Collaborative's youth coordinator happy at home

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- When Lakeyta Potter graduated high school in 2003, she could barely wait to leave the place most familiar to her -- home.

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"When you're an adolescent you think you want to leave as soon as you can," Potter said from her office at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, where she works as the Youth Initiative Coordinator. "I couldn't wait to go off on my own."

After high school, Potter started her college journey at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. Then, after being three hours away from home, she soon found herself a plane ride away.

"I transferred to Norfolk State University in Virginia and that's where I got my bachelor's degree in psychology," Potter said. "I was very interested in how individuals interact with each other, the way we think and behave. I knew I wanted to work with youth, but I didn't know in what capacity."

In hindsight, she said she would have chosen a minor to accompany her degree.

"You can't really do much with a major in psychology without having to go to grad school," she added.

Despite her love for Norfolk -- a city she enjoyed for its weather, the plethora of things to do, and its proximity to the beach and to Washington, D.C. -- Potter decided that moving home was the best thing for her and her son, Jacari, who is now 5 years old.

"I missed being around my family and having that support," she said.

Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., Potter explained that her family moved to Windom when she was 5.

"We moved to Worthington when I was in fourth grade so I pretty much grew up here," she said. "I come from a large family. I have four brothers and three sisters."

In 2008, Potter returned to Worthington with a goal in mind.

"I knew I couldn't do much with a degree in psychology, so I wanted to gain experience working with youth," she explained. "I started off working at Kids Peace as an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow."

Through the Minnesota Alliance with Youth, Potter continued as Promise Fellow at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative.

"I started with the middle school where I worked with eighth-graders for Odyssey -- one of our after-school programs," she said, adding that her work expanded to countywide school districts. "A lot of work through AmeriCorps is focused on helping students be engaged in the community, and what it means for them to be a youth in their community. It also focuses on student achievement and giving youth the resources they need to be successful."

Potter also played a part in coordinating another after-school program -- Dynamic 507 -- when the eighth-graders she worked with moved into ninth grade.

When the Collaborative received a grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates, Potter began a new role as the graduation coach.

"I specifically started helping students plan for their future. We did a lot of individual consultations," she said. "I helped them with their academic goals, looking at colleges, and also at opportunities for college and business visits. I went to Ellsworth, Adrian, Round Lake and Worthington.

In between providing post-graduation advice, Potter continued to be involved in the after-school programs with which she began.

"The eighth-grade kids are seniors this year. It's going to be sad when they leave because I've seen them grow and progress for the past four years," she detailed. "It has been an honor working with them. I'm very proud of the seniors."

Despite the looming separation, Potter is enthusiastic about the learning experience the after-school programs have presented to her.

"It will be a great opportunity for me to look back and see what I can do differently with my incoming students," she added.

After the first year of the Great Lakes grant, she moved into her current position as youth initiatives coordinator.

"I have more of a leadership role now," she explained. "I help other staff members coordinate their programs, but I still work with Dynamic and coordinate CIRCLE mentoring."

In addition, Potter collaborates with school counselors at Worthington High School to facilitate post secondary discussions with ninth- and 10th-graders.

"I've been meeting with them every quarter in small groups to get them thinking about the importance of doing well academically," Potter explained. "We get them thinking about what they want out of life and how they can accomplish it before and after high school."

In between working in various facets through the Collaborative and talking to former youth initiative coordinator Carrie Adams, Potter discovered her passion for school counseling. In May 2011, she earned her master's degree in professional school counseling.

Potter has branched out into several community projects through her involvement at work, including the annual International Festival.

"It's interesting to know that when I was growing up here in Worthington, I never noticed the diversity that was growing," she said. "I never engaged myself in learning about other cultures.

"When I came back and worked for the Collaborative, I noticed what a diverse population we have," she continued.

Her outlook on culture and diversity has since shifted, she said.

"We need to learn and appreciate who we are, but we also need to appreciate the cultures of others," she said. "The one thing I love about Worthington is how diverse we are. We need to be aware of our surroundings."

Outside of work, Potter refers to herself as a "homebody."

"I enjoy spending time with my son and my family," she said. "Now that I don't have homework, I work and I take care of family."

With her three older brothers and older sister living out-of-state, Potter has assumed the elder sibling role in Worthington.

"My dad has always been my role model," Potter said of her father, Mike Potter, who serves as the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) president. "I admire him and my stepmom for their hard work in raising me and my siblings. My stepmom has always inspired me because she took on a huge role when she married my dad -- her hard work and dedication to the family."

Spending time with family and friends, working out and reading are probably the three activities she enjoys the most, she said.

"Oh, and I love to eat and try different food," she added with a laugh. "Since working here, all we do is talk about food."

As she progresses into her fifth year at the Nobles County Integration Collaborative, Potter still has sights on her ultimate dream job as a school counselor.

"Right now I'm very happy with what I do," she said. "It's amazing how your career path ends up. I never imagined I would end up in Worthington, but that's what God had planned for me and I'm happy."

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