Ozarks JLC alum overcomes personal challenges, thrives in youth ministry

Release Date: 5/29/2012

U of O's most recent Alumni Weekend brought a bevy of former Ozarks grads back to campus. The one with the big smile was Lauren Black.

Black participated in an alumni roundtable titled “More than a Paycheck: Professions with Purpose.” Panelists discussed how learning disabilities affect their work. Black has mild dyslexia, a disorder that involves difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols. She was a student in Jones Learning Center during her years at U of O. The Jones Learning Center was the first program in the country designed specifically to help students with learning disabilities at the college level.

Lauren Black

Lauren Black '09 was on campus for alumni weekend to participate in an alumni roundtable discussion, "More than a Paycheck: Professions with Purpose."

Black says that in addition to the techniques she learned through JLC to help with her dyslexia, one main thing she learned was confidence. “By coming to Ozarks I was able to see that everyone has their little quirks and issues whether they’re diagnosed with a learning disability or not,” she said. “Going back to where I grew up, people say I’m much more outgoing and comfortable with myself, which is nice. Some of my kids currently know about the dyslexia, some don’t. It does occasionally provide teaching moments when they ask and I explain. That’s cool in itself.”

Black, who graduated in 2009, is a busy woman. Not only is she Youth Director at First Presbyterian Church in Richardson, Texas, where she also works as coach for a club swim team, but from September to February she is a high school swim coach as well at Nolan Catholic, a Fort Worth-area high school.

She says the three jobs are interesting to juggle together. “I love both worlds, the church and the pool deck,” she says. “As a youth director I am responsible for 6th – 12th graders in leading them in Sunday school each Sunday morning and youth activities each Sunday afternoon. Then there are conferences and mission trips that happen throughout the year where we travel to different places. The congregation where I serve as a youth director is very supportive of me, which makes my job so easy. As a youth director you don’t always get to see the fruit of your work, but I have been lucky to see my youth embrace the new faces that come in the door.”

She says the biggest challenge of her job as youth pastor is connecting with the kids. “You think you’ve figured them out, then bam! they knock you for a loop. On the other hand, I was gone in February on swimming business, and while I was out a young man came into the church visiting, and my kids just embraced him completely. He’s been a member ever since. I guess I’m doing something right, because they were able to handle that situation when I wasn’t even there. We hadn’t talked about that sort of thing at all, but hearing the church members’ positive feedback later was very empowering. Some days you don’t feel you do anything right, other days you definitely do. I am living the dream of getting to do something I love and getting paid for it.”

Black says she went to Ozarks because she knew she wanted to attend a small campus as well as affiliation with her religion. “The JLC was a draw for me as well,” she said. “I walked onto campus and I knew, this is where I’m supposed to be! This was the only school I applied to. I really enjoyed my four years here.”

She said she felt she wanted to study religion but waited until the spring of her first year to decide on Religion as her major. “I was a part of Student Foundation Board and a JLC Ambassador,” she said. “I feel that both of these organizations used my leadership skills to help others find their place within the Ozarks community. I continue to use those same leadership skills in youth ministry by helping young people find their place in high school and share their faith with others.”

While a student at Ozarks, Black attended First Presbyterian Church. She did an internship there her senior year. “A part of my internship was shadowing the pastor and working with the young people,” she said. “I have always been a part of the Presbyterian church and very active in my congregation in Arlington, Texas as I was growing up. I continue in that path today. I am very fortunate.”