JFCA congratulates Class of 2016 alum Thomas Gilbert and Holly Smith on their engagement, our third set of graduates to ‘tie the knot’!
Gilbert (Class of 2016) will be graduating from Texas Christian University in May 2020 with a BBA in Marketing, a minor in Accounting, and as a member of the John V Roach Honors College.
When asked about his future plans, Gilbert said, “Two big things happened for me at the beginning of 2020. First, I accepted a job as an account strategist (sales) for Google in Ann Arbor, Michigan. So, I’ll be moving up north to the frigid cold for the next few years. Secondly, I proposed to my JFCA high school sweetheart (Holly Smith), and we are planning to get married in the Summer of 2020.
I am very thankful for my Christ-centered education at JFCA. I believe it is critically important to surround yourself in a positive environment with healthy influences during those key developmental years in middle and high school. Not being overly exposed to common temptations and activities that so many youths are involved in these days really set me strong in my ways and beliefs entering college. I felt much more prepared morally and spiritually to take on college being rooted in my faith and being surrounded by Christ-centered friendships. I will say school is not enough to develop one’s relationship with Christ or influence how they live. It begins at home, by how parents raise their children in a Christ-centered environment, and at the end of the day, it requires the individual student to make choices for themselves and decide how they want to live. But I am thankful for JFCA providing a Christ-focused environment. I was free to think and speak my beliefs openly and even the Bible studies or going through books of the Bible in English class provided for a more encouraging environment.
I have been very blessed by the Lord, especially over this senior year and throughout college. Entering TCU, I knew I needed to find Christian community and surround myself by positive influences. Finding strong friends and a church community is no easy feat. It took a few years, numerous friendships, and church environments to settle into a group of friends that love me and challenge me in my faith. I feel God has really been guiding my path over my senior year and has been calling me to trust him as I transition into this next phase of moving to a new state, a new job, and now, marriage. My advice to those entering college is to be patient. Be patient with God, friendships, community, and outcomes from hard work. Remain faithful, open to change, and determined to reach both your personal and spiritual goals, and the Lord will deliver.
I really valued the two days a week, university structure to JFCA. It allowed great flexibility in my schedule on the satellite days to pursue extra-curriculars and leadership activities, while practicing discipline with my time management and schoolwork. My advice to parents is that student success is incredibly reliant upon the support and guidance by those at-home. Just because they have teachers in class twice a week does not mean parents should be fully hands-off on the other days. Parents should hold their students accountable and disciplined in their work at home. For students, my advice is that your success is reliant upon you. Regardless of your natural intellect, dual-enrollment grades, or college acceptances, your success is strongly determined by your personal drive and ambition. Always strive to do your best. Even in your homework for JFCA classes, do not have a “just get by” or “good enough” mentality, as that mindset will be hard to shake in college and thereafter.
Colossians 3:23 reads: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. I believe this should be applied to everyday activities, like cleaning your room and doing your homework. Always put forth your best and perform to your fullest ability. Great results will come from that.
I am incredibly thankful to JFCA for my high school education. It empowered me to get into a great school on a great scholarship. I entered with so many hours of dual-credit that I had the flexibility to change my major 5 times (whoops, don’t recommend). And I was levels ahead of my peers in so many subjects, especially writing. Dr. Romanchuk is one of JFCA’s finest. She’s more challenging than any college English professor I’ve had and really taught me how to write and analyze literature. Thank you Doc! Also, Go Frogs!”
Alumnus Gabriel (Gabe) Wittosch (Class of 2013) graduated from the University of Georgia with a BAA in Finance. Gabe currently works for Transaction Services Consultant at FTI Consulting in Midtown, Atlanta. When asked about his opinion of a Christ-centered education, he indicated, “I really enjoyed the Christ centered education at JFCA and can’t recommend the program enough. I feel that in transitional years such as high school and college, it’s easy to lose sight of your walk with Christ amidst school, sports, and planning for the future. Having it be a part of the school day and being surrounded by followers made it easy to stay on track and grow in my faith.” Gabe states that he has “been blessed with great opportunities since I left JFCA, in both college and post graduate life. Keeping God at the center of my endeavors and trusting in Him when things get tough has allowed me to continue to progress while staying grounded in my faith.”
When asked what would be important for students/parents to know, Gabe replied that “The format of going to school part of the week while working on your own for the remainder prepared me to jump right into the college, where you only have classes 2-3 days a week. JFCA taught me proper study tactics and the discipline to push work along on my own outside of the classroom. This is a key to success in college where young adults suddenly have more freedom than ever before. I have enjoyed watching JFCA grow following my graduation. God has definitely used the program to make meaningful impacts in a lot of kids’ lives, and I look forward to seeing it progress in the future!” We are proud of you Gabe!
Alumnus Justin Shetler (Class of 2017) is currently serving in the School of Ministry and Missions at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Throughout this yearlong program, he will be reading various books on leadership in ministry, emotional health in faith and spirituality, and pastoral roles in ministry. In addition to this, he is also working with Bobby Smith in the Worship and Arts ministry at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church.
Justin has received a lot of different opinions from both teachers and students about Christian schools, and not all of them have been positive. In response, Justin said, “I am grateful to have gone to a Christian school. Throughout the entirety of both middle school and high school, I struggled continuously with depression. I grew up going to church, so I knew a lot about God and the Bible, but all I had was knowledge. I lacked the wisdom to apply that knowledge to my life. However, I was lucky to have a number of teachers that helped guide in my walk with Christ.”
Justin also commented on his teachers: “One of my science teachers, David Cain, opened every class with a short devotional from Proverbs. Although some of my classmates thought this time was a waste and just something that was boring to get through, (I’ll admit, sometimes I didn’t have the best attitude about it either), looking back I am grateful for that time because it allowed me to listen to and learn from someone older and wiser than myself. Another teacher that I am grateful for is Brian Hunt, my Apologetics teacher senior year. His testimony was truly inspiring to me, and I was able to relate to a lot of what he struggled with in his own life. He showed me by his own example just how amazing and wonderful the redeeming power and love of Christ is in our lives. Finally, I have to mention Dr. Judy Romanchuk. As I have mentioned, I struggled with depression very heavily in high school. I was overly critical of myself in all areas of my life, and I saw myself as a burden to my teachers, but that changed because of a single conversation with Dr. Romanchuk. I can still clearly remember the conversation. Although she was frustrated with me for repeatedly not turning in my assignments, she was more frustrated with me because she knew that I was more than capable to complete the writing with excellence. She told me that the papers I wrote were wonderfully written, and if I would just turn them in I would get good grades. That was the first time a teacher took the time to specifically say to me that they believed in me personally, and it has stuck with me ever since. Her class was one of my favorites.”
Regarding the extra-curricular program for the praise band, Justin says, “Through the student worship band at JFCA, I met Bobby Smith, the mentor for the band as well as the Worship and Arts Pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Throughout my time in the band, I learned from Bobby not only what it means to lead worship with an instrument, but also what it means to be a man of God. That mentorship has continued beyond high school, and he remains the man I look up to the most. What is truly amazing and special to me is that now, five years later, I have the opportunity to work alongside him in mentoring the same band that God used to begin a major change in my life, and ultimately lead to me realizing what it means to have a relationship with the God of the universe.”
One thing Justin wants to communicate to the students of JFCA is, “More than anything else, love each other and encourage each other. Matthew 22:37-39 instructs us to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ I spent too much time and energy in high school harboring hatred and anger in my heart. I let it affect my friendships and relationships, but the truth is you never know what people are going through or struggling with, and the smallest kind word or action could be the difference between life and death for someone. Be there for people. Even if you aren’t a Christian, love people. Be there for people, especially the ones you care about. Be honest about what you’re struggling with, and don’t hide the painful and uncomfortable emotions from those who are close to you and care about you. If you are a Christian, show the incredible love of Christ to everyone you interact with.”
In addition, Justin shared, “In my sophomore year, I reached a low point with my depression, and I wanted to end my own life. But it was the reaching out of another student that helped change my mind. They showed the love of Christ to me when I thought I was worth absolutely nothing at all. I want to encourage all of you to be brave, be bold, and don’t shy away from real and painful emotions. Whether they are yours or someone else’s, don’t look away. Jesus loves every single one of you more than His own life, and He is always thinking of you. If He loves us all that much, we can love each other enough to support one another through difficult times.”
Justin’s message to JFCA parents is, “To any parents that may be reading this, I can tell you that going to JFCA significantly changed the trajectory of my life. Much of what I have learned about the importance of being a man of God and showing the love of Christ to others, I learned because of my experience at JFCA. The administration works hard to provide teachers that believe in the students and invest in their futures. I truly would not be anywhere close to who I am today had it not been for my experiences at JFCA. I am forever grateful.”
Morgan Helmendach Stone (Class of 2012) graduated from Clemson University in 2015 summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies, minoring in Business Administration. Currently, Morgan owns and operates The Tutoring Center of Greenville, helping students K-12 in Reading, Math and Writing. She opened the doors in 2016 and still has the same level of passion and enthusiasm for helping children reach their full potential both academically and spiritually.
When asked about her opinion of a Christ-centered education, Morgan replied, “Words cannot express how grateful I am to have had a Christ-centered education. In fact, Dr. Maiocco and her amazing team absolutely changed my life by giving me the opportunity to learn about the Lord in an academic setting. At a time when I felt hopeless and burnt out in every way, the Lord led me straight to Dr. Maiocco and it was no coincidence as it positively shifted the trajectory of my life, giving me a new hope and drive. In my opinion, the opportunity to participate in this program was genuinely one of the biggest milestones I experienced in my life, helping to shape me both spiritually and academically into the woman I am today. I was able to take dual-enrollment courses, be challenged as I grew spiritually and (for the first time in my academic career) learn and retain content by removing myself from the traditional 40 hour school week. The program was so incredible that I ended up being able to skip a full year of high school and skip a year of college, graduating college at 20 years old. Having a Christian education not only challenged me as a scholar, but more importantly, it strengthened my walk with the Lord.”
Regarding Morgan’s relationship with The Lord, Morgan stated, “All the glory goes to Him. The Lord has given me SO many blessings and I am in consistent awe at the ways He continues to provide for my family and challenge me an individual.” And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. -1 Corinthians 13:13
Morgan’s advice to students would be, “You are the active ingredient to your miracle. The Lord wants to do amazing things for you and through you, and that means you need to use the skills He has blessed you with to the very best of your abilities. Personally, I have to intentionally set aside time to purse Him every single day, refocusing my mind and self to be centered on Him so that I don’t overlook the amazing opportunities he has already put in my path and the ones still to come. Every day I strive to be an active follower, disciple, and leader.”
Alumna Quinlyn Ryan Chinworth (Class of 2009) graduated from Oral Roberts University in 2009 with a B.S. in Nursing. She has traveled and worked in several different states with her nursing degree over the past six years. In 2018, she was nominated for Preceptor of the Year in Portland, OR. Currently, Quinlyn works part time as a Medical-Surgical Nurse on a Trauma Unit at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma and recently started teaching Nursing part-time as Adjunct Faculty at ORU.
When asked about receiving a Christ-centered education, Quinlyn said, “Personally, a Christ-Centered education was the right choice for me—particularly in the tailored learning environment. I valued the smaller classes and quality friendships I was able to make. Some of the teachers still very much stand out in my mind for the care they took in investing in us. I frequently reference my high-school years as a positive experience that equipped me with a strong foundation to build on in life. I was in Christian education from 1st grade through college, and while great foundations can be laid for students in all atmospheres, I believe this one helped ground me as I stepped into a field of work where I am confronted on a regular basis with despair, hostile and cynical people, hopelessness, pride in arbitrary circumstances of life, and those grasping for control in situations out of their control.”
Quinlyn also says, “Having a strong Christian faith and trust in God gives me the strength I need every day in my life and my work to remain hopeful myself and bring hope and trust to others. It has brought steadiness and strength into my life at times where there was none to be found to hold on to in my world, and it has brought grace and empathy into my heart in place of judgement and unattainable standards. I honestly could not hold the hands of these despairing, hopeless people and carry on in my work otherwise.”
Something she wants students and parents to know is that, “No environment, even a Christian education, is a substitute for your own intentional effort in building a strong and faithful walk with Christ. I was blessed to have parents who tirelessly invested in my walk with Christ, but I know others even from some Christ-Centered Educations who were not so lucky and our paths have very much diverged. Education can be a great supplement, but parents must be the first example of faith in Christ and of Christ’s love, and students themselves must take it to heart and make their own relationship with Him.”
Alumnus Connor Lewis (Class of 2014) currently attends Emory University’s School of Nursing, and will graduate next May with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (with future plans to return to school for a Doctorate of Nursing Practice in Anesthesia). He has also earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University in the Fall of 2016 where he graduated with honors and was inducted into Phi Kappa Phi. Connor works at Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital in cardiac surgery pre/post-op, with the occasional opportunity to float into the operating room. He said, “I was truly blessed by the education I received at JFCA. The structure of courses and opportunity for dual-enrollment gave me a great box of tools to carry into my time in university. Beyond the academic experience I had at JFCA (or throwing it way back to when I started at Independent Studies), I experienced Christ in those halls. While I didn’t necessarily “fit in” spiritually as an Orthodox Christian going to high-school in a Baptist church, I was accepted and my viewpoint was heard when it came to matters of the faith and that was more beneficial to my growth as a Christian than any alternative that comes to mind.”
Connor encourages students entering the program, or currently involved in it, to know, “Your instructors are not your friends, but they are your allies. Meaning, be comfortable approaching your teachers but do it with the utmost respect. Having now had the opportunity to lecture and TA at the university level, and also teach at JFCA occasionally, I feel like I have a new look at what it feels like to be on the other side of the teacher’s desk and the student/teacher dynamic is entirely different between a student asking a respectful question/sending a respectful email and a student who approaches the instructor with indignation and haughtiness even if the topic of the conversation is the same. So, start your emails with a greeting and close them properly. It makes a world of difference.”
In addition, he wants to encourage parents of JFCA students: “Be involved. Please. It is so valuable to be involved in your child’s life. But let your children do hard things. The lessons they will learn by having to have that conversation (about grades, course content, etc.) with their instructor will serve them well as they progress in formal education. The temptation to send the email for your student is great, and you’d be surprised at how many emails I received from the parents of college students while I was a TA…emails that I promptly deleted, because of FERPA and shock. But resist! Unless it is something that obviously requires parental intervention, which I’m certain you will know those situations.”
Connor’s final words to JFCA families are, “You (parents and students) are capable individuals. Attack life with vigor and courage. It’s much easier to face things with an attitude of “Why not?” and, as I like to say “Just Do The Thing” versus “Why?” and realizing that in most situations the worst outcome isn’t even bad. So good luck and God bless.”—Connor Lewis
Alumna Andie Daniell (Class of 2015) graduated from the University of Alabama in 2019 summa cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Education (exercise science pre-Pt with concentration in nutrition), and currently playing professional tennis.
When asked about receiving a Christian education, she said, “I’m so thankful for the Christ-centered education I received at JFCA. Not only did this school help prepare me for the education I would receive in college, but it also helped me be prepared spiritually. My relationship with the Lord grew a lot in college, but if I didn’t have a relationship with him before…I honestly do not think I would of handled the trials I faced in college very well and would not have had the wisdom, faith, or perseverance to do the things I ended up doing. Being at JFCA before college helped me develop these characteristics and learn that pursuing Christ and having him at the center of my life is far more awesome then having a perfect sports career, job title, internship etc.”
In addition, she says, “I’ve usually focused on God’s truth, but neglected his grace. I’m starting to realize that God is 100% truth and 100% grace and to know God better you have to understand both. I’m also learning to have faith in God’s timing and provision right now since professional tennis is a very unstable environment. He’s teaching me literally to live by his provision everyday and not be so caught up in the future.”
One thing Andie would like students and parents to know is that: “Your freshman year of college is going to be a huge adjustment. It’s an adjustment weather you are a student athlete or Albert Einstein. I cannot stress how important it is to keep your eyes on Christ and find a body of believers to encourage and sharpen you. Your freshman year might be tough, but fun, or it might be very very challenging…but if you keep your eyes on Christ and listen to him, you never know what impact you will have down the road and it’s worth it in the end. Just remember that glorifying Christ and growing in your love for him daily is your goal…and you’ll be fine!”
Her final encouragement to students is, “Work hard! Have fun! Don’t be afraid of failure! And always keep Christ in the center…he’s the only one who knows exactly how your feeling and exactly what you need! Y’all are going to kill it!”
Alumna Lauren Collini (Class of 2012) graduated from Kennesaw State University in May 2019 with a B.S. in Middle Grades Education with concentrations in Science and Math. She will begin her teaching career as a 7th grade science teacher at E.T. Booth Middle School in Cherokee County this coming August.
Reflecting on her time in Christian school, she said, “I enjoyed my experience, however I don’t think that I appreciated it as much as I should have until I began teaching in public schools. Seeing first hand the difference in culture, friends, and quality of education has made me forever grateful to my parents for the opportunity they provided for me through JFCA. I have relied on my relationship with the Lord to guide all of my major life decisions. I took gap years to serve as a missionary overseas through Youth With a Mission after graduating from JFCA, which was a very unconventional path from a worldly point of view. I sought the Lord’s guidance and I truly believe that He has lead me to where I am now and prepared me for teaching middle school students in ways better than I could have done on my own accord.”
Lauren’s encouragement for current students is: “I think it is important for students and parents to know the lessons I learned from JFCA have prepared me for every aspect of my life. Most importantly, they encouraged me to follow the Lord’s leading regarding my post graduation decisions. In addition to this, they taught me time management skills, people skills, and how to be a teacher that is invested in the lives of my students beyond the walls of the classroom.”
Alumna Rachel Daniell (Class of 2011) graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, M.D. Rachel is currently a Family Medicine Resident at Naval Medical Center Camp Lejeune, NC. She will be continuing her training in family medicine as a lieutenant in the Navy for the next three years.
When asked about her opinion of receiving a Christ-centered education, she replied, “Looking back I am so glad that my parents placed me in an environment in which education was taught through a biblical perspective. Especially going to a secular university, I am thankful that I had a strong base coming in due to receiving a Christ-centered education.”
Regarding her walk with Christ, Rachel said, “I feel that my relationship with the Lord has influenced all my major decisions in life, including my choice to pursue medicine. His faithfulness throughout my journey through undergrad and medical school at UAB has been amazing. I just want to keep my eyes fixed on Him throughout residency and follow Him wherever He leads. Knowing Him is of more value than any success I could ever achieve professionally, and making His name known to others is more important than any disease I will ever treat.”
To students attending JFCA, she says, “Make sure to keep God at the center. It can be very easy to make education, hobbies, or really anything, an idol. Just remember that He is worth more than anything else, and use the unique gifts and talents He has given you to bring glory to Him.”