Grace Sparks

Grace gains valuable experience at Iowa State

Grace knew at age 12 her career would involve helping other people. She enrolled in Iowa State’s child, adult, and family services program to pursue her dream.

After she started, Grace decided she needed work experience. She found a company who helped people with in-home care. She was assigned a student to job shadow. During the visit, Grace started feeling overwhelmed.

“I didn’t know if I could do it,” she said. “And when the career path you’ve been on for 10 years isn’t what you wanted, the nerves kick in.”

Instead of giving up, Grace planned to try again with another family. She went to the Student Job Board on Access+ and found a family looking for someone to help watch their daughter with Down syndrome. Grace applied and started working for the family.

Her fears disappeared and Grace knew she could do it. Now, she works 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. two nights a week and also helps out on weekends. They hang out together and Grace also takes her to special Olympic activities.

The experience taught Grace a lot of different things she can use in the future, including important distinctions between what it means to help and lead.

“I’ve learned there’s a difference between responsibility and freedom,” she said. “I have to let her make her own decisions, but at the same time I have to make sure those are good decisions.”

Over the year they’ve been together, Grace has become close to the family and has developed friendships.

“It feels like a friendship,” she said. “It’s getting paid to hang out with someone.”
“It made me look at who I am as a person,” she said. “It made me put others before myself.”

Although Grace plans to work with at-risk students in the future, she feels the experience and lessons she learned helping this family applies to her career.

“Your job is to work yourself out of a job,” she said. “You want to make their lives better so that they don’t need you. And that’s my goal, just with a different audience.”