September 16, 2022

From struggling student to dynamic educator, Shepherd preschool director is a model of hope and love

School didn’t come easy for Diana Reed. She repeated kindergarten as a child, was then held back to take first grade again, and was almost retained in second grade while growing up in Edinburgh, Indiana.

“My parents tried to help me, but I struggled because they didn’t have the educational tools to help me,” Reed says. “My parents never graduated high school, so it wasn’t that they didn’t want me to do my best. They just didn’t know how to help me excel.”

Yet, neither Reed nor her parents gave up. Deciding against another year in the second grade for her daughter, Reed’s mother enrolled her in summer school. “That’s when it all clicked,” Reed says, “and I found a love for reading.”

It all certainly did click.  Today, Reed holds a master’s degree in education with a specialty in early childhood education. And she serves as director of Shepherd Neighborhood Childcare at Minnie Hartmann.

The center’s services include daycare, preschool and before and after-school care. Importantly, it provides affordable, reliable and safe care for kids while their parents are working.

“The beauty of the Shepherd family is that they come alongside our neighbors and one another to help all of us achieve our dreams,” Reed says. “We wrap around the entire family, helping to meet not only their educational needs but also their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. We can offer resources that most childcare centers don’t have, like a food pantry, medical, counseling, budgeting, job training, and coaching.  We can be open later hours and do it in a way that is affordable for our neighborhood families.”

Reed’s journey with Shepherd is itself a remarkable story. She started as a volunteer in the food pantry and joined a women’s Bible study. She then volunteered to serve in the preschool, a move that would change her life – and the lives of hundreds of students – forever.

“When I got to know (Shepherd Executive Director) Jay Height, I confided in him about our family’s financial challenges, and he gave me a job cleaning the Shepherd church,” Reed says.  “Then one of the teachers was leaving the preschool, and Jay asked if I would like to lead the 3-year-olds’ classroom. I was so excited. I never thought anyone would think me capable of leading a classroom! But Jay told me that to lead, I would have to go back to school to get my degree. I felt disappointed, but he just smiled at me and said, ‘Go, Diana. You can do it!’ And I did. I was 26 with a young family and a full-time job, but I did it. For the first time in my life, people saw in me something I couldn’t see. People encouraged me to see how smart and capable I was, even when I couldn’t see it in myself.”

After earning an associate degree in early childhood education, Reed’s desire to pursue her education kept growing – thanks to Shepherd’s encouragement. A preschool coordinator position opened. And again, Height asked Reed to take the job.

“Jay said to me, ‘I want you to have this position, but you must get your bachelor’s,’ “ Reed says. “I never thought I would have an actual college degree, but I went to Ashworth (College) and got my education degree.”

Even then, Reed’s education and career growth were far from complete.  The job of director of education at the Shepherd Academy become available. Height went to Reed for a third time to offer a promotion.

“Jay came to me and asked, ‘When are you returning to college?’ I laughed and said, ‘I’m not!’ He just smiled at me. I laugh whenever I think about that, but I now have my master’s (in education).”

Now, Reed helps students and their families understand that God can open doors they can’t yet see. And that each of them is valuable and valued.

“I try to tell every child how beautiful and handsome they are,” she says. “I tell them I love them, and they are special and treasured. I don’t know how often they hear it, but I want them to hear it here every day. I want to give them what I wish I had more of in my life. But, most of all, I want every child to know they are loved deeply by God, and the love I show them cannot compare to God’s love.”

But Diana Reed doesn’t just talk about God’s love. She reflects it each day with her students and staff. And she models the hope that where a person starts in life doesn’t have to be where they end up.

“Shepherd has a way of helping you see the best in yourself and pushing you to do things you never thought possible,” Reed says. “And I love working for a place that makes me feel that way and values everyone around us – no matter their income or education – to feel the same.”

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