In a Pinewood Elementary School classroom in the early 1990s, second grade teacher Georgia Docherty kindled a spark of passion for books in her student, Jennifer Hill.
The class did author studies on notable children’s authors like Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola and Leo Lionni. They went to meet dePaola and watch a play based on one of his books, read many books by each featured author and wrote their own books, sewing them together so they were bound like ‘real’ books.
These units interested Hill so much that when it came time for the class to do a project on their future careers, she already had her mind made up that she wanted to be an author as well.
Now 29, Hill has officially achieved that goal, and more. She is an elementary school library media specialist in St. Michael-Albertville, where she can help legions of today’s youth develop their own love for books.
She is working on her doctorate in educational leadership through Bethel University.
And through it all, Hill has spent the past 4.5 years writing a memoir to become that author she dreamed she’d become so long ago.
The book, titled “Walking With Tension,” was published late last month and can be found in paperback or e-reader form on amazon.com. Hill’s story recounts her spiritual journey during adolescence and early adulthood as she managed the challenges of growing up with cerebral palsy and of finding acceptance with a God who didn’t bring the healing she prayed for.
“What kind of God hears the desperate cry of a little girl to be physically healed…and says no?” Hill says on the book’s back page summary. She said the book explores some deep questions about God and on finding hope when situations can seem hopeless.
Hill started attending a church in Maple Grove after graduate school that she said changed her life, allowing her to feel comfortable opening up and sharing her struggles with faith and her disability. Her pastor encouraged her to write an article on this topic for the church’s magazine; Hill said the response she got from that article was ‘you should write a book.’
So in early 2010 Hill went after that goal in earnest. She finished her first draft with a feeling of satisfaction, and then hired editors to comb through it. It was shocking, she said, to see so much red.
“I think I’d compare my first draft to the raw footage of a movie,” she said. “It’s great thoughts but it wasn’t really a story yet.”
Beyond the editing work, friends came out of the woodwork to help turn Hill’s dream into a reality. Her pastor, Steve Wiens, wrote the book’s foreword and a student’s parent, graphic designer Aimee Libby, offered to design the book’s cover and handle its layout. High school classmate and friend Colleen Murphy-Gomez stepped up to help her with marketing and planning a book launching party.
This private launch party will take place on March 26, Hill’s 30th birthday.
Libby, who has a daughter with a disability, said she wanted to help Hill with this book because she’s always been so impressed by Hill and how open she is about her disability.
“Hearing her perspective of growing up with a disability made me really stop and think about how I, as a parent, have viewed and talked about my daughter’s disability,” Libby said. “There were times where I was typesetting through tears because my ‘mom heart’ was aching for what Jenny went through. Honestly, I probably got more out of helping Jenny with this project than she did! I can’t wait for people to get this book in their hands,” Libby added. “It’s really something special.”
Though people with all types of struggles, not just disabilities, can relate to the hard questions that Hill encountered on her spiritual journey, she said she does hope the book helps to fill a void.
According to Hill, that void exists in literature for adult books that discuss disabilities in adulthood, not just books geared towards parenting a child with disabilities.
“I don’t think there is a lot of literature out there about adults with disabilities,” she said. “That’s really bothersome to me because these are permanent, lifelong disabilities and there are just as many adults living with this as kids. So I just want to add to what’s out there.”
When asked how she feels about celebrating such an achievement on her 30th birthday, Hill laughed and said she mostly feels a lot of relief.
“It was such a long process and I’m just thinking, ‘Thank God it’s done,’” Hill said. “And I’m curious about what’s next.”
When you consider all Hill currently does, it seems certain that more big things are in this MHS alumni’s future. Hill estimates she is two years away from her doctorate degree, which she hopes will eventually lead to a career in higher education or as a school administrator.
She’s also busy molding minds in St. Michael Elementary School’s media center, where she was honored last fall by WCCO television for her efforts in reaching out to kids about disabilities. She has spoken openly with students about her own disability, shown them the leg brace she wears to help her walk and explained to students how she wishes other kids had acted toward her when she was a child, in hopes that she can foster positive connections and understanding among all types of students.
With her media specialist hat on, Hill takes a page from her former second grade teacher and talks about different authors with students along with having authors visit the school.
On her school’s morning news program she hosts “Book Talk Tuesdays” and she created a Magic Mailbox writing program to get kids excited about reading and writing.
More of Hill’s writing can also be found on her personal blog www.walkingwithtension.com, as well as a blog she writes for United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota at www.ucpcentralmn.org/blog.
“I hope this book reaches people,” Hill said of her memoir. “Not only that it reaches a lot of people, but I hope that it reaches into their soul.”
Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.