Amy Cochran is walking toward her dreams.
Some have already come true.
In her five years with the Rutherford County schools, she has been able to offer unconditional positive regard to students at the Reach High School as their guidance counselor.
In her additional role as a counselor with Blue Ridge Hope, she makes the same offering.
As a believer who worships at Salem United Methodist Church, she calls her journey a miracle.
Unconditional positive regard?
"So many people just need somebody to listen and show they care, regardless of their circumstances," she said of her work with both the schools and Blue Ridge Hope.
A native of Rutherford County and a graduate of Chase High School, she is an enthusiastic ally of Allyson and Rev. Travis Smith, who work with her out of the Main Street, Rutherfordton office of Blue Ridge Hope.
"They are two of the most passionate, energetic, non-judgmental people I have ever known," she said of the couple.
Her journey to her current work has brought her to what she calls "mid-career changes." After 23 years in the corporate world, she transitioned to counseling and offering unconditional positive regard for her clients.
"My top priority is inclusion, that anyone and everyone feels welcome. All of us at Blue Ridge Hope want people--regardless of their background, situation, gender identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or other socioeconomic factors--to feel that they are part of a community of care, that they belong," she said.
Really? Everyone belongs?
She talked about a student in an earlier school setting who sat at the back of the room, slouched in his seat, pulled his cap down almost covering his eyes.
"I paid attention to him, showed him I cared. He almost instantly became engaged," she said.
In an environment of judgment, finger-pointing, verbal warfare on every channel, how do we practice non-judgment?
"When we spend less time and energy judging others, we open up more time and energy for loving others. It is difficult but doable, and the return on our efforts is greater peace of mind. That is a big part of my faith journey and plays a big part in this work," she said.
Rev. Smith, who is executive director of the agency, said of Cochran, "Amy is the consummate professional, she has a calm presence and is so talented at her calling that she puts clients at ease. Amy has a kind heart and an analytical mind which makes her an amazing counselor. It is Blue Ridge Hope's honor and great gratitude to have Amy on staff."
That calm presence really came into play with a recent client.
Amy said the woman had felt judged by a lot of people in her life who were "prim and proper." The reason the woman appreciated Amy's calm presence and continued to use her as a counselor had to do with her, "Not acting like she was too pure for our kind."
Amy sees clients at the Main Street, Rutherfordton office on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and can be booked through the blueridgehope.org web site or at 828-305-9806.
She talked about serving people regardless of situation or background. That matters so much in a culture where people are often judged by the way we dress, talk, what we drive, our homes, bank accounts, the color of our skin and who we love. It is also very important when such judgments present us with mental health challenges that impair our ability to function in whatever challenges come along.
Her faith journey has also brought her to this, "Jesus didn't assess people for their worthiness before he cared for them, talked with them, healed them. He didn't check them out to see if they looked, thought, and acted like him before he shared a table with them. Neither should we. Every person has innate worth simply because they are a creation of the Divine, a child of God."
Amy's parents are Kenneth and Shelby Cochran.
As to the miracles that brought her to Blue Ridge Hope, she said a move brought her into a neighborhood where an across the street neighbor attended Salem. She visited, liked the congregation, and the caring for the larger community found there and met Allyson and Travis.
She felt an instant connection.
She also wanted to give a shout out to her professional supervisor, Dr. Kashanda Ray, who runs the Advising and Success Center at Isothermal Community College.
"She shares so much wisdom and insight with me," she said of Dr. Ray.
Amy Cochran holds two masters degrees, one from N.C. State University in Counselor Education and one from East Carolina University in Technical and Professional Communications. She holds an undergraduate degree from Limestone College in Business Administration.