Kim Snell has been talking about and planning her retirement for the past two years, but that has not made her exit from Rutherford County Schools any easier.
After more than 14 years as the ATLAS liaison, Snell said, "This has been my identity."
ATLAS is a program that serves the academic and social needs of homeless or displaced students.
Through her role, Snell's well known and well regarded as an advocate for more than 1,000 homeless students in the county.
"I've always said I have the best job in the district," Snell said. "Everything I did was helping somebody and I've been in it 14 and a half years, so I've really been able to kind of mold this job into my personality."
Her retirement follows on the heels of her husband Mike Snell, who retired as the school district's transportation coordinator in June 2019. The couple plan to relocate to South Carolina, where they recently built a new home, so they can be closer to family.
The thought of spending more time with grandchildren brings excitement to what has been an otherwise sad process made strange by the unceremonious ending to the current school year because of health concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
"My greatest concern for the kids that I serve has been their safety," Snell said, "because many of them live in situations that are not safe."
In recent weeks, the shutdown of schools has kept Snell busy coordinating between school nutrition and area churches and other charitable organizations that provide food to students for the weekends and trying to get food supplies into the community.
Snell said she has not been able to personally communicate with the roughly 1,125 ATLAS students enrolled in Rutherford County Schools.
Instead, she's been in constant contact with ATLAS reps for each of the schools and, in turn, they are each engaging the families of 50 to 10 students and families depending on their respective school enrollment numbers.
"I'm not sure what the next few weeks are going to look like," said Snell, who anticipates there will be a deadline for applications regarding grant money, but in the meantime is helping her replacement, Jessica Johnson, transition from her previous role as counselor at Eagleville School to her new role as ATLAS liaison.
"She's going to be fabulous," Snell said of Johnson. "She has a heart for homeless kids."
Johnson added, "Kim has done an amazing job. I just want to be Kim's shadow until she's gone just to try and get my head wrapped around it all. It's been a crazy week and I'm still not really sleeping because I'm waking up and writing stuff down and I'm excited about the possibility."
Johnson has worked as a counselor at Eagleville, Oakland High and Central Magnet after working 12 years as a social worker.
She sees her new ATLAS position a "combining both worlds."
"For me, I can do my social work thing and help families and students get the resources they need to be successful," Johnson said, "and still be with students and school counselors."
She added, "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to be successful so our students are successful. Period."
In the meantime, Johnson has been meeting with RCS staff and Snell has been going over processing forms, communicating with churches and charitable organizations, speaking opportunities and training personnel.
"I do feel like the poverty simulations are probably my legacy," said Snell, who completed her 45th simulation on March 12 at Cedar Grove Elementary. "I've taught more teachers to walk in somebody else's shoes and think about how they react to a parent or somebody who's going through a stressful time.
"They don't have the lifetime of living in poverty."
Learning to understand the growing homeless issue in Rutherford County is a passion Snell developed throughout her 14 years in the role at ATLAS Liaison.
And as much as she's looking forward to more time with family, she is no doubt going to miss helping an underserved and overlooked portion of the local community.
"It's bittersweet," concluded Snell, who was driven to help others. "That's what kept me going."