Why We Do What We Do: The Art Store

School-Based Health Alliance Leadership Fellow Allison Kilcoyne, MS RN c-FNP, shares a touching story about what inspires her to do her job every day.

The School-Based Health Alliance’s Leadership Fellows Program has been a true gift. What has most affected my professional journey has been learning to identify and talk about our Why? Why do we do what we do in school-based health care? Through discussion, journaling, and storytelling, I have crafted a story that illustrates my Why? so that others can understand the profound work that we all do:

The Art Store

One fall day I was walking through a local art store with my 13-year-old daughter. She required some supplies to build a 3D human cell and, apparently, I was not being helpful. After a small heated exchange, I began to walk away. In that moment, I was reflecting on how challenging it is to parent a teenager—and as a nurse practitioner with 15 years of experience in school-based health care, I consider myself well versed in adolescent issues.

Then, from across the store, I hear a loud voice.


I turned to see a young woman running towards me with her arms outstretched. A long, large, wonderful hug followed.

“Do you remember me?” she asked, looking into my eyes. I always fear this question; I have seen so many patients over the years and sometimes names escape me. Luckily, I saw her nametag. Then I remembered. Her story came flooding back to me. Tears began to appear in my eyes.

She was a patient of mine in a high school school-based health center (SBHC). Her story was like so many others: homeless, poor relationship with parents, high-risk behavior. She sought care in the SBHC at least weekly during her five years in high school, sometimes more frequently. The SBHC staff were her medical providers, her behavioral health providers, her community health workers, her guidance counselors, her teachers, her friends, and at times her mother.

Our relationship was intense for those five years. At her graduation I was as proud as any biological family member would be—we took photographs and hung them on the wall for others to see. Then, as we have to do, we wished her well and let her go. This is usually the end of the story for me.

Now, years later, I get to hear the happy ending. She is in her mid-20s; she is employed. As we stood there in the art store she told me about her apartment, her two-year-old son, her enrollment in the local community college. What a gift!

I introduced her to my daughter. She looked into my daughter’s eyes and said,

“Do you know how lucky you are to come home to your mom every day? I always wished that she was my mom, and she was for a while. She helped me more than you could ever know.”

After a little catching up, and after I wiped the tears from my face, my daughter and I left the store.

“Gee mom,” Erin said. “She really liked you.”

“And I really liked her.”

There was silence for a few minutes until we opened the car door and climbed in.

“So that is what you do?”

Big breath.

“Yes, sweetheart, that is what I do.”

Learn more about our Leadership Fellows Program.

1 thought on “Why We Do What We Do: The Art Store”

  1. Allison, this is truly a touching story—one of many for the students that you have impacted simply through your presence and care within the clinic. It serves as a reminder that youth, especially those that are experiencing trauma or are disenfranchised, can be greatly affected from small acts of compassion. Schools can serve as the great equalizer and are often the last resort of hope for students whose families and/or communities have inhibited their physical and social development and advancement. SBHCs, especially their staff, can proactively serve as a collective response to mediating factors that influence a child’s well-being and potential, both in and outside the classroom. The effects are profound, and as observed here, very lasting.

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