Children going through the unimaginable receive empathy and special attention from social worker Azia Rouse
Family is everything. Growing up in Paducah, Azia Rouse was surrounded by a village of parishioners, her maternal grandparents, and doting mom Felicia Rouse. Her church family at Harrison Street Baptist Church on Paducah’s northside was a place where Azia spent much of her time ‘heavily involved in youth ministry.’ Her mom is a Paducah Tilghman High School alumni and has always been there for Azia. Having a loving parent and strong foundation in the teachings of Jesus Christ, Azia’s career choice led her down the path of advocating for others.
In the Paducah area, 25% of children live below the poverty line. Living below the poverty line means a child’s basic needs of food, water and shelter aren’t being met. Poverty, child neglect, and abuse become a vicious cycle of despair that tends to go together. It’s people like Azia who dedicate their careers to breaking that vicious cycle.
Azia's K-12 education began at Clark Elementary School in Paducah’s west end. After elementary school she attended Paducah Middle School and Paducah Tilghman High School. Azia participated in The Band of Blue Color Guard and the BETA Club. The color guard performs with the marching band. The BETA Club is an academic club that requires a 3.5 GPA or better. In addition to academic achievements, BETA Club members are of good character and take part in leadership roles.
A class favorite and full of promise, Azia set out to make the world a better place. While in high school, she volunteered at the Oscar Cross Boys and Girls Club of Paducah. Oscar Cross has served disadvantaged youth in Paducah for over 60 years. Located across from Bob Noble Park, their mission is to enable all young people, especially those in need, to be productive, caring, and responsible citizens.
Azia was also part of the Keystone Club which is the Boys and Girls Club movement’s ultimate teen program. Those ages 14 - 18 take part in leadership development opportunities that focus on academic success, career preparedness, and community service.
While at PTHS, the Paducah/McCracken County Chamber of Commerce awarded Azia Teen of the Month. She was also crowned PTHS Homecoming Queen her senior year. To be homecoming queen, students vote on a homecoming court. Then, the football team crown their queen.
After graduating high school in 2012, Azia attended the University of Kentucky in Lexington. It was here that things started to fall in place...educational goals aligned with career aspirations. She did spend a moment or two in the dietetics field, but quickly discovered, it’s children and families that tug at her heart-strings. “I knew I wanted to work with kids,” said Azia. This was her true passion. Saving one family, one life, through hard work, dedication, and prayer. Azia’s major was Family Science and her goal was to work with kids and the family unit.
Along with her studies, Azia participated in a mentoring program called College Mentors for Kids. By joining a college mentoring program, students can transform other’s lives as well as their own.
Kids would go to the university campus for fun, hands-on activities and to connect with college student mentors like Azia. Student mentors help kids believe in a brighter future. The mission focuses on opening windows of opportunity for underserved children. The idea is to expose impressionable children to positive pathways to make healthier and wiser life choices.
Opportunities like being financially independent and giving back to communities isn’t always the life these children witness. The program makes a big difference on both sides of the fence...the children and the mentor. College students learn to give back to communities through volunteering. It helps to develop leadership skills and make meaningful, impactful relationships. It changes lives.
After receiving her Bachelor’s Degree, Azia continued her education at UK pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
Azia's first career job started as an intern at KVC Health Systems. KVC is a non-profit organization that helps families with in-home therapy, behavioral healthcare, foster care, adoption and children’s psychiatric needs. The program helps to equip children, families, and adults in crisis with the skills and resources needed to change a negative trajectory.
For two years, Azia was a Comprehensive Community Support Assistant helping to bridge the divide between public schools and parents to cut a child’s negative behavior through support services such as therapy.
“One client that struck a chord with me was an eight year old foster youth. She was so sweet but feisty and hated when I showed up at her school. Kids would ask her if I was her mother,” Azia said. “She would throw tantrums when she saw me coming. By the time she calmed down, it was time to return to class. One day she asked if I would stop seeing her during the school day. The little girl said she already felt uncomfortable because she was a foster child.” Azia started working with her after school. After weeks of after school meetings, the bond between the two became very special. Listening to the needs of a child can make all the difference in the world. This part of Azia’s job is a game changer.
Soon, a transfer to another department within the company transpired. Azia moved to Family Preservation and Reunification. FPRS provides in-home, community-based intensive services to cut safety risks jeopardizing children’s placement in the home. It’s designed to help families stay safely together, divert children from being placed in foster care or a residential treatment center, aid reunifying children from out-of-home placement, and improve family relationships.
Azia moved back to Paducah three months ago. She accepted a position as an Independent Living Coordinator in the Training Resource Center at Murray State University. The program offers independent living services to youth in home care and who have aged out of the system.
The common thread throughout Azia’s career has been to help those in need. “I think some of the youth we meet have been through more than we can ever imagine and they deserve more attention and empathy,” said Azia. Working with youth after they turn 18 is such a critical time. Twenty thousand youth age out of foster care each year and they are at risk for poor educational outcomes, experiencing homelessness, and unemployment. Part of Azia’s role is to help those at MSU avoid becoming a statistic.
There’s a time to work and a time to play. Azia loves to travel. In fact, part of her plans include traveling to all 50 states as well as international destinations. In 2018, Azia traveled to Belize for some much-needed R&R. Shopping is a stress reliever too. A trip to Hollywood, California helped to scratch that itch.
In the not too distant future, Azia plans to complete her school social work certificate. Professional social workers are highly trained and specialized. Azia has two degrees and is making plans for more training to reach her goals. Currently, Azia has a MSW or Masters in Social Work.
One can only imagine the commitment and unbelievable stress that comes with being a social worker. Azia’s work for the underserved and misguided is an understatement. The skills she learned as a girl, a college student, and as a career social worker will change the trajectory of so many lives. Children who experience poverty, neglect, and abuse are more likely than not to continue dysfunctional behaviors and lifestyles if not for people like Azia. “My faith in God keeps me going. I know the reward in the end will be grand.” Azia Rouse