In this “Meet the Oakdale staff” posting, I want you to meet Heather Odell, who came to us in 2011 after graduating from Roberts Wesleyan College with a BA in psychology and a minor in Women’s Studies and Ministry. Heather has worked as dorm parent, often also serving as a campus cook  and assistant in the business office.

When I first came to Oakdale, I felt the overwhelming burden of being a dorm parent. I was responsible for several students whose parents and guardians were relying on me to help them raise their children while away from home. Having only graduated from college months earlier, I came to Oakdale with limited experience raising teenagers. In fact, many parents thought I was another student their children would be living with, instead of a dorm parent who would be guiding, disciplining, and loving their children. I felt inadequate to parent the teenagers God brought to Oakdale.


While supervising students in the dorm during my first year at Oakdale, I operated as if I was responsible for the students. Every time a student brought an issue to me, I attempted to solve it and if I could not solve it then I adopted the student’s feelings about the issue. If a student chose to make an unwise decision, often I would take some of the consequences upon myself without letting the student be fully responsible for his or her decision. For instance, I used to walk around the dorm picking up students’ clothes and backpacks. I wanted to prevent them from “losing points” and I wanted the dorm to be a clutter free environment for other students.

Quickly, I learned it was not my responsibility to pick up after students. By picking up after them, I enforced that they could be as messy as they wanted and they would have no consequences. How could being responsible for a student be a misguided endeavor? After all, that is one aspect of my job description, right?

Ending the year feeling exhausted and looking forward to a break from being a dorm parent, I realized I could no longer be responsible for the students I parented. If I had to be responsible for these students, I would not be able to work at Oakdale much longer. Fortunately, God showed up and taught me I am only responsible to Him, to the students, to the parents, and to the Oakdale Community. I am no longer responsible for them.

Being responsible to these groups of people means I love, listen, guide, empathize, share, and challenge. I no longer have to bear the weight of a student’s decision; my responsibility is to be present, to walk alongside, and to let God be responsible for His children who He made and loves. I simply need to give these precious students back to Him and ask Him for His Spirit to work within me to care for them. Today may you experience this same God who loves you and carries your burdens!