From a Sense of Self


Photo by Shannon Watson Photography

From a strong sense of self, great things are accomplished, lives can be changed and miracles can happen.  A strong and healthy sense of self anchors us to our roots and binds us to family.  It brings honest awareness of  who we are, an honest assessment of our strengths and weaknesses and a trust in the unwinding of our unique pathway.

To witness that sense of self and the balance of poise and enthusiasm in an adult is impressive.  But Riley Jaggers is 13 years old and a student at Station Camp Middle School in Sumner County.  Hearing Riley talk about her life is a delightful experience.  It is obvious that her family, friends, school, church and community have all contributed to her sense of who she is and what she wants to do in life.

That strong sense of self begins with a loving, close-knit family that enjoys doing things, facing challenges and building wonderful memories together.  But for a young woman, it is also reinforced by the presence in her life of strong women role models, including her mother, Melissa Jaggers, who serves as Associate Executive Director of Alignment Nashville that aligns Metro schools with existing resources throughout the community.

“It really comes from my mom and growing up in an atmosphere that focuses on education and doing things for others,” Riley says.

That desire to serve others as an active expression of self is also part of a life-long connection with her church.

“I’ve been attending the Community Church of Hendersonville since before I was born,” Riley laughs.  “It really is a huge family with wonderful people like (children’s minister) Becky Kitchen in my life.  When our house flooded two times (2008 and 2010), everything was ruined, but so many people from the church were lined up around the house to help.”

That anchor is also extended by the church to provide chances for personal growth.  Pastor Doug Varnado created a leadership team for kids, offering opportunities to students in middle school and high school to develop small group leadership skills.  The pastor’s invitation is simple: “I’ve seen you be a leader and serve other people.” Those who accept the call have a chance to serve both within the church and in the larger community.

“I’m just starting to be a part of the team and to do things in the church,” Riley says.  “But a couple of weeks ago, we went to an event, Under the Bridge, to bring food and a sermon to the homeless on Jefferson Street.”


On stage at The Theater Bug

This summer, Riley will be part of her first mission trip, traveling to San Diego, California, where team members will cross the border each day to Tecate, Mexico to build a home for a family.  Her dream is to continue with mission trips, which she hopes will include missions to places like Haiti.

“I would love to major in pastoring in college and become a youth minister,” she says.  “I’d love to work with small children.”

In addition to her church, dance and theater play a major role in her development and sense of self.  She has been taking dance instruction (tap and hip-hop) at the American Academy of Dance since age nine.  Two years ago, she added theater, joining The Theater Bug in East Nashville.

Recently moved to the New Life Baptist Church on Gallatin Pike, this innovative and dynamic theater, led by Cori Anne Laemmel, offers young actors a safe environment in which to explore the challenging issues of life.  Under The Theater Bug’s motto: Creating Community, Building Confidence, Changing Lives, Laemmel writes and directs productions that tackle teen issues ranging from dramas about adoption or autism, to musicals such as the upcoming January production, 7 Ways to Sunday, that explore teen suicide.

“Sometimes we have a student who has been in the situation we are addressing in the play,” Riley says.  “But other times we spend time as actors learning about the issue before we begin the process of character analysis and reading lines, and then we start rehearsals.”

For a young woman who envisions a life of service to other young people, these powerful experiences provide a new depth in development of a confident self.

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