Hopewell Parks & Rec employee inspires community youth
HOPEWELL, Va. (WWBT) - A Hopewell woman gives a new meaning to the term “triple threat.”
A.J. McCage’s work spans far beyond the job she does inside the walls of the Hopewell Parks and Recreation Department. As the community recreation supervisor, A.J.’s primary focus is youth programming.
“I could be teaching the department about disability awareness and education, running summer camp, kind of, you name it. My position is a catch-all,” McCage said.
The “Jane” of all trades is a recreation therapist with a deeply personal passion.
“I’m, just, I’m a really big advocate for accessibility. My brother has special needs, and so watching him kind of struggle sometimes was always something for us. And then being a military family was hard to adapt to certain things,” McCage said.
While sitting with A.J., it’s easy to tell that her upbringing taught her the importance of advocacy at a very young age.
“My dad was definitely a born and bred military, and so he was an advocate for standing up for yourself,” McCage said.
But it’s not just the men in her family from whom A.J. draws her strength.
“My mom was a true warrior outside of just being a mom of three kids. We grew up with foster kids. She was an advocate for my dad progressing in the military. So, while she was going through chemo, my dad had he had three advancements within a five-year period,” McCage said.
A.J’s mom sadly died of cancer a decade ago, but the lessons she taught her now live on through A.J’s three kids of her own.
“She was the one who implemented the family time, the dinner time talk, the arts and crafts - be just the expressive pieces, you know?” McCage says of her late mom, Jennifer.
If motherhood wasn’t challenging enough, McCage is also earning her master’s degree from Clemson University, studying youth development and leadership. She says the decision to further her education is another nod to her parents.
“Recently, my dad passed away from COVID, and so he always was the one to tell me like, ‘hey, if you have the time, go ahead and do something. Enroll in something. Even if you have kids, we can figure out something.’ And shortly after he had passed is when I had found out everything about getting accepted and like looking into the programs, and so I was like, ‘oh, I see you as a sign,’” she said.
McCage’s work sparks the admiration of those around her, including her director, Aaron Reidmiller.
“It seems like all of A.J.’s participants immediately become friends with her as soon as they meet her. They connect on social media. It’s like they’ve been friends for 20 years. That’s just the kind of connection she makes with people. And I think it’s because she’s genuine in her personality, and people pick up on that, and they respect it a lot,” Reidmiller said.
McCage’s dedication to her craft has earned her various awards and landed her the honor of being recognized as a National Recreation and Park Association 30 Under 30. But when it’s all said and done, the mother, student and recreation specialist doesn’t do it for the recognition.
“I’d say the biggest thing is, is just to remember to advocate for yourself because, at the end of the day, no one is going to do it better than you,” McCage said.
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