by Jim Mulligan
About eight years ago, while finishing up a ministry training in Mozambique (yes, the Mozambique in Africa), Alana Woodin felt called to live and work in Orange Cove (yes, our Orange Cove). The fact that Orange Cove was where she felt called to work and live is really no more surprising than if she had been called to go to Reedley, Selma, or Wichita, Kansas. Once one learns a little about Woodin, when one understands her core values, and when one hears about her life experiences, it is not so surprising that Orange Cove and its youth not only called but likely screamed out to her as the next stop on her journey of faith and life.
Alana Woodin grew up in Fresno and attended Central High School. The San Joaquin Valley is her home base, and her parents now live in Reedley. Woodin attended Westmont University in Montecito, California, and graduated with a degree in History with a minor in Spanish. During her undergraduate years, she studied abroad in Queretaro, Mexico. She attained her secondary teaching credential also from Westmont University, and did her student teaching at an international school in Costa Rica. Her first job was as a teacher in Torreón, Mexico, which she did for three years. There she taught U.S. History and was in charge of a program called Model United Nations at the school.Woodin’s faith is an integral part of her life and philosophy. “I just want to be the light where there might be darkness.” After teaching in Mexico for three years, she made the decision to attend a ministry training in Africa. She described the decision to make the continental leap of faith, “I didn’t want to go to Africa … but I read a book called Compelled by Love written by Heidi Baker.” Christianbook.com describes the book as “a glimpse of total dependence and authentic Christian community by taking a fresh look at the Beatitudes. Throughout she shares many examples from her and her husband’s ministry in the war-torn country of Mozambique.” Woodin decided to participate in ministry training offered by the book’s author in Mozambique and put what she learned to good hoping to work with Syrian refugees in Jordan. As Woodin put it, “That was Alana’s plan. That’s not what I came out of the training feeling in my heart.” After days of fasting and prayer and discernment, “All I could think about was Orange Cove.”
Woodin moved back to the Central Valley hoping to land a teaching job in Orange Cove. Unfortunately, Kings Canyon Unified wasn’t hiring. She worked as a long-term substitute for a time, and by March of that year, she was offered a job. She took it. Woodin was not happy with just working as a teacher in Orange Cove, she wanted to be a part of the community. She wanted to show her students that she is all in, a full-fledged citizen of their small, rural town.
Finding a place to live in Orange Cove was not as easy as she thought it would be. Because of the programs for low income families and farm workers, Woodin didn’t quality for many of the housing options. After some time and a lot of prayer, Woodin decided to walk up to a local church and ask them if they had a home she could rent. She admits it was kind of crazy, but she also had nothing to lose. Woodin remembers, “I walked in the Presbyterian Church and spoke to the interim pastor at the time. I told him my story. I told him that in my heart I just want to love the community, and what better way to live in and love the kids of the community.” That relationship with the church eventually turned into a house sharing opportunity with the new pastor, who lived in Orange Cove only part of the week. In fact, the church offered to let Woodin live part time in the house, where she’s been since, for a minimal rent. Their only request, “Love on the community of Orange Cove.”For the last eight years, Woodin has been teaching History, Leadership, and became the program coordinator of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID). Her efforts have guided the AVID program to grow from just a few class offerings to five solid classes; one of every six students on campus take AVID classes. Orange Cove High School Principle Angel Durazo says, “Ms. Woodin is the epitome of a great teacher. She is a caring, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and an overall shining star at OCHS and our community. She is part of our guiding coalition and is well respected by students, staff, parents, and the community. Her radiant personality is contagious and just makes OCHS a great place to be.”
I had the chance to sit and chat with one of Ms. Woodin’s classes for a few minutes. I wanted to ask them about how their teacher impacts their time at OCHS. When Woodin’s students walked into the room at the beginning of the class, a noticeable serenity was in the air. She had some calming music playing in the background. The students entered the space with respect and reverence. Once the students settled into their seats, Woodin explained why I was there and that their regularly scheduled plans were to be put on hold for a short time. She asked to circle up and asked them to do a “quick write” in response to a couple questions I posed. They did all of this as if it was a normal day. They didn’t skip a beat, nor were they flustered. And they had no qualms about sharing what they think about Ms. Woodin. What ensued was a great conversation about the mutual respect they have for their teacher. That she pushes and inspires them to be the best they can be, all with a caring attitude.
Isabel Fonseca said, “Ms. Woodin has a great mindset, is a caring person, hopeful, and courageous. She is everything I want to be.”
Armando López said, “She is one of the most amazing and unique teachers. Once you think you know everything about her she just continues to surprise us.”
Vanessa Hamilton said, “She sees the good in everyone.”
Of course, Ms. Woodin teaches the approved curriculum and students learn what the state and school district requires, and it is also readily apparent that she blends in the curriculum that is not mandated, but necessary for building caring, courageous, capable human beings. Her final quote of the interview sums up this point, “Orange Cove youth are the future leaders of the Central Valley. God doesn’t pick the high and mighty, he picks the humble and the real. These are awesome kids. They have so much heart.” Ms. Alana Woodin is right where she should be right now.