When I ask Kim to describe herself to me, she answers with what she says is “the most social worker answer to the question.” She tells me that before anything else, she is just a human.
Kim Diorio is a dancer, and has been dancing for nearly three decades now. She is a social worker, and has been a PeaceLove CREATOR for the past two years. Kim brought PeaceLove to The Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, also called The Met, when she wanted to provide a way for kids to open up about their emotions in a fun and creative way.
These three components of Kim’s identity are in no way separate. Social work and dance are each Kim’s passion, and PeaceLove serves as a way for her to combine and balance those two worlds, using creative expression to share the things we might not know how to talk about.
Kim works with a population I hold very close to my heart – teenagers. As a recently-graduated teen myself, I’m not too far removed from the struggles and difficulties that come with being in-between. High school students face the the expectations of the adult world and are also expected to navigate and achieve the milestones of adolescence. Classes, colleges, and career paths are the big looming questions of high school, but family obligations, work, and emotional complications are all part of real life.
In addition to her open door policy and working with students individually, Kim leads 16 PeaceLove workshops every 8 weeks, cycling her way through each advisory group at The Met. This adds a lot of work to her day, but when I ask what it is about the workshops that keeps her doing them, she tells me about what it is like to experience these kids and how they explore themselves throughout the workshops. These workshops provide a safe place for students to unpack their emotions and explore creativity as an alternative way to process their feelings.
Kim says the kids get a lot out of the workshops. “The first and second workshops they might be skeptical, but by the fourth workshop, they’re all in.” One of the things Kim loves most about leading workshops is watching the transformation of students as they learn to reach out and discuss their feelings in a healthy and productive way. The workshops also allow the opportunity to express their emotions without any pressure to share. As a high school social worker, Kim has the platform to reach many young adults. However, talking to a social worker can feel intimidating. PeaceLove workshops provide a way for students to open up without any pressure to share the events behind the work they made.
(Above: Students having fun exploring music and movement during a Rhythm and Color workshop)
Kim received her undergraduate degree in psychology. Looking back in her life, she realized that the divorce of her parents may have affected her grades as a child. However, no teacher or guidance counselor was able to step in or assist her through that period in her life. Children don’t always receive recognition for the full range of emotions and difficulties they experience. With her masters in social work, Kim is now able to bridge that gap between a student’s academic career and home life. Kim is available during the day to be an extra ear if someone just needs to talk, and to help students develop skills and resources they may need. She works with students to help normalize and accept their feelings. She wants them to know that it’s okay. “It’s okay to be sad, or scared, or angry. There’s lots of resources and tools to help take care of it in a healthy way.”
In addition to being a social worker, Kim is an all-ages dance instructor. “I couldn’t do my job during the day if I didn’t have dance,” Kim says. Dance allows Kim to change her headspace, and move through what she’s experienced during her day. It provides a release from the stress she may be feeling. She’s constantly suggesting finding an activity like this to her coworkers, who admit they sometimes have a hard time letting go of their stressful feelings. When Kim leaves the studio, her mind is cleared, and she’s ready for her next day. “We can’t provide these kids good service if we’re still carrying baggage.”
Closing our conversation, I ask Kim what she wants people to know about PeaceLove workshops and why they matter. I could not look into myself and come up with a more succinct and perfect way to describe PeaceLove.
“This is changing the way people look at mental health. I’ve seen the change in my building. I saw them telling each other, ‘It’s okay,’ and asking more in depth questions. They started coming to me more and expressing they needed help. PeaceLove is touching lives in a way words can’t.”