By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published October 5, 2017
SMYRNA—Terry Graham will miss everything about her job—except her commute.
After 13 years as the director of parish preschools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Graham began her well-deserved retirement this summer. Mary Jo Nichols, former director of the Holy Family Church Preschool in Marietta, is now serving as Graham’s successor.
“When you love your job, retirement is not the same as leaving a job you dislike,” Graham said.
During her time as director, Graham served as a liaison between the parish preschool programs and the archdiocese. There are more than 30 early childhood programs in the archdiocese, serving more than 2,000 children ages 12 months to 5 years.
Graham, who had a background in corporate childcare and licensing and accreditation, appreciated the loving environment of the parish preschools.
“You cannot work in the archdiocese without being touched by the spirit and faith here. It’s what makes these programs so special,” she said. “Parents are sending their children to us because of that spiritual element.”
Graham credits the preschool directors with making their programs special and spiritual.
“I was always so inspired by the dedication of our directors to do the best they can for their families and children—with faith and dedication,” she said. “Part of the reason I’ve loved this job for so long is my relationship with the directors. They are wonderful and so dedicated to ensuring the children are educated in a safe, happy and spiritually sound environment.”
Graham visited each school at least two times a year and spent time with the teachers and students. She remembers one young child who stood out for his faith.
“I remember being at All Saints (Dunwoody) and watching the children come out of the preschool to go to the playground. One little boy said to me, ‘Jonathan is sick,’” Graham remembers. “I told him we’d have to pray for Jonathan. He turned to me and said, ‘we don’t have to. God already knows and will take care of him.’ Situations like that are what make these preschools environments so different and warm.”
Graham spent much of her focus guaranteeing the preschool programs were consistent in their accreditation and curriculum requirements. Helping the programs to receive accreditation validated what they were already doing, she said.
Graham began the Summer Education Institute, which is hosted annually at a different parish. Each year approximately 15 presenters share new ideas. The institute allows teachers to receive credit hours.
“I was always so grateful for the directors. These ladies really accepted the new things we instituted,” she said. “Even if they didn’t understand why we had to do everything at first, they really grew to appreciate and they were an incredible help to me. I could not have done it without them.”
One of the greatest accomplishments of Graham’s career, she said, was helping the parish preschool program to grow.
“We started eight new programs while I was there. And that is just such a joy. I really was just there for support and direction but to see their enthusiasm was so wonderful,” she said.
As for her retirement plans, Graham said she’s looking forward to what is to come.
“It’s an open book because I haven’t yet written the chapter,” she said. “I’m proud of what we accomplished with the preschools. I never thought I would have a legacy, but I feel blessed to have been a part of this for so long.”