woman sitting behind a desk smiling

Juanita Dunlap and Her Journey to Meeting Street Academy

young woman with long hair smiling
Sarah McCliment

If you have ever called Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg then you have been greeted by, “It’s a beautiful day at Meeting Street Academy, how may I help you?” The warm voice belongs to Front Office Manager and Family Liaison, Juanita Dunlap.

Growing up, Juanita spent most of her childhood split between Rome, Georgia and Spartanburg, South Carolina due to her parent’s divorce. She always considered Spartanburg a second home, but ten years ago Juanita and her family decided to make it their permanent residence because of ministry. It was the answer they had been looking for, Juanita explained.

However, the move to Spartanburg brought on an unexpected hardship. Juanita’s health took a turn for the worse at work one day when she started experiencing stroke-like symptoms. Shortly after, Juanita was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She had no choice but to stop working and focus on maintaining her health. Despite the diagnosis, she did not lose faith that her health would return and after several years of visits to neurologists, she left one neurologist in disbelief. There was no longer a detection of MS; every sign was erased. With the positive news and overturning of the diagnosis, Juanita knew it was time to begin her next journey, particularly somewhere she could make a difference. Lucky for Meeting Street Academy, her search led her to their job posting.

“I was floored by the things I read, especially the belief that every child deserves access to a quality education, regardless of their zip code, Juanita said.” Naturally she applied and was invited in for an interview where she continued to be impressed by the “bright light” and “happiness” she felt in the school. She knew it was the place for her and Meeting Street Academy knew it was the place for her as well.

Juanita comes to work every day with a smile on her face and makes it her mission to spread love and joy because “happiness is circumstantial. Joy is eternal and no one can take that away from you.” And if you have ever had the pleasure of walking through the doors of Meeting Street Academy in Spartanburg, you know Juanita keeps her promise. Learn more about Juanita and life at Meeting Street Academy below!

How do you describe your job to the students?
I usually tell them my #1 job is to keep everyone in the building safe. I take pride in that. I am the gatekeeper and I am always going to know who everyone is. It brings a lot of joy to know that I keep everyone safe. I show them that no one can get in the building unless I click the button. The students also take pride in knowing I see their parents and always ask questions like, “Ms. Juanita, am I going home early? I forgot to bring this, can you call my mom? I take pride in handling their requests as well. If I promise them I’m going to call (if it’s a reasonable request), then I do.

What’s the best part about your job?
Seeing the children be children and enjoying themselves. I get to see them play and hear their laughter. I also like to make someone smile who is frowning.

What piece of advice would you give to those trying to decide if a career as a front office manager in education is right for them?

1. You have to love people. Everyone deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. In customer service related positions, you can tell when people don’t enjoy what they do. You have to have a smiling face and be cordial, even if you’re having a bad day, you have to rise above that.

2. Multitask without frustration. Someone may be at the door, a teacher may need something. I would encourage someone to be able to do it all with a smile on their face.

What made you decide to say yes to working at MSA?
I knew from the day I stepped in the door at the interview that I wanted to work here. I wanted to be in the school working around children, families, and others to make a difference by treating anyone who walked through the door with love and respect. It was meant to be.

What’s your fondest memory since working at MSA? What did your best work day look like?
We were doing a Triple P meeting with the parents (Positive Parenting Program). One of the ladies from the community came in and said she’s learned more in these sessions than any other programs she has attended and felt loved. We made an impact on her and gave her the tools to know she could leave from there and be better than when she came.

When is the best time of the year at MSA?
During the holidays when we are doing all the evening programs because a lot of the time I miss that during the day while covering the front desk. I love to witness the children performing onstage and sharing their gifts and talents. I think I cry every time seeing how happy they are in that moment. It brings so much joy to me.

How has working at MSA changed your perspective?
It has changed my perspective on working in general. It is a grand opportunity to share and spread the light. I have to take myself out of the equation. It’s not about me. It’s about everyone who comes through that door. It’s kids first.

What are you most grateful for?
Life. We wouldn’t be here without it.

In your opinion, what’s the closest thing to “real” magic?
Genuine love. I would say there is nothing like it, it runs deep. It overflows and if it’s in your heart, then it will overflow into others.

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