Difference Maker: Mia Pohlman pouring into young people, using words to connect others

Mia Pohlman (Photo by Aaron Eisenhauer)

Mia Pohlman believes “love is the answer to anything in life.” She lives out this belief through action, storytelling and the medium of words.

As writer and editor of special publications at rustmedia in Cape Girardeau, Pohlman has helped tell the stories of people in Southeast Missouri and further connect the community.

She is the editor of flourish, The Best Years and mind + body publications. She is also content advisor to Southeast Missouri State University’s student newspaper, the Arrow, former editor of B Magazine and founder of the Here. literary magazine program.

She says one of the projects she is most proud of is her role in the rebranding and reenvisioning of flourish, a magazine focused on Southeast Missouri women.

“I’m really proud of the community that has grown around flourish, and just how excited people are to be a part of it,” Pohlman said.

In 2020, Pohlman’s passion for teenagers and teaching young people guided her to start a new project — Here. literary magazine program.

Within this program, there is the student editorial board that gives Southeast Missouri high schoolers the opportunity to help edit and create a publication, while growing their skills through workshops with local artists and writers; a literary magazine gives them an opportunity to have their work published and read it aloud at the Here. launch party; the writers and artists in schools initiative allows schools across Southeast Missouri to request that a professional writer or artist present at their school.

Pohlman started the program with a focus on giving rural students opportunities to learn what they can do as artists, writers and future professionals in this area. She wanted to prove that staying in or returning to the place you’re from is possible.

“I want to help other young people realize that as well, partly for talent retention. … It’s so important to have these young people to stay or consider coming back [to Southeast Missouri] at some point in their lives,” Pohlman said.

Pohlman has a background in teaching young people. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in writing from Truman State University. Before pursuing a master’s degree in English and a master’s degree in Education-Secondary Education at her alma mater, she worked in Athens, Greece, for one year as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. There, she taught English at Athens College Junior High. Pohlman calls it a transformative year of her life for many reasons.

“[That experience] shaped and formed and solidified my belief that all teenagers really want is to be loved. … And I think that the secret to understanding teenagers and working with them is they all just want to be affirmed that they are good and they all just want that affirmation that they’re seen for who they are,” Pohlman said.

Her passion for teaching teenagers spills into other areas of her life. Approximately five years ago, she restarted and began leading the youth group at her parish, St. Joseph St. Maurus in Apple Creek and Biehle, Missouri. Pohlman’s family has been attending the parish since they settled in the Apple Creek area during the 1840s.

“It’s been really fun to get to mentor young people in the faith and share faith with them and understand how our faith applies to our day-to-day life, and I learn so much from them, too,” Pohlman said.

In 2022, the Archdiocese of St. Louis began a pastoral planning and restructuring process. The archdiocese committee's original draft model proposed having only one canonical parish in Perry County at St. Vincent de Paul parish in Perryville, Missouri, meaning other parishes in the county would have closed or been absorbed into St. Vincent de Paul parish. The committee asked for feedback from parishioners through listening sessions and surveys.

Pohlman stepped in as a key parish leader for St. Joseph St. Maurus during this time of uncertainty.

“A lot of these parishes in rural areas are the community center of the community. So, if you take away the parish … [it] changes profoundly the community in the area,” Pohlman said. “It was really important to me to make sure not only was there a parish in this area for people to continue practicing their faith … [but] that the communities continue to thrive and survive and stay connected to each other.”

As a key parish leader, she attended planning meetings with other key parish leaders and communicated that information back to parishioners. She also helped create the language for survey answers that communicated the parish’s lived rural experience and the importance of a parish in their lives.

On May 27, 2023, it was announced that all parishes in Perry County would remain open, and will remain open for at least the next 75 years. Pohlman says this is special to know people will have a place to practice their faith for generations to come.

With her work as key parish leader and everything else Pohlman does, she uses words and storytelling as her tools to bring love and connection into the world.

“It’s just a real honor and gift that people trust me with their stories and lives and that they trust me to tell them in a way that resonates as true to them,” Pohlman said. “It’s such a big responsibility and gift.”