When life gets especially challenging for students at Hastings High School, a number of talented and respected counselors get to work.

One of those counselors is Naomi Marietta, who was nominated as an Everyday Hero by a reader of the Star Gazette.

"I call her a counselor, but to me she is a lifesaver," wrote the person who nominated Marietta. "She has helped my child through three incredible tragedies. What the kids and this community have gone through is unthinkable. But my child lost three really good friends, and Naomi was there to listen (most important), guide, counsel, advise and just be a touch point.

"I am sure she has been there for countless others, but I don't think she knows how much she has truly done and how much it means to us."

The opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of students was the reason why, 12 years ago, Marietta took the position in Hastings.

She was teaching English at Henry Sibley High School and earned her Master's degree in the field. Just two days after she gave her oral exam to earn that degree, she told her husband she wanted to go back to college to get into counseling. She enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and earned the degree in school counseling.

"I love teaching - I still love teaching," she said. "I just wanted to serve students in a different way. I felt like I was limited in how much I could do. I wanted to be able to dig deeper and I thought school counseling would be a great way to do that."

As an English teacher, Marietta would often see the writings and journals of her students. Seeing what they would write prompted her to talk with them and establish relationships with them. Eventually, she'd end up handing the student off to a school counselor. In the end, Marietta decided she wanted to have the role of counselor more than the role of teacher.

"The connection teachers have with students is so important," she said. "Teachers do a ton to help students, but there's a point where it's beyond what you are trained to do. I wanted to be the person who was picking it up."

Marietta said she works with students whose last names fall within a certain range alphabetically. She gets students, therefore, for four years, allowing her to establish some strong relationships along the way.

"Kids welcome you into their lives," she said. "You get to try to help. There's nothing better than that. My job, it just gives me purpose."

The issues that face teenagers in Hastings and across the country amaze her, she said.

"I think people would be floored (to see what teens face)," she said. "(Parents) constantly compare their kid's experience to theirs growing up. There are some similarities, but these kids are facing problems so far beyond anything that we had to deal with. People forget that being a teenager is hard. Sometimes we dismiss their experiences, or we fall back on the old, 'I did it and it gets better.' But it's hard for them right now. They need to be able to talk about it."

Marietta said that the explosion of social media in recent years has only complicated matters for students.

"The nature of bullying has changed so much," she said. "That's something we see. It's hard for kids to get away from it. It used to be that you'd deal with (the bully) at school, then you'd go home. But when you have your cell phone with you and you're getting Facebook messages, Twitter messages and text message, it's with you all the time."

To nominate someone as an Everyday Hero, email Chad Richardson at crichardson@hastingsstargazette.com or call him at 651-319-4500.