Brookings-Harbor High School’s mentor program, ASPIRE, is in desperate need of volunteers; there are currently six for nearly 230 students.
“We have a lot of kids that don’t have mentors because we don’t have enough,” Academic Dean and ASPIRE coordinator Kathleen Dingle said.
ASPIRE stands for Access to Student assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone. The Oregon organization helps students create a plan for after high school, educates students and families about the scholarship application process and gives students direct contact with the community, according to a brochure on the program.
Numbers have dwindled in the past few years because of personal illness and volunteers needing to take a break for various personal reasons.
“Since we had such a strong pool we were not recruiting as heavily as we could have been,” Dingle said. “We always have new volunteers coming and other ones being not as involved. It’s just one of those natural cycle processes.”
During the 2011-2012 school year, more than 1,500 volunteers helped more than 8,000 students in Oregon, according to an informational video. In 1998, four pilot schools were created. There are now more than 140 participating schools. ASPIRE has been in place at BHHS for more than 10 years.
“It really helps kids get where they want to go,” Dingle said. “It extends the reach of the Guidance department. If it wasn’t for the volunteers, (Guidance Counselor) Kristi Fulton, who is half time, and myself are the only people they could go to. There is no way we could do one-on-one with all of our students. Ask any student, they will say it takes two weeks to get an appointment.”
Mentors would be responsible for meeting with students to discuss careers, proofread applications, essays and remind them about deadlines. They are asked to volunteer a couple of hours a week.
“Our goal is if they have questions that are college-related, we want to help them answer them and bridge the gap from high school to college, trade schools, military,” Dingle said.
“They have so many questions lots of times they need help,” Career Center and ASPIRE Coordinator Marie Coleman added. “They need a go-to person that they’re comfortable with, and if we can clarify those stops and keep them aware of deadlines, then the process is not so daunting to the student.”
Mentors don’t need a college degree or to even have attended college. They just need to help students work through the process of what to do after high school.
“It’s just having a conversation with kids and getting them led into the area they want to study,” Coleman said.
Mentor Valerie Cowan has been involved in the program for about five years.
“I started out because I really wanted to help my own children, but once you get into the program and you’re at the high school and you’re working with the kids it kind of just touches your heart that you can really help them,” Cowan said. “It’s a really confusing thing to think about after high school.”
Cowan said students have to think about financing, what college to go to, different graduation and entrance requirements and parents don’t always have a grasp on what their children need to do.
“There’s a lot to it,” she added.
But it is well worth the time.
“I like helping the kids,” she said. “I just like being there. I feel kind of like I’m a part of the school. I get a sense of how much they really care about the kids, and how overworked our paid people are there and how they definitely need volunteer help and how much heart they put into it. They just don’t have enough manpower to keep up with all of it, and every single one of those kids is important. They all have a future.
“The thing is that it doesn’t take up your life if you don’t want it to. You can take on one student and spend one hour a week or two hours a week. Every little bit helps.”
With the opening of the Career Center this fall, volunteers and students alike have a place to meet.
“We wanted to give our ASPIRE folks and students better access to information,” Dingle said. “We were overcrowded in the (old) space, so it provides our volunteers a comfortable environment to work in. It provides our students with the same.”
In the past, the program has been very successful.
“Lots of kids have done well because of volunteers,” Dingle said. “They’ve stayed in school, some didn’t think college was an option until they learned about financial aid, got into schools they didn’t think they could.”
BHHS junior Quentin Kellum and senior Kimberly Holm are two students who have benefited from the program.
“I think it’s a great program actually because I didn’t know what to do until I got a mentor,” BHHS junior Quentin Kellum said. “The mentor, they really help you get to that graduation process and get everything done.”
Kellum has been involved since his freshman year.
“It’s made a difference because sophomore year I didn’t know what to do my senior project on or what to do to graduate, and then my mentor gave me ideas and references on what I wanted to do,” he said. “I didn’t know what (ASPIRE) was until someone told me, and then I was curious … and so I checked it out and it’s helped a lot. I’m glad I did it.”
After Kellum graduates, he wants to attend community college near University of California, Los Angeles, and then transfer to UCLA to study pre medicine.
BHHS senior Kimberly Holm joined ASPIRE because she moved to Brookings at the beginning of the school year, didn’t know the area and wanted guidance.
“It’s good,” BHHS senior Kimberly Holm said. My mentor “has been helping me (figure out) what college I would be able to do good at. I was able to see how difficult what I want to be in is and what colleges I will be able to accept. I want to be a veterinarian.”
As of Thursday, Holm wants to attend Brown Mackie College in Idaho.
Parents believe the program is helpful, too.
“It’s hugely beneficial because of what happened with my own daughter, Molly,” BHHS Guidance Secretary Debbie Moncrief said. “Debbie Shuford (her mentor) actually helped Molly develop what she wanted in a college.
“She told her to visit and helped her research. She was very instrumental in meeting with Molly once a month to make sure she had what she needed and ultimately she was the one that found Molly’s College.”
“It’s not always about getting to college,” Dingle said. “It’s about getting them to where they want to go.
“It doesn’t advocate for one school or direction. It’s about looking at all the options and all decisions. Keeping that door open. It’s a great program.”
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
Fill out an application, pass a background check and complete an interview. Contact Kathleen Dingle at 541-469-2108 or drop by the Career Center and pick up an application.