By Jess-Mara Jordan
When I first found out that my VISTA project was going to include creating a mentoring program, I thought, “That shouldn’t be too difficult”. The idea was that by using our new found partnership with UNC Asheville, we could connect OpenDoors students with college mentors in efforts to increase their exposure to college, encourage them to utilize this great asset in their backyards and maybe even aspire to be a Bulldog. Although we’ve ended up with a fantastic structure, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
My first priorities when starting the S.T.R.I.V.E (Success Through Relationship, Investment, Versatility and Empowerment) mentoring program, was finding great mentors. I call my mentors my “angels” because that is what they truly are. Because we were transitioning, flexibility and positive attitudes were essential to our success and our mentors never gave me anything less than just that. Once I had this wonderful group of mentors ready and eager to start, we immediately had interested students. We started in the Spring semester of 2014 and were able to meet with anywhere from 5-12 students once a month to do educational and enrichment activities.
We quickly realized that due to communication issues and time constraints, our existing structure wasn’t sustainable. When S.T.R.I.V.E continued into my second AmeriCorps term and Fall looked pretty similar to the previous year we knew we needed to change something. With the help of OpenDoors’ connection with Ms. Butler and the Hillcrest community, we were able to finally find a home. Instead of trying to coordinate getting the students on campus, the mentors now meet with the mentees at the Hillcrest Community Center every week during the after-school program which they are already a part of. It’s been a great shift because the mentors know how many mentees to plan for and the mentees can look forward to seeing their mentors every single week. Thanks to access to a kitchen, mentors are now able to create healthy snacks for their mentees that often tie into their activities every week. We still wanted to keep the on-campus component and have brought the mentees on campus twice to see master drummer Bolokada Conde and to attend the Crossfire All-Star Basketball Game featuring NCAA champion, Quinn Cook. It has been “no crystal stair” to find a sustainable home for this program that has such great potential but thanks to persistence and unity, I believe S.T.R.I.V.E. will continue to thrive for years to come.
Special Thanks to OpenDoors Team Leaders, Isaac Dickson Elementary School, Jones Elementary School and Asheville Middle School faculty and staff for helping us recruit students, Harmony Motors for stepping in and providing transportation for our younger students, UNC Asheville Cultural Events & Special Academic Programs, UNC Asheville Athletics and Crossfire Ministry for donating tickets for special events, Ms. Butler and the Hillcrest Community for giving us a new home and all those who helped make this program possible! You are greatly appreciated!