“Mentors play a huge role in our program” said Scotty Draper, coordinator for the Joe Barnhart Step Ahead Program, “and we are constantly on the lookout for volunteers to assist.” Mentors commit to helping approximately 1-2 hours per week for about 12 weeks from September to March. In that time, they will talk to freshman students individually about the importance of knowing their interests and skills, and how to use them to begin choosing a career.
Paula Duffy, director of the scholarship program, said, “The Joe Barnhart Foundation began this program six years ago as an extension of the scholarship program that was already on campus, because trustees saw a need to connect with these students earlier than their senior year.”
People may already be familiar with The Scholarship Program. Since 1998, it has helped more than 2,000 A.C. Jones graduates find more than $25 million in free money to attend college and to fulfill their post-secondary education dream.
But the two programs couldn’t do it without their volunteers.
“Our volunteers covered 73 percent of the Step Ahead appointments last year. That equals 216 freshman students. That’s a lot of students to inspire and give information to in a short amount of time, so, yeah, I rely on our mentors a lot,” Draper said.
The Barnhart Step Ahead Program targets all freshmen on the JHS campus, not just those that are college bound.
The reasoning is simple—all students need to be encouraged to find out all they can about a career they are interested in, and they need to know how to do that.
Mentors are there to inspire, to encourage and to provide answers to students.
Goal of the program
Step Ahead mentors evaluate where students are in their career exploration and move them to the next logical step in the process.
For example, if the student says, “Engineers make a lot of money,” the Step Ahead mentor may inspire him/her to continue upper level math and science classes to prepare him/her for that career field.
If the student says, “Helping people is my passion,” the mentor may inspire him/her to volunteer.
If the student says, “I want to be a veterinarian,” the mentor may inspire him/her to shadow a person in that profession.
Mentors are there to provide the guidance and inspiration needed to spur the students to pursue their dreams.
How it formed
The Step Ahead Program was created in May 2008 as an extension of the scholarship program, to create a desire in freshman students to explore careers fitting their interests and aptitudes in hopes of reaching their life dreams.
Students need to know what tools they have and what tools they can use to discover all their options.
Students should aspire to be career detectives during high school.
“I would say,” said Draper, “our goal is to inspire that.
“I also think that’s what our volunteers do.
“Each one is able to share so many different experiences with our students, more than just I can.
“Our mentors are youth ministers, dental hygienists, bookkeepers, stay-at-home moms and recently retired.
“They have experienced the real world and know that it pays to be ready for it.
“They enjoy helping our students get ready.
“Our volunteers are an extension of us in many ways, and we appreciate that so much.”
Both the Scholarship and Step Ahead programs provide training for their volunteers.
Besides connecting with students, volunteers provide much needed feedback and help the group improve the program.
At the end of each school year, the staff honors the volunteers and job shadow professionals with a dinner hosted by the program and student assistants.
“We can’t thank them enough,” Draper said.