They sat at a table in the library at Hood River Valley High School last week poring over documents and verbally tossing around cryptic acronyms.
"What about FAFSA," said one.
"There's OSAC," said another.
In fact, the very thing that brought them together was itself an acronym: ASPIRE. "They" were Nancy Tamura and Kerry Hart, an ASPIRE volunteer and an HRV senior respectively. ASPIRE -- Access to Student Assistance Programs in Reach of Everyone -- is new to HRV this year, although it's a branch of a program that serves students at 29 Oregon high schools.
Thanks to a federal grant, Americorps volunteer Monica Garcia works full time at the school heading up the program from its headquarters in the Summit Career Center. From there, Garcia works to provide information, assistance and encouragement to students who are planning to go to college -- and even to those who aren't.
"We want to make sure everybody's got a fair shot at school," Garcia said. Along with helping the college-bound, she "targets (students) who maybe haven't thought about it."
Garcia is a one-woman clearing house of information on college scholarships, applications and the generally nebulous process of getting into -- and paying for -- college.
She plies the hallways and classrooms encouraging students to drop by the career center. Whenever she sees students reading her fliers or perusing the career center bulletin board, she "hits them up," she said.
But ASPIRE is more than that. Along with working within the walls of HRV, Garcia seeks volunteers in the community who are willing to mentor college bound students.
Enter Nancy Tamura. A customer service executive with Sprint, Tamura learned of the program through Sprint's Pioneer Club, an organized group of employee volunteers at the company. She signed on to the program last fall and went through a short training session with Garcia and three other volunteers. Hart is one of three students she now works with.
"Those of us who've gone to college or gone through the scholarship process -- we can help because we have that knowledge base to draw from," said Tamura, a college graduate who in the last few years has sent two of her own kids to college.
Tamura meets with Hart about once a week.
"Kerry just needs someone to bump things off of," Tamura said. "She really has it together." Hart has already applied and been accepted at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., and is applying to Oregon State University. Now Tamura -- and Garcia -- are helping her find scholarship opportunities for both schools. Hence FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and OSAC (Oregon Student Assistance Commission).
But Tamura's guidance is valuable for more than just helping to find scholarships. As president of the Mid-Columbia Japanese American Citizen League, she reads mountains of scholarship applications herself each year and helps decide who the league awards them to.
"I know what I look for in scholarship applications," she said. She helps Hart to extract valuable things from her school and extracurricular activities to highlight on applications. And from sifting through scholarhip options for her own kids, she knows about sometimes obscure ones that Hart hasn't heard of.
Last week, Tamura advised Hart about an OSU scholarship opportunity whose deadline was fast approaching.
"I wouldn't have known about that otherwise," Hart said.
Tamura said she gets satisfaction from sharing her knowledge and helping students pursue their education, but also benefits because she's still looking out for additional scholarship opportunities for her college students.
"Not only does it help the students but it helps me," Tamura said. "It kind of goes full circle."
ASPIRE is seeking more community volunteers to mentor students. For information call Monica Garcia at 387-5034.