"A jump on the future"

Aspire connects volunteers and college-bound students

Kyle Griffith has already taken the PSAT and has a folder bulging with college admissions and scholarship information as well as tips on studying for the SAT’s. He’s scheduling visits next month to Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.

All that and he’s not even half-way through his junior year at Hood River Valley High School.

And Griffith is getting an even bigger jump on his future by participating in the Aspire program at HRVHS. Aspire is a volunteer-based mentorship program that brings adult community members together with students to help them pursue their college goals and dreams.

Griffith meets with his mentor, Dave Fenwick, twice a month at the school. The two go over their checklist of tasks and discuss everything from scholarship applications to Web sites that provide help in finding financial aid for college.

“It gives me a more stress-free advantage,” Griffith says of Aspire. “Basically, time is on my side.” In addition to exploring ways to pay for college, Griffith is practicing filling out complex scholarship applications and other college entrance forms so that next year it will all be familiar to him when he’s doing it for real.

Griffith gets parental help and support, too, but values his meetings with Fenwick for the latter’s expertise. A board member of the Columbia Gorge Community College Foundation and founder and CEO of vLetter, Inc., a Hood River company that specializes in handwritten computer correspondence, Fenwick shares his professional experience and background as well as his own knowledge of higher education with Griffith. Fenwick also is pursuing a Ph.D., so he’s up to date on current financial aid possibilities and other ways to pay for school.

“It’s good for me, too,” Fenwick says. “It’s good to know this stuff.” Both agree that it helps to have regularly scheduled meetings.

“It makes it harder to procrastinate,” Fenwick says.

Aspire is in its second year at HRVHS and has more than doubled in student participation since last year. About 40 students are in the program this year, according to Aspire program developer Vince Ferguson. Similarly, volunteer Aspire mentors have doubled from about five last year to 11 this year. But Ferguson still needs more.

“The whole objective is to get more mentors in the door,” says Ferguson, whose goal is to have 20 mentors by the end of this year. Mentors go through a short training session, and are equipped with a notebook of information to help guide them in working with their students. Mentors are asked to dedicate about 2 to 4 hours a week to the program, and to work with up to five students.

“But we’re really flexible,” Ferguson adds. “We just take it one at a time.”

Fenwick is working with two students, so far.

“It’s easier to add other students because you’re going over a lot of the same things,” he says. In Griffith’s case, things are a bit more relaxed since he’s getting an early start. “With seniors, it’s a little more hectic,” he says.

But no matter when students begin to think about what they’ll do after graduation, Aspire provides support and guidance to help them through an often bewildering process.

“I like to call it strategic planning,” Ferguson says. And for the mentors, it’s a way to contribute positively to youth in the community.

“It doesn’t really take that much time,” Fenwick says. “And it’s a lot of fun.”

For information on becoming an Aspire mentor, call Vince Ferguson at 387-5034. For information about becoming a mentor with Project PM, an after school program, call Brian Gerondale at 386-2635.

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