This column was submitted by Larry Conder, City Commissioner and mentor with EARN program.
A little over a year ago, a group of caring adults got together to talk about how to change the conversation for at-risk youth from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”
The relationship already in place with Owensboro Public Schools and Emerson Academy proved to be the perfect opportunity to create a pilot project to provide work-study mentorship incentives for a group of senior students.
Students in the alternative school setting are typically not eligible for KEES money, and often have financial hardships. Many of these students have been in situations of broken homes, dysfunctional relationships, and exposure to abusive or dangerous situations.
The EARN (Emerson Academy Resilience Network) mentorship program was formed. Students agree to the conditions of the project, including meeting certain benchmarks and guidelines, attendance, participation and fulfilling graduation credit requirements.
Ten students were selected to be paired with 10 adult mentors. While the EARN students were building relationships with their mentors, improving life skills and learning about career opportunities, they were also eligible to earn financial compensation to use for their personal needs, including postsecondary education after graduation.
This opportunity will not only allow them to experience possible career paths, but also have motivation and a support structure to help them through graduation and beyond.
On Sunday, July 26, 2020, 6 of the 10 students accepted into the EARN program walked the stage to receive their diplomas. Along with their family members, the mentors sat in the Riverpark Center beaming with pride as Miguel, Josh, Willie, James, Raphael and Jazzy began “adult” life with proof of the essential high school education that may have seemed far from their reach a year ago.
It may seem odd to pay young adults to go to high school, but the concept to encourage an understanding of work ethics and accountability with financial responsibilities was a major component of the project. However, the school staff and mentors quickly learned that these young adults in the EARN program were as eager to engage with their mentors as they were to see their Independence Bank account balance grow! They were often amazed that an adult outside of their family truly cared, who would show up consistently and be there for them.
While it might be difficult to put a price on a mentor’s time, the reward the mentors received far exceeded their expectations. To Linda Wahl, Charlotte Burton, Bob Whitmer, Cindy Whitmer, Andy Johnson, Malcolm Bryant, Darrell Higginbotham, and Joe McKinley — a big “Thank You” for sharing your time, talent and treasure with these incredibly resilient seniors.
I am proud to have had this experience. I feel each of us learned more about ourselves and how to give back than our mentees took away from our newfound friendships.
As for myself, to Miguel Aguilar, you are a child of God and deserve to be here. The world is a better place because of you. May the last 12 months be a reminder that there are people that care and love you all the days of your life. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your journey.
— Larry Conder, mentor to a great young adult.