A-B Tech volunteers mentor students, create lasting bonds

February 25, 2014

A-B Tech volunteers mentor students, create lasting bonds


A-B Tech volunteers who were part of a pilot program last fall in which they became mentors to motivated students were celebrated for National Mentoring Month with a luncheon hosted by the volunteer services program. Mentors and their mentees enjoyed a lunch at Fernihurst catered by Asheville Pizza and Brewing Company.

Mentees were selected and recruited based on the following criteria: they could rely on little or no familial support; they possess the skills to succeed but lack the experience to successfully maneuver through the college system; they were GED graduates enrolled in credit courses at A-B Tech and/or Foundation scholarship applicants. The pilot soon outgrew its trial period and plans are now being made to invite additional students into the program now. The original goals of the mentor program, however, remain the same. Selected volunteers guide and support first-generation and other identified college students; they help the students achieve their academic goals and they help their mentees successfully navigate the academic and cultural landscape of A-B Tech.

“These caring mentors who are retired from successful professional careers remain a constant in the students’ lives so the mentees can thrive in the college atmosphere, find the encouragement they need to reach their goals and create strong bonds nourished by volunteers willing to rise to the challenge - determined to see their mentees graduate, find productive employment or enter a four-year college or university,” said Jeralie Andrews, Coordinator of Volunteer and Intern Services.

“For the most part our mentees do not have a support system that encourages a college education. They’ve faced tremendous obstacles in their lifetimes that tip the scales away from their favor. These first mentees embraced the program and their mentors. They are grateful for the chance to have someone tell them how smart they are and how great life can be for them. They admit that now they can see beyond their present situation into what will be a bright future,” she said.

Volunteer Laurie Parkerson took on the role of coordinator of the project. Her skills to interview mentees place her in a position to delve into their hopes and dreams, while recognizing their accomplishments. She is able, in the individual sessions, to draw out their anxieties and fears. It’s then up to the mentors to follow through.

The volunteers are the first persons to hear the good news about their mentees scholastic accomplishments, and also the first to learn unfortunate news that grades may not be cause for celebration. In the latter situation the mentors, “go back to the drawing board and arrive at another plan of action for the benefit of their mentees,” said Andrews. “This shows the mentors are comfortable in their roles and that trust has been developed between the two parties,” she said.

Parkerson recalls her first interviews with the new mentees. “For the most part, they were terrified.  They also showed that, beyond a doubt, they wanted to improve their particular situations and were willing to undertake the challenges necessary to create better lives for themselves.”  Her end of the semester interviews told an entirely different story. “Wow! These mentees thrived in so many ways over the course of the semester.  It’s hard to attribute their success totally to having a mentor, but when I hear what the mentors were able to do for their students and I hear stories of what happened between mentors and mentees, it’s hard not to believe that having a dedicated mentor was a factor in the students’ success stories.” Parkerson exclaimed.

Last fall Andrews and Parkerson witnessed timidity, coupled with lack of determination and direction by the mentees. These same students now exhibit self-assuredness and they are goal-oriented. “The mentors are expecting a lot from their mentees. Sometimes the volunteers can open doors for them that would not have existed before. Mentor Barbara Vavrina, a retired clinical social worker, explains, “A mentor is a real necessity here and can reach out to these young adults.  A mentoring program has the flexibility to design an individualized approach using holistic and integrative services, reaching far into, and connecting with, the Asheville community.” 

Vavrina said, “The correlation between the age of 18 to the early 30's and college related stressors that exhibit or conceal themselves impact a stable transitional academic beginning.  The research is there to support this over and over again and shows a great need for the mentor program.” 

Staff and faculty who would like to recommend a student for the program can contact Andrews at 398-7761, or email her at jeralieeandrews@abtech.edu and Parkerson can be reached through mentors@abtech.edu

Pictured arementors Jayne Schnaars (forefront L) and Kelly Wolf (R), enjoy a pizza lunch with their mentees (L-R) Ryan Smith, Ashely Scott and Felisha Proctor and celebrate the accomplishments of the volunteer mentor program with other mentors and mentees.