Tia’s post about College Essay Day at Urban Alliance inspired me to take a minute to jot down some of my thoughts on the experience.
I was invited as a mentor to participate, thinking that I’d be showing up with just a few others to help look at a few essays. I was happy to do it, given how much I’ve enjoyed working with Tia over the past few weeks, and the seriousness with which I see her approaching her work, studies and college applications.
I had no idea how big the event would be, or how many people from throughout the community would participate. When I arrived, the room was packed with students, and the mentors filled an entire, large meeting room when we gathered for our orientation.
The essay readers included mentors like myself, but also professional staff–many journalists and editors–from the Atlantic Media Company, which is in the same building as Urban Alliance and partners with them on this program.
As I sat at the orientation and felt all of the energy around me as these professionals gathered to work with high school students, I couldn’t help but reflect on how the room seemed to embody so much of what The Women’s Foundation is about: the power of individuals to come together, give back, and have a collective impact.
When the staffer leading the orientation said that college acceptance rates had skyrocketed after this program was instituted, I wasn’t surprised.
And the best part was that amidst the importance of the work at hand, the event demonstrated that giving back really does give back in itself. Everyone there was having fun, getting to step outside of their day-to-day and have a one-on-one discussion with a bright, driven young person.
The student I was paired with was a remarkably bright, insightful young woman. Her essays discussed challenges and experiences that humbled me given how motivated, independent and disciplined she was despite tremendous hardship.
We spent time discussing her essays, and how she could reframe them to be a bit stronger and set her apart from other applicants for college admission and scholarships. But then, with time left, we just talked about different opportunities, options, her questions about college life and my perceptions of her strengths and the assets that would help her succeed.
Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Days after working with her, I continue to be inspired by her story, her passion as she discussed her dreams and her confidence in herself in terms of how she would meet her goals.
I also continue to be inspired by the collective spirit of giving that served as the foundation of the afternoon. It reminded me in a concrete way that despite economic downturns, rising unemployment rates, holiday shopping madness and stress, that we truly do all have something to give.
And that generally, doing so will always give back.
Lisa Kays is The Women’s Foundation’s Director of Communications. Urban Alliance is a Grantee Partner of The Women’s Foundation.