A Milestone Year

In 2015, On the Road was founded with a single mission: To help close the learning gap for local youth by providing educational opportunities and hands-on career experiences outside of normal school hours. 

After working with almost 800 local youth throughout the years, we’re now approaching a new milestone for On the Road, one we’ve been waiting for since the very beginning: Our first graduating class.  

That’s right! At the end of this school year, our first class of graduating seniors will be leaving our programs and taking the skills they’ve learned with us into the real world—some of whom have been with us since middle school. 

Photo of Jessica Mendez-Thompson

Needless to say, it’s an exciting time. 

“It’s an incredible feeling to have our first class of 12th graders this year!” Brent Holsinger, Founder and President, said. “We could not be more proud to be a part of their lives and play a role in helping them be prepared and empowered to take the next step after high school.”

“It’s also an important milestone for the organization since this was part of the long-term vision when we first started On the Road with our middle school program back in 2015,” Brent said, adding that the idea has always been to continue supporting youth throughout their middle and high school years and grow along with them as they transition to adulthood. 

As we look ahead toward this exciting time in our program, we caught up with two of our amazing twelfth graders, Olga and Carlo, who have been with us throughout their entire high school career and are now preparing to take their next steps toward college. 

Carlo said thanks to On the Road, he feels more prepared for wherever life leads him.

“I’ve had a lot of good opportunities with On the Road, like volunteering and apprenticeships and things like that,” Carlo said. “I took different classes like a music exploration class, a coding class, a cooking class, and a law class. I helped host a charity dinner downtown. I helped host a movie night at the school and we raised like $300 for charity. That was really cool.”

Reflecting on these experiences, Carlo said he’s definitely learned “leadership skills,” including how to work with a team, organizational skills, and planning and overseeing a large-scale project. 

“I never thought of myself as a leader,” Carlo said. “But once I was able to do all these different things, like the mock trial and hosting events … it’s helped me figure out how to talk to people and how to work with people … and through all the opportunities I’ve had, I’ve developed my leadership skills.”

Youth from 12th Grade Academy, including Carlo and Olga, meet virtually with Youth Leaders during one of their program sessions. 

Olga said On the Road has also helped prepare her for entering the professional landscape. 

“I have learned more about myself and how to carry myself in more professional situations,” Olga said, reflecting on past experiences at learning showcases and other events where she got to meet and talk with donors and other local community members.

As she’s begun to think more seriously about life after high school, Olga said On the Road has not only helped her think about the possibilities available to her, but has helped her narrow her focus and begin planning her next steps, too. 

“In middle school, [college] obviously wasn’t at the top of my list to be concerned about … but freshman year [On the Road] started implementing little things to start thinking about, so by the time we hit like junior year, senior year, we weren’t super overwhelmed,” Olga said, reflecting on past conversations with admission counselors and university professionals that she’s been able to have thanks to college trips with On the Road. 

Both Olga and Carlo said that one of the most helpful parts of 12th Grade Academy has been meeting with professionals from regional universities, including a recent lesson with an admission’s counselor from Bowie State University who came to discuss the process of applying to college and what shapes an application, especially during a global pandemic.

“That was really nice to have,” Carlo said, adding that in addition to that conversation, he’s also turned to Youth Leaders for advice. 

“I’ve been able to talk to [youth leaders] about my essays and my applications and things like that … and On the Road’s helping a lot with the application process,” Carlo said, adding that in addition to the helpful information provided by our programs, the only college trips he’s taken have been through On the Road. 

“[On the Road] has been my main way of getting information about college and …  been my biggest gateway into figuring out what I’m looking for,” Carlo said.  “The trips have been really helpful in figuring out what I like about a college… and I don’t know where else I would get this information from.”

Olga agreed. 

“I would probably not have gone on any sort of college visit without On the Road.” she said.

Both Olga and Carlo are currently applying to colleges throughout the region. Carlo is hoping to major in Computer Science and Olga wants to study Latin American or International Studies. 

In addition to the tactical, hands-on experiences, both students said it’s also been really helpful to have a community that understands and supports them. 

Olga said this is especially true with all of the changes that high school brings.

“It’s a change, like going into adult life, and having people seeing you do that is helpful,” she said, reflecting on her relationships with her Youth Leaders, as well as Deanna Reed, our Director of Community and School Partnerships. 

“I probably would have never known her or like been able to talk to her through any other avenue,” Olga said. “But like now, I know her, she knows my face. And so when I see her out, she knows who I am and it’s good to know people, especially in a small community like Harrisonburg.”

Olga said that focus on relationships continues throughout the entire organization. 

“It’s really easy to connect with the Youth Leaders and Kerry and previous high school coordinators. And it’s nice to have that sort of stability throughout high school,” Olga added, remembering how Kerry remembers things she told her last year and checks in regularly to see how things are going.

“It’s another person in your life that sees you developing and sees you growing at a very critical time from like [age] 14 to 18,” Olga said. “It’s nice to have adults that we have a genuine connection with. And the Youth Leaders and the high school coordinators, they always care.”

Naomi Reynolds, a current Youth Leader at Harrisonburg High School, said this focus on relationships was one of the things that drew her to the organization.  

“On the Road’s program is so special and unique … because this organization is built upon relationships and personalization,” she said. “And I’ve seen that emphasized more in the program now that we’re doing online. We have high school students that could be doing anything in the world right now, but instead they’re choosing to devote their time to us, to the program, to themselves, and it’s inspiring to see.”

Kerry Morgan, High School Program Coordinator, agrees. 

“I think that we’re pretty intentional with making sure that we build a space that people feel like they can be themselves in and making sure that perspectives feel heard,” Kerry said, adding that she hopes the support allows youth to develop their own points of view.

“I don’t want to give [them] my opinion and then [them] have my opinion. I want [them] to form [their] own opinion and tell me what it is,” Kerry explained. We try very hard to foster that in the way that we structure our lessons and try to expose [them] to different topics.” 

“Seeing them grow and kind of figure things out has been a gift for me,” Kerry added.

Olga and Carlo said it’s been nice to grow alongside a group of their peers too, many of whom have gone through the program together. 

“I have been in On the Road for four years and our class has always been very small … so we get very close with each other as students,” Olga said. 

Carlo agrees this had been a highlight for him, too. “It’s been nice having our little class all grow together. That’s been fun.”

Both Olga and Carlo said they’re excited about their next steps after high school and know the connections and experiences they’ve gained from On the Road will certainly help them along the way. 

“There’s a lot of opportunities [at On the Road] and I’ve been grateful for this,” Carlo said. 

Kerry said as she thinks about this group graduating and becoming the next generation of leaders, she has no doubt they’re off to do great things. 

“When I look at both Carlo and Olga, I see two wonderful leaders,” Kerry said. 

“After every [program] session I’m like, ‘The kids are all right, we’re doing fine. And if the future is in their hands, we’ve got this.”

Your support helps make stories like this possible! So, thank you for all the ways you’ve shown up for our Promise Campaign this year.

We are now aiming to raise $50,000 to continue setting local youth on the road to college and career. 

 Will you help us reach this new goal?

 Every donation makes an impact and we truly couldn’t do this work without out. 

 Thank you for continuing to show up for our youth and helping them learn more about themselves and the possibilities available to them. 

Your support truly makes a difference in the life of ever single one of our youth.