An Inside Look at On the Road!
While our mission is about providing educational opportunities and hands-on career experiences to the next generation, we want our impact to extend to the young professionals who help lead our work, too.
“In addition to making a positive impact on our youth, On the Road offers young professionals an opportunity to gain meaningful hands-on experience in the education and non-profit fields, grow their connections to the local community, and deepen their skills as a leader,” Our Founder and President Brent Holsinger said. “Our hope as an organization is for our program staff to not only make a difference in the lives of youth, but for them to further their own career goals and aspirations.”
Emani Morse, Director of Middle School Programs and Data, says that’s exactly what On the Road has helped her do.
“I love it and I feel supported here,” Emani said of On the Road. “[Working here] pushes you out of your comfort zone a little bit, but you still have that support to test out your own ability and see where you fall. And if you do fail, you have somebody to catch you.”
“But if you succeed, then now you know you can do it,” Emani said, reflecting on her own experience as she’s grown over the years into the kind and effective supervisor she is now.
Emani joined On the Road as a Community Teacher in 2017 while interning for Sentara RMH. For two years, she ran our Inside Healthcare Career Enrichment Course, where she brought in healthcare professionals, such as a radiologist or ER nurse, to teach our youth about the various positions within a healthcare system.
“It was so cool to see how excited the youth would get for the different careers and I really liked what I was doing,” Emani explained.
So when a coordinator position opened up at Thomas Harrison Middle School, Emani jumped at the opportunity to officially join our team in 2018. Emani served as our Thomas Harrison Middle School Coordinator for two years before being promoted to her current position.
Over the past several years, Emani says she’s seen how On the Road builds connections throughout the community.
“I just really saw how On the Road was making an impact for the kids and the community,” Emani said. “I liked that it was … a local nonprofit that was really doing something in the community.”
Emani said that as she got more plugged into the local community through her work with On the Road, she found so many people who knew or had volunteered with On the Road.
“I just really saw how connected [On the Road] made the community,” Emani said. “I’m an army brat—I’ve moved over 20 times—so I’ve never had that sense of community. And I feel like On the Road is a big push behind that [sense of community] here and I just really liked that. It seems to bring people together.”
Akiel Baker, who is one of our amazing Youth leaders and a current social work major at Eastern Mennonite University, said that the sense of community, both within and outside of the organization, is one of the things he values about working at On the Road, too, especially as a current college student.
“I definitely feel like as college students, it’s very important to have those connections and be outside of your bubble,” Akiel said, adding that building relationships with Community Teachers has been a great way to get to know professionals in the community.
Akiel, shown in the top left corner, leads a virtual Career Enrichment Workshop with his middle school youth.
He said he also values the relationships he’s built with the youth, adding that as a college student, he feels like he’s been able to make true connections with these youth because he remembers what it’s like being a middle schooler.
“The connections that we as youth leaders have with our students, it’s really amazing,” he said. “I’ve noticed quickly that students will confide in you … they sort of look up to you as both like a mentor, but a friend that they can talk to.”
“I definitely feel appreciated .. and that connection [with the youth] is just amazing because I’ve never … seen something like that before,” Akiel added. “And even now, with the pandemic, we’re still building those relationships.”
As a kid who grew up going to afterschool programs while in middle school, Akiel said he noticed pretty quickly that On the Road was different to anything he had experienced. He said he was thrilled to see a program that not only provided hands-on career opportunities but also discussed the many opportunities and paths available after middle and high school–and all for free of charge.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this needs to be expanded,’ just because it’s such an amazing program. And you actually don’t find a lot of programs that are free and accessible to students,” Akiel said.
Akiel says that during the past year, he’s witnessed growth in the youth he’s worked with, which has been truly inspiring.
“Just hearing them talk about colleges while we do virtual college tours and then affirming that ‘I want to go to college; I want to do this with my life’ … that’s just great,” Akiel said.
As he’s thinking about his next steps professionally, Akiel says On the Road has definitely made him realize where he wants to focus his career.
“I want to help more young people,” Akiel said, adding that because of his work with On the Road, he’s started exploring the world of nonprofits. “I would love to start a nonprofit one day. I think [working here] is making me think outside of the box and not just wanting to work for someone else, but just doing my own thing, helping other people.”
“I definitely feel like On the Road helps me in the sense of figuring out what I want to do and just exploring different options,” Akiel added.
Emani said she’s found that On the Road has pushed her in thinking about her future, too, while also giving her skills that she’ll carry with her no matter where she ends up.
“I think my confidence in myself to carry out big projects [has grown] … I’ve definitely grown as a supervisor,” Emani said, adding that being put in charge of a school was a big move at first, but knowing that the leadership team trusted her made her realize that she really could stretch into that position.
Kishia Taylor, one of our Site Coordinators, said she too has felt challenged but always supported in her professional growth.
“I’m real quiet but [working here] gets me out of my comfort zone,” Kishia explained.
Kishia, who is originally from Elkton, joined our team in 2016 as a Youth Leader before working her way up to Program Specialist. She now serves as our Site Coordinator for Skyline Middle School.
Kishia stands with some of her On the Road youth during one of our on-site programs in 2019.
Kishia’s dedication to the job and to her youth has been inspiring to witness, but she dedicates a lot of that to our work culture, which she says has really helped her grow as a professional.
“[The leadership team] made me feel so comfortable,” Kishia said. “From the time I’ve been here, Ms. Reed has been like a mentor and a mother figure to me. And Brent, if you need him, he’s there.”
“And with the staff now, we all get along, thankfully,” Kishia said of her team. “And if we need something, we can reach out to [our supervisors] and they’ll answer right away.”
“It’s always been like that,” Kishia said. “And I always feel appreciated,”
Akiel agrees that the reason On the Road can make such an impact on the youth is due, in part, to the rich connections everyone builds within the organization.
“I love all my coworkers; they’re amazing,” Akiel said. “We all have this connection and we all have a voice [and] room to express yourself.
“[Working at On the Road] is an amazing job,” Akiel added. “You will benefit, the kids will benefit, everybody benefits. And you make the community a better place.”
“It’s life changing. I really do think so,” she said of On the Road.
Kishia, Akiel, and Emani also agree that having a job you actually enjoy makes a big difference in their lives as well.
“No matter how stressed I am or … no matter what my day was like overall, I go to sleep knowing that I have a job that is making a difference,” Emani said. “The time you spend here is something you’re going to value and grow from … and it will stick with me through everything.”
A huge thanks to Emani, Akiel, and Kishia who help make our work possible through their amazing leadership! We couldn’t do this work without them and we are so thankful to have each of them on our team.
And a big shout out to you for your support and donations during this year’s Promise Campaign! You helped us reach our original goal of $30,000 to continue making a direct impact on our next generation!
We are now aiming to raise $40,000 to continue setting youth on the road to college and career. And with your help, we know we can do it!
Since we surpassed our original goal, we unlocked an additional $5,000 in matching funds! So when you make a gift now, your impact will be doubled!
Make a gift today and help us build a world where all youth are on the road to realizing their promise.