We are standing on the campus of William & Mary and Jesenia one of my 8th Grade Academy youth (8GA for short) asks our tour guide, “How many students go here? It’s huge!” There wasn’t anything particularly memorable with her question yet it was everything all at once, one of those moments as an educator that catches your breath because you know you are making a difference. Let me explain.
This year has been whirlwind to say the least. In late fall 2016, I became the 8th Grade Academy Coordinator, a new OTRC program that meets regularly afterschool in addition to numerous Saturday trips, and serves as the next step to help prepare our youth for high school and beyond. In just a semester, 8GA youth have had the opportunity to attend five colleges, develop leadership skills, and expand their networks in the community. We have had everyone from high school students to executives from Massanutten Resort serve as mentors for our students, all helping to make 8GA a special place.
Now, back to Jesenia’s question. When we first started visiting colleges, the questions ranged from “How is the food here?” to “How long are your spring breaks?” But NOW... our students were asking questions like, “What does your GPA have to be to get into this college?” and “How do you afford to go to a university like this?” Our 2-day overnight college tour to William & Mary and Virginia State University was an experience like none other for our students. For some, it was the first time traveling outside of Harrisonburg. On the way home, the bus was alive with chatter as students compared their thoughts and experiences about the trip.
8th Grade Academy is providing life changing experiences for young people like Jesenia. I hope you find a way to join us - whether by volunteering or donating - in the years to come as we build upon the inaugural year of 8GA in the years to come!
Ms. Meredith Breeden, OTRC AmeriCorps Service Member and 8GA Coordinator, is the contributing author of this post.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” -Chinese Proverb.
This past fall, 24 middle school youth had the opportunity to participate in On the Road Collaborative’s Environmental Science “Fishing is Fun!” Career Enrichment Project. Thanks to the generous support of the Arconic Foundation and the United Way of Harrisonburg Rockingham, students from both the On the Road and Second Home programs learned a lifetime skill: fishing!
Our budding scientists also learned how to assess the quality of water by taking chemical tests, turbidity tests, and macroinvertebrates (BUGS)!
On our trip to the Rose River in Syria, VA, students put their knowledge to the test. They wore waders and did stream tests: chemical test, turbidity tube, and macroinvertebrates. After our science assessment, we took the rest of the day to catch fish at Graves Mountain Trout Pond. Each student caught their limit of three rainbow trout and even took them home to eat!
One student, Donte, shared: “I learned how to put a bobber on, a snap swivel. I learned how to cast out and reel in. I learned how to put line on the reel so I can take off old line and put new line on. My favorite part was the fishing trip because somebody very special helped me catch the first fish of my life. And they had some BIG trout there.”
Making a hashtag into an action is a real problem we need to take on. We use hashtags, but never actually make them a reality. Now I think we should use them for good! In August 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I have a dream’ speech. King believed in equality, unity and compassion for others, and I believe we can do that. We have fulfilled lots of his dreams but I believe we have a lot more to do. Today, there are people who don’t believe that immigration should happen. I believe all should be respected and loved. War is happening in many places and people need places to live. Others may not have family and need people to love them. Sometimes, we need to forget about the past and focus on the future. All should be respected and loved. People should not be separated or disrespected because of their race. We all need to show unity and be fair to all.
Now, for solutions to the many problems I have stated before. I think we need to take a moment and think about how diverse our community is and say: we are very lucky to have such a great place to live with no war in our community and men and women who protect us everyday. We need to respect all no matter the past or present and make sure all are welcome and have a second chance in life. It's absurd that it has taken over 200 years for us to realize everybody is equal and should be shown the same amount of respect and compassion.
Our skin color is not a way to separate people. From 1950 to 1964, segregation took place and everything was separated. For example, water fountains were separated, restaurants and movie theaters too. I believe all are equal and should be treated that way. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his own words, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” I believe that we all need to honor this quote and use it for good and make sure we don’t drink from the cup of hatred and bitterness. I hope all take Martin Luther King Jrs. message and spread it to many others.
In conclusion, Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech was very iconic. I believe we all need to stand by his words and make his dream a reality. We are so close his goal and need to push a little bit closer. I believe we can make real progress in our community with unity, equality for all and compassion for each other.
Mays had a bright smile, and a light inside of her that you could sense even before she started talking. Her eyes were wide and it was clear that she was ready to fully engage in the interview.
Most of the time, kids are never quite sure what they want to be when they grow up. But Mays seemed quite certain. “I wanna be a chef or a nurse,” she said confidently when asked.
Mays, an 11-year-old 6th grader from Iraq, has been a part of On the Road Collaborative at Skyline Middle School for one year. She heard about OTRC’s afterschool program on the morning announcements, and was enticed by the career enrichment aspect. Her parents were also enthused, and gave her the green light to participate. Mays says that her parents love OTRC, and are very supportive of her participation.
“I like how we do snack time and flex, where you usually do your homework and read for twenty minutes,” Mays said when asked why she enjoyed being a part of OTRC. She talked about how her Team Leaders (OTRC's afterschool teachers) help her with her homework, and serve as mentors throughout the program. “I like my Team Leads, they’re fun,” said Mays.
On Mondays, she shared that Team Leads play games with them, and do more serious things like circle time. Circle time encourages deep thought from the students, and urges them to think about how they would react in real-world scenarios. One question Mays remembered being asked was, “If you were president one day, what would you do?”
Mays enjoys the playing time and the stimulating conversations, but what particularly appealed to her was the career portion – cooking class, to be exact.
“Every Thursday we get to cook,” Mays said, a huge grin creasing her cheeks. She loves getting the recipes and learning how to measure out ingredients. The class splits up into groups, and each group is responsible for a different dish. At the end, all the groups come together and share what they’ve made. The room the class utilizes has stoves and ovens, so students are actually getting the chance to have a hands-on culinary experience.
The nursing idea for Mays’ future career came from a career class that she was part of earlier in the year. OTRC brought in nurses from Sentara RMH to talk about the work that they do, and to teach the kids the value in helping others in that particular field.
Mays says that being a part of On the Road gives her an idea of all the different things that she can do in the future. If she could describe OTRC in one word, Mays said that she would say “helpful.” “It actually helps me with what should I be when I grow up,” she said.
When asked if she wanted to say anything else about OTRC, Mays excitedly said, “I mean, all I can say is I love it!” Mays is looking forward to being a part of OTRC for her next two years of middle school, and is excited to continue growing, learning, and tapping into her talents and passions.
The year-end Promise Campaign is making a promise to a young person – a student like Mays – that they will have access to equal educational opportunities and caring adult relationships during their out of school hours. OTRC has the goal of raising $22,500, to fully fund 15 middle school youth for an entire year of OTRC afterschool programming.
Give a gift, make a promise, and join us in setting middle school youth on the road to college and career:
https://www.classy.org/campaign/the-promise-campaign/c107781. All gifts are matched $1:$1 through December so your impact is doubled!
Thank you for all of your support thus far; Mays’ story is one of many that represent the success of OTRC because of your advocacy. We appreciate you!
JMU's College of Business and Hart School of Hospitality, Sport & Recreation Management Hosts 8th Grade Academy
On Saturday, November 12th, JMU's College of Business and Hart School of Hospitality, Sport and Recreation Management collaborated to host a full-day interactive college visit for our pilot 8th Grade Academy youth and stand-out 7th graders. This was not your ordinary college tour!
The morning started with a session led by professors from the College of Business and the Cyber City program. Our youth learned a computer program called Scratch and designed their own computer games. One youth, Mikey, said this about learning Scratch, "The coding games were my favorite and we got to make our own coding game. Also, visiting JMU was really awesome."
After everybody's favorite part of the day (always!)- lunch at D-Hub and a trip to the JMU bookstore- Mr. Miguel Baltazar, Professor for Hospitality Management and OTRC Board Member, led a bingo game that helped our youth learn the wide variety of careers you can do within hospitality like management, hotel attendant and cooking. One youth, Lubna, commented that her "favorite part of the trip was bingo. Also, the teachers were really nice!"
The last session of the day was led by Mrs. Tassie Pippert, Professor for Hospitality Management, and was the sweetest way to end the college experience- prepare brownie mix to take home and bake! Sonya shared that "I liked the second part where we made brownies and played bingo. The teachers were nice and energetic."
Interactive college experiences are an important part of our work at On the Road Collaborative because it helps our young people learn about future college and career options and build the confidence and vision to achieve them.
Huge thanks to all our partners who made this college visit possible.
It was a tough question. The two young women both sat, looking intently at the ceiling, trying to find the most fitting answer. After some thought, “inspirational,” and “purposeful” were the sentiments that Meredith and Shaquela used when asked to describe working for On the Road Collaborative in one word.
Meredith and Shaquela have been AmeriCorps members with OTRC for a little over a month now, but their work with the organization started even before they had full time positions.
Meredith had been looking to do a year of service in order to help hone her skills and find her place in the realm of youth development. “Getting the leadership from Deanna [Reed] [OTRC Program Director] and Brent [Holsinger] [OTRC President & Founder] has been really helpful,” she says. “We get to work with youth still; it’s not like we’re just sitting in an office every day,” Meredith added. Shaquela agreed that the highlight of their time with OTRC is being able to be hands on in the schools, interacting with the children, and participating in the leadership aspect of programming.
“The program being four days a week has just been amazing. We’re getting to know the kids a lot better and in a different way,” Meredith said enthusiastically about the direct service aspect of their work.
Shaquela first got introduced to the prospect of working with On the Road when she started to near the end of her time at Boys and Girls Club. Shaquela has been working with Brent since OTRC was Beyond the Bell. Meredith and Shaquela both worked as Team Leaders before they started their full time positions. “That amount of development he’s given me…has really helped me grow,” she says. “I’m basically gonna follow him wherever he goes,” she added with a chuckle.
Shaquela is a Harrisonburg local, having grown up here and attended school at Harrisonburg High. Meredith is from the Valley also, but was born and raised in Strasburg and moved here after graduating from Eastern Mennonite University this past May.
“This is the kind of area that I’d like to stay in…non-profit, working with kids. It’s just been really enriching,” says Meredith about her major and the connection to her current job with OTRC.
“I’ve been doing youth development for a really long time…probably about…eight years,” Shaquela says. She starting working for the Boys & Girls Club here in Harrisonburg as junior staff at age sixteen, and continued to move up from there. “So I’m pretty set in stone with working with youth,” she said with a smile.
“I’m so used to being worried about my own growth…so it’s really cool to see that I can actually lead someone in a good direction,” Shaquela says as her favorite part so far about working with OTRC. She works a lot with scheduling and program design for team leads, and it’s empowering to her to see where she is making a difference in their lives.
“My favorite part about this job is all of the outreach that it offers us.” Meredith enjoys getting to talk to parents and volunteers about On the Road as an AmeriCorps member. “Getting to tell people about what we do on an everyday basis is really exciting,” she added.
I asked the girls why they chose the words that they did. Shaquela, who chose “purposeful”, said, “What I do…matters, with the youth. On the flip side of that, the development that I’m getting front Brent also matters. It’s what I’m doing, and it’s my future, too.”
“I’m getting a lot of inspiration from my coworkers, Brent, Deanna,” Meredith said about her word, which was “inspirational”. “And also from the kids. Every day…we help these kids succeed.”
We are so stoked to have Meredith and Shaquela as a part of our team! Catch them when they're not out and about in the schools - they would love to say hello and talk more why they're on the road!
Rianna Hill, On the Road Collaborative Board Member and Media and Events Coordinator for Our Community Place, is the author of this blog post.
We are pleased to announce that The Merck Foundation- Neighbor of Choice Community Grants program- has renewed their support for another year with a one year grant in the amount of $45,097. The grant will support health and nutrition related programming for our middle school program and provide critical funds to help us expand from a 2-to-4 day per week program at Skyline Middle School.
A few program highlights that the grant award will make possible include:
You can catch all the latest by signing up for our email list or follow us on your favorite social media site. If you would like to learn more or get involved with this initiative, leave a comment below or contact, Brent Holsinger, President, at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's to a great year of Strong Bodies, Strong Minds!
Kenyaa and Tatiana, On the Road Collaborative 8th graders, were two of only 30 rising 9th-12th grade students from across the country who recently participated in James Madison University's Female Institute, a 2-week long summer program that provides young people an opportunity to "live and learn on a college campus as well as enrich their development academically and socially".
This spring, Kenyaa and Tatiana completed applications, secured teacher recommendations, submitted transcripts and completed an essay in order to apply for the competitive program. And, both were accepted! Ms. Reed, OTRC Program Director, shared that “Kenyaa and Tatiana were stand-out students in On the Road as 8th graders and were chosen to apply because of their demonstrated ability to lead, their willingness to try new opportunities and their eagerness to get an in-depth college experience.”
Once accepted, Ms. Reed helped to rally the community around Kenyaa and Tatiana in order to secure the financial support needed to cover the $500/student cost for the program. The African-American Festival, Harrisonburg Women’s Service League and JMU’s Center for Multicultural Student Services all stepped up and provided major support to cover the cost for both young women to attend!
Female Institute is a jam packed two weeks of learning and experiences on campus, filled with guest speakers, sister circles, enrichment classes like boxing and yoga, and lots of time to build relationships with peers and the Female Institute mentors.
Here is Kenyaa sharing about the impact of her experience….
During my journey through the Female Institute, I met a bunch of unique young women I have built relationships with and that I can really relate to. We had a lot of different experiences: We had different speakers everyday on different topics from "daring to be the change" to being yourself. Elder Norma Edwards said something that stuck with me, she said " We Were Born to SHINE" We also had a boxing and yoga class that provided us with something that was new and interesting to us and Sister Circles every night that helped us get to know ourselves and each other a lot more. We also so had amazing inspirational RA's that drive us places and shared a bond with us and treated us like adults and supported us.
While most of Female Institute occured on JMU’s campus, they also took a trip to D.C. to visit!
As OTRC looks to grow in the years to come, our goal is to provide more of these life changing experiences during the summer months as a key way to set our young people on the road to college and career and help them fulfill their promise. If you are interested in helping to fund these types of opportunities in the future, drop us a note. We would love to talk more with you about our plans and how you can get involved!
Thanks to a partnership with Make A Difference 2020 and Harrisonburg City Public Schools, Sailuh, an On the Road Collaborative 6th grader, was one of only nine students from Virginia who recently attended a 3-day West Point Academy STEM Workshop, joining more than 60 other middle school students from across the country for this annual workshop on West Point's campus.
Sailuh participated in a VEX Robotics Club sponsored by Make a Difference 2020, an organization that provides STEM programming for underrepresented middle school youth across Virginia, this past semester. With the support of Deanna Reed, OTRC Program Director, Sailuh applied and earned a spot in the selective West Point Academy STEM Workshop. West Point describes the STEM Workshop as a "unique middle school program that offers students 6th and 7th graders the opportunity to participate in hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics activities taught by Academy faculty and cadet mentors."
Check out some photos of Sailuh's trip and the workshop in action...!
The Workshop culminated with a graduation ceremony, with all the students becoming an official Cadet!
As we grow in the coming years, our goal at On the Road Collaborative is to provide more one-of-a-kind experiences like this West Point Academy STEM Workshop for our middle school youth, especially during the summer months. Stay tuned for more details and how you can support these efforts in the future!
We will leave you with a brief video clip of Sailuh talking about her experience!
The first year 'On the Road' has been an adventure. Here are 5 reflections from Brent Holsinger, the founder and president of On the Road Collaborative, about our inaugural year.
Go carefully, but go.
I recently read a quote that said something like if you wait until you have it all figured out before you get started, you have waited too long. I found this to be true in launching On the Road Collaborative last August. We decided on a 2-day per week middle school program model to start, centering on our Career Enrichment Projects. While we knew that we would eventually want to expand to a 4-day per week program, we believed we could have a positive impact, and then expand and improve upon what we started in future years. This has held true. This past year, we served more than 100 middle school youth, solidified our focus on Career Enrichment Projects, and are now positioned to grow to a 4-day per week program, expanding our services and more fully meeting the needs of our youth and families. It was important that we said “Go” 10 months ago, and didn’t wait until we had everything we wanted, because I believe we would still be waiting. And, as we look to solidify our core Career Enrichment middle school program this year, we will be launching a new pilot 8th Grade Academy high school readiness initiative for a cohort of 20 youth (thanks, United Way). Go carefully, but go!
Find your Robin.
There has not been a greater sense of joy and strength as serving alongside Deanna Reed (OTRC Program Director) this year. Batman and Robin needed each other. They were the dynamic duo. Neither one of them would have been as good if they were on their own. I have found tremendous strength and comfort in having a partner, someone who I knew was with me every step of the way and is just as committed to the success of On the Road as I am. Don’t get me wrong, having a partner, particularly if they are the right one can be maddening at times, but I believe therein lies the beauty. I have found that we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses, bring unique insights and ideas, and push each other to be our best selves, which strengthens our work on behalf of On the Road Collaborative and all those we serve.
Celebrate your victories.
I made a point this past year to acknowledge and celebrate our victories. We celebrated our young people at Learning Showcase events across the city, individuals deciding to join our board of directors, donors renewing their support for another year, the incredible service of our volunteer Community Teachers, numerous grant awards, among other accomplishments. Each one was special and served as another step forward down the road. And while we had many victories in our first year, we have had many more moments of rejection, struggle or failure that had the potential to discourage and break our spirit if not having taken time to be encouraged by our victories. Be encouraged in your victories, find ways to build upon them, and make efforts to learn from your mistakes and shortcomings so that those may become next year’s accomplishments. In summary, make time to wear party hats, blow on some noise makers and smile. (Thanks to i love my burg for this photo and for providing encouragement and affirmation to so many in our community).
Don’t go faster than you can stop to say thank you.
One of the most difficult things for me is the temptation to do too many things at once or too quickly in order to grow faster. Many a times I have talked to our current board about how quickly we should grow the board of directors. We are currently at 12. Naturally, it makes sense for us to jump to about 18 next year and 24 the following year, right? Naturally. Another key lesson from this year is how important it is to surround yourself with incredibly smart, talented and experienced people to keep me from doing stupid things. In case you were wondering, we will be growing the board by 2 members next year, which I believe is perfect (announcement coming soon). The idea that has helped me the most to find the right balance is to only go (or grow) as fast as we can stop to say thank you to the people who make it all happen. It is a constant tug to be searching for NEW volunteers, NEW donors, NEW champions for OTRC and the young people we serve. However, I never want to grow faster than we are able to stop and say thank you, and appreciate all those individuals who have been on the road with us and have helped us get to the point where we are now.
Clarify your message.
I realize more and more how much I like using words and how they don’t always come out clear, concise and engaging when I share them the first time. I think some of it is simply how my introverted self processes information in sort of a squiggly line, compared to a straight one. What’s that quote, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” I’ve been diving into Donald Miller’s Storybrand process in recent months, and absolutely love it. Miller’s framework has helped me begin to understand how to clarify our message about what we do at On the Road Collaborative in ways that are clear, compelling and memorable. For instance, the tagline on the main page of our website used to read, "On the Road Collaborative is a 501(c)(3) youth empowerment organization. We empower underserved youth with the opportunity, skills and confidence they need to
excel in school, be on track for college & career and fulfill their
promise”. It now reads, “On the Road Collaborative is a non profit youth empowerment organization that sets middle school youth on the road to college and career.” Both are accurate. I believe the second version gets us closer to where we want to be. We provide a lot of opportunities for our middle school youth from academic coaching to career enrichment projects to college visits to mentorship yet I am finding it more important than ever that our message inspires citizens from all corners of our community to join us in empowering local youth.
As our friends at VA Momentum would say for their upcoming Growler Team Relay (sign ups still available!), year 2 is sure to be a "mix between a road trip and marathon." Can't wait! We hope you join us.
On the Road Collaborative