Since 2015, we’ve served more than 900 youth – providing educational opportunities and hands-on career experiences that can change the trajectory of someone’s life.
We get to witness the curiosity and growth of the youth we serve every day, witnessing what happens when they experience a new career and meet new people, all while developing lasting relationships along the way.
But every once in a while, a story comes full circle – and that’s exactly what happened this past fall with Fernando Sagastume.
Fernando, a current senior at Harrisonburg High School, was one of our amazing On the Road youth who joined our organization during his middle school years. He said the organization stood out to him, which was why he decided to join.
“I was interested in On the Road because it was different than the other afterschool programs out there,” he said. “You got to have a tutor from JMU or from the community come and help with homework. And then after that, we were able to focus on Career Enrichment programs, trying out new [careers] that [are] not quite known.”
Two of the courses he remembers most were coding and video production.
Chiedo John, a long-time supporter and former board member, was teaching the coding class on HTML, and Fernando was one of his students.
“[Fernando] was always very impressive, very capable,” Chiedo remembered. He said he decided to become a Community Teacher as a way of providing opportunities to local youth by sharing his passion.
“My goal of the class was always that all of the [youth] were exposed to [coding]: some would try it and love it and … others would try it and say, you know, this isn’t working for me and I’m not interested and explore another career path.”
“But that’s okay because now they’ve got some context,” Chiedo explained, adding that because of those experiences, youth would then have important information to make better career decisions rather than simply having “big questions.”
Fernando, however, was one of the students that seemed to excel at coding.
“He was one of the students who seemed to love it and seemed to be very, very good at it,” Chiedo said, adding that Fernando always had something extra he was working on and would bring it to class to ask Chiedo for his thoughts and advice.
Fernando then joined Chiedo in the classroom and helped teach the class his second year.
“One of the best ways to learn is to teach,” Chiedo said, so he gave Fernando that opportunity.
It was those kinds of opportunities, and the mentorship he had from his Community Teachers, that helped shape Fernando into the leader he now is.
Andy Vanhook said he can see the mature leader Fernando is now, but he remembers first meeting Fernando as a reserved, quiet kid in his Video Production Career Enrichment Course.
Despite being initially quiet, Andy, one of our Community Teachers, said Fernando would “light up” in 1:1 scenarios and that he was “always engaged and asking a lot of questions.”
During Andy’s course, youth would get a chance to produce a video, and Fernando was in charge of audio work.
“He jumped in to do the work and took ownership of learning it,” Andy remembered.
Andy with Fernando and other On the Road during one of his Video Production class.
Fernando said it was these kinds of hands-on experiences, guided by trusting mentors, that helped him develop the skills he’s taken with him throughout his high school years and into the beginning of his professional career.
Fernando added that being around Community Teachers and other youth of all ages helped him relate to a variety of people, become more outgoing, and develop key leadership skills.
“[On the Road] made me comfortable enough to talk to others and work with different ages, [and] today, I use a lot of that in the work I do,” Fernando said.
In addition to being a high school senior, Fernando is also the business manager for his family’s business: Highest Roofing.
Fernando was involved in helping to get this family-run company off the ground, utilizing some of the skills he learned in On the Road. As he was helping to develop the marketing and brand foundation of the business, he reached out to his network, including Chiedo and Andy, to ask questions and get advice.
“It’s a first generation company so I knew that we definitely had to start off with the website and the logo,” Fernando said.
Fernando said having experience with the website and video production courses helped him know where to start, and he reached out to Chiedo and Andy to ask questions and get advice.
“He’s somebody I will always make time for, to give advice, to kick ideas around with. I want [him] to succeed and it seems like he is,” Chedio said. “He’s investing his time well and honing his skills and developing them further.”
Today, Fernando helps with a variety of responsibilities in the company–from invoicing to social media–and is also often out in the field talking with customers.
Fernando seems confident in the impact he’s making and he said he gained a lot of that while in On the Road.
“I’ve learned a lot from On the Road, especially leadership … and how to be professional,” Fernando said.
“I learned how to do things in a professional manner and how to view it in a professional manner,” adding that having exposure to professionals and mentors like Chiedo and Andy helped him understand what goes into running a business.
Andy said seeing Fernando’s story unfold is exciting to witness.
“It’s been really rewarding to see that little kid grow into a budding entrepreneur,” Andy said. “He’s really working with his dad on getting this business up and going and working on some of the backend things that make it happen. And for somebody his age, that’s not something that happens very often.”
COMING FULL CIRCLE
For Chiedo, a story like Fernando’s starts with, first, having the opportunity to explore their interests.
“The huge difference … is about opportunity, right? You have a certain space for inputs, and the more of those inputs you can get in, the better the outcome is going to be on the way out,” Chiedo said, explaining that the more kids are exposed to at a younger age, the more information they have to work with as they start to explore professional paths.
Chiedo said he was lucky to have many inputs in his life, mostly because his own dad was an entrepreneur who exposed him to many things, including music, art, and coding – which helped him define his own career path.
“It gave me a real head start,” Chiedo said. Now, he hopes to give back and be able to help provide those same inputs, or opportunities, for others.
“When I think about the kind of world we want to live in, I think every single one of us wants the kids in our community to have as many opportunities as possible. And On the Road is a great way to do that.”
In addition to our amazing Community Teachers and the support from our community, one of the ways we ensure these opportunities reach our youth is by focusing on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment.
We accomplish this, first, by eliminating barriers, which is why our programs are free, held on school grounds, and open to any student who wants to participate. We have also always provided free transportation home so that transportation never gets in the way of any youth participating.
But at the beginning of this semester, as our fall programs were about to get underway, we found ourselves without transportation as the partner we had used said they would no longer be available.
Knowing how important transportation is to our youth, we personally reached out to our supporters to see if anyone could help.
Fernando saw a Facebook post and reached out to see how he and his family could help.
“I just remembered how much On the Road benefited me and how much I learned, and how much it has shaped me into who I am today,” Fernando said. He also recognized how much transportation mattered to him.
Fernando recounted days when his mom couldn’t pick him up, but thanks to our program model, he always had a ride home.
He also remembers all of the field trips they were able to go on, including one to Appeal Production, Andy Vanhook’s business, which made all of the opportunities he had more impactful.
“I just feel like having transportation is really important for the students and for being able to continue to have the doors open for any people that want to become a leader, and to evolve their skills more, and learn about careers,” Fernando said. “So, I wanted to help.”
Highest Roofing decided to become a sponsor of On the Road and worked with us directly to help make sure we had transportation figured out temporarily until we could find a more permanent solution.
Fernando said the decision to support On the Road as a donor was a personal and meaningful one.
“We could donate to any nonprofit organization out there but it’s different with On the Road because I was in the program, and now I’m on the other side, on the backend, to support the organization,” Fernando said, adding that reconnecting as a sponsor felt like a way for him to remain involved.
Chiedo and Andy both said seeing this story play out supports what they always knew as Community Teachers: That the work we’re doing is directly making a difference in the lives of local youth.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Chiedo said. “As you get more and more students going through this, becoming the most successful versions of ourselves and getting back to the program to work with the next generation of students–it seems like a sustainable operating model that’s clearly having an impact.”
Chiedo said more importantly, when stories come full circle like this, it continues to open the world to new opportunities and connections for the next generation.
“The more I’m in the professional years of my life, the more I see how it’s all about who you know – that goes so far [and] it goes back to the opportunity,” Chiedo said. “Whatever we can do to help more young students have networks where they can see how someone like Andy Vanhook conducts themself professionally, and then kind of like model on that and then go on to be successful like Fernando. Fernando goes and talks to the next middle schoolers… and then they see, ‘Oh, here’s how you conduct yourself professionally.’ That’s closing the gap that exists when you don’t have community professionals going back into the school system.”
And additionally, Chiedo added, it’s exposing youth to the many paths they have available to them.
“[Before On the Road] they may be thinking of a narrow view of the world, which could be a great view, right? But they may be missing out on all these other things that could be a better view for them,” Chedio said.
For Fernando, he’s excited about the many paths available to him.
Currently, Fernando is applying to colleges for next fall and hopes to be able to continue developing his professional skills as he moves into the next chapter of his life.
But he said no matter where he ends up, he knows On the Road, including the relationships he’s built with people like Andy and Chiedo, have helped set him up for success.
“On the Road has helped me become more mature because I’m connecting with professionals and seeing how I can implement those new skills in my field of work, which I think I’ve done already,” Fernando said.
“[Chiedo and Andy] are setting an example for me, and I think that all of us … are setting an example so that other people who are interested can see that it’s not impossible.”
THE 2022 PROMISE CAMPAIGN
When you donate to our Promise Campaign this year, you help make stories like Fernando’s possible.
Every gift will go directly toward supporting our mission while helping us to meet specific needs, including:
Ensuring youth have access to our programs. Free transportation for our youth is essential, and your gift will help us purchase our own vans to make sure transportation is never an issue.
Investing in our people. On the Road is committed to providing a living wage for all employees and ensuring our full-time employees have access to medical insurance. Your support helps provide this.
Expanding our reach and making sure our impact continues. Your gift will help fund our new program at Kate Collins Middle School in Waynesboro and support our expansion within the Shenandoah Valley.