Mentoring program wins state grant

By Patricia Ann Speelman -

SIDNEY — A new consortium of area educational, social service and business organizations has won a $100,000 Community Connections grant from the Ohio Department of Education.

Career Quest is the name of the program the grant will support. It’s been developed by staff of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Shelby and Darke County and the Midwest Regional Educational Service Center and its Opportunity School. Other partners are Rhodes State College, Edison State Community College, the Workforce Partnership of Shelby County, Emerson Climate Technologies, Lowe’s, Ferguson Construction and Wilson Health.

Career Quest will pair Opportunity School students in 10th through 12th grades with volunteer mentors in an effort to increase graduation rates.

“The goal is to mentor youth from low income or diverse backgrounds using the Big Brothers Big Sisters service delivery model,” said Jennifer Bruns, executive director of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency, which serves as the fiscal agent of the program. “During weekly or biweekly visits, mentors will help students get the credits they need to graduate.”

The Opportunity School classes take place from 3 to 7 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays, and the tutoring/mentoring sessions will be during those classes. Organizers hope to involve 55 students beginning in October, so 55 mentors are needed. The pairs can meet for one hour each week or for two hours every other week and “we’ll work around the volunteer’s schedule,” Bruns said.

Volunteers can be from any career backgrounds. They will receive mentoring training at Rhodes State College and then teach soft skills, such as responsibilty, and hard skills for meeting workplace demands. The partner organizations will recruit volunteers and give presentations during class times about various career paths that will be open to the students when they graduate.

“It may also incorporate some job shadowing and career workshops,” Bruns said. “Career Quest is going to help students get the credits they need to graduate and they’ll have a positive relationship and have someone to guide them along the way as they do it. They may also be ready for a career right out of high school.”

Volunteers should have some general knowledge of what the graduation requirements are. Tom Clark, an administrative adviser at the Opportunity School, will help them with that, as will the Rhodes State training. They must be willing to tutor, but they don’t have to be well-versed in all subjects.

“I have a middle school student and I can’t say I’m very good at helping with math homework,” Bruns admitted. But extensive understanding of complex school subjects is not required of volunteers.

One hundred sixteen community partnerships will share $9.9 million to mentor approximately 33,000 Ohio students in the latest round of grants in the Community Connectors school mentorship program, according to a release by the Ohio Department of Education. The state received 197 applications for funding during this round, and each application included a business, civic and faith- or values-based partner organization. The program provides $3 for every $1 provided by local partnerships for activities specifically associated with one-to-one mentoring.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Shelby and Darke County has assumed the responsiblity to raise the $33,333 to meet the match. The grant money will be awarded by the state as the program reports its results. Funds are not distributed in a lump sum.

There are no plans to hire additional staff to manage Career Quest.

“We’ll utilize the expertise of Tom Clark and our staff,” Bruns said.

Adults interested in volunteering for Career Quest should call 492-7611 or email

By Patricia Ann Speelman

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.

Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.