UMass Student Bridges and UMass 4-H Youth Development program serves underrepresented youth in Springfield

This guest post was written by Lorena Alves, a tutor-mentor and development and evaluation Coordinator for the UMass-Amherst Student Bridges program.

I have had the privilege of tutoring and mentoring Jon for three college semesters, and in that time I have experienced first-hand the difference an afterschool program such as the UMass Student Bridges/4-H “Ready, SET, Go” program can make on a child’s developmental growth. I am very thankful to the Student Bridges and 4-H organizations for equipping me with the skill set to facilitate Jon’s academic, social and language growth.

[caption id="attachment_736" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Lorena and Jon"][/caption]Over the past year and a half, I have seen that with patience, empathy, and assistance, children can and will thrive - even the ones with difficult challenges. From when Jon and I started up until now, he has come a long way - from hardly speaking to being enthusiastic and talkative. Jon has learned how to build and nurture his own relationships, and has gone beyond by positively influencing his peers through leadership roles. Through my experience tutor-mentoring and more specifically by tutor-mentoring Jon, I have learned the true meaning of reciprocity.

When I first started as a tutor/mentor, I thought I was going to teach underprivileged and underserved students how to improve academically, but to my surprise, I ended up learning so much more about myself and began re-evaluating my life goals. Coming from an underprivileged community myself, I have used my life experiences to relate to my mentees and have shared my knowledge to positively influence them and show them that almost anything is possible if they truly put their mind to it.

I am so proud to be part of an organization that works towards educational equality. Student Bridges facilitates mentor-mentee relationships regardless of our many social differences. We enter communities not thinking we are going to solve their every problem. Instead, we try our best to guide them towards using the strengths and skills they already possess in order to achieve their full potential.

There are many programs that guide and support students in receiving a higher education, but many fail to cater to the needs of underrepresented students, especially once they are enrolled in a college or university, which creates a lack of retention. Our organization not only supports students and provides the resources needed for underrepresented students to strive for higher education, but once they are enrolled in college, we work on retention by actively engaging with those students so that they have the support, knowledge, and resources needed to thrive in college and graduate.

I started as a UMass student, became a tutor-mentor, and have grown into a member of the Student Bridges family. I am currently a full-time student and a part-time Development and Evaluation Coordinator for Student Bridges. I collaborate with Student Bridges committee members to implement constructive changes based on evaluations and feedback. This experience has brought me growth, knowledge, and a hope to forever impact young people’s lives. Displaying commitment and directing optimistic energy towards youth has a positive impact on young people’s lives and will open the doors of opportunity.