WHY! helps students set goals While most kids are looking forward to summer fun and no school, a group of teen-agers will meet throughout the summer months. Their goal: preparing for college.
Recently, a group of teens met at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning at the Martin Luther King Center. They are members of We"re Helping Youth! (WHY!), a non-profit organization headed by executive director Robert E. Patrick. Patrick, 52, worked as a counselor with a similar Department of Education program that had been funded for over 20 years, but lost its funding in 1994. Seeing the value in what was being done, he founded WHY! later that same year to continue reaching out to young people.
The kids were meeting as part of the P.O.W.E.R Project, one of several programs under the auspices of WHY! The Saturday morning meetings for middle schoolers cover topics such as time management, goal setting and life skills. So why is Patrick up early on Saturday preparing for a group of kids? "I've finally found a job I really enjoy. I'm able to keep enjoyment at the forefront, more so than monetary gain, and I"m making a tremendous contribution."
Patrick speaks of his role as director, educator and counselor to middle schoolers through high schoolers, who have the potential for college, but whose grades or lack of financial access stand in the way. "Don't let tuition dissuade you from post-secondary education," Patrick often says. Then he backs this up by bringing in financial advisors and taking the students on college visitation trips, both in and out of state, some to historically black colleges.
WHY! works with students in much the same capacity as guidance counselors would - if they had the time. "His program is certainly an enhancement to the work that guidance counselors are doing," states Pat Iler, director of guidance for Broad Ripple High School. There are four counselors at Broad Ripple for 1,500 students, 300 of which are seniors. While counselors work with students to get them information about college, Patrick and WHY! are filling in the gaps.
But aren't counselors supposed to do the things that WHY! is doing, such as getting kids ready for college? "They do and they do an excellent job," Patrick says, "but they tend to cater to the upper decibel of students - those with grades good enough for college or scholarships. There just aren"t enough hours in the day. They are overwhelmed with kids getting enough credits to graduate. That's their prime responsibility."
Patrick notes that the "middle of the road" kids can be neglected. "Counselors aren't necessarily checking on them, and if they aren't in trouble, probation officers aren't checking on them either." It's this student that Patrick hopes to capture before they get beyond help.
Brandon Bent, a 16-year-old junior at Tech High School, spoke of the impact of his involvement with WHY! What would he be doing if he wasn't there on that particular Saturday morning? "I would probably be chillin' with my boys or at some girl's house. But I'm here "cause I can always do that but I can't always get on a college tour. You get something out of it - I got something out of it; I got a whole other mentality when I came back [from a college tour]. It kind of boosted me up. If I want to go here I gotta do such and such, I know the requirements. I'm going to try to do all my work and more so I can get into this college. It empowers me."
In addition to in-state and out-of-state college visits, WHY! enlists past members who are college students as mentors to the high schoolers, and high schoolers as mentors to the middle schoolers. WHY! members also volunteer for a number of other community service projects: the Mozel Sanders Thanksgiving Dinner preparation, United Christmas Service, Indianapolis Public Schools-Infusion Conference, Indianapolis Museum of Art AfricaFest and United Way Day of Caring just to name a few. Yet the focus remains on getting kids into college.
Patrick has had great success with the program, including one young lady who graduated this year from Indiana University. "Camille Jones is on our board of directors and is one of the most active members. She's carrying her commitment of completing college back to the community to help other kids follow behind her." For more information about WHY!, contact Robert Patrick at 335-4192.