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College Now racing to find 100 more volunteer mentors for college-bound Cleveland students before April 1 deadline

Coronavirus pandemic has slowed sign-ups for program proven to increase college success for scholarship recipients
Credit: Margaret Bernstein
Anchor Russ Mitchell signed up in 2019 to be a mentor and was matched with Mario Wilson.

CLEVELAND — College Now of Greater Cleveland’s 2020 recruitment drive to find mentors for college-bound students was clicking along nicely until the coronavirus pandemic hit. But now, with the campaign in its final two weeks, staffers are in a race to find the last 100 volunteers needed to match each of its scholarship recipients with a mentor.

 “Volunteer recruitment has indeed slowed in the past weeks,” said mentoring program director Madeline Rife. Not only are fewer applications coming in, she explained, but the shutdown of local venues and corporations has caused many mentor recruitment events to be cancelled.

College Now began the year with a goal of finding more than 1,000 mentors to serve the incoming class of its scholarship recipients, which includes the hundreds of Cleveland 12th graders who qualify for the Say Yes Cleveland scholarship. 

So far this year, 900 volunteers have been signed up. Nearly 100 of those were recruited during “Mentor Monday,” a one-day partnership with WKYC studios that kicked off the recruitment season and helped get the word out about the program. WKYC's coverage highlighted the fact that College Now's program is not time-consuming and many high-profile local professionals have found time to participate, including WKYC anchor Russ Mitchell. 

College Now provides scholarships to local high school seniors, many of whom are from high-financial need backgrounds. Most are first-generation college students – meaning they are first in their families to go to college and, as such, don’t necessarily have the same supports at home to turn to when guidance is needed throughout the college-going process. College Now’s mentoring program has been found to increase the likelihood that students will successfully navigate their new college environment and remain enrolled until graduation.

The deadline to register to be a mentor is April 1. It will be a loss for the community if College Now falls short of goal and can’t provide this vital support for all its students, Rife said. “The pandemic is understandably taking precedence in people’s priorities, but this is a longer-term need that is currently being adversely affected by the current circumstances. If we don’t get enough mentors now, that will reverberate over the coming 18 months or so.”

To be a mentor, the only requirements are that you have a college degree and access to the Internet and that you complete the application and go through the screening process. The application can be found on College Now’s website.

The commitment is minimal – mentors commit to working with their student throughout the course of their college career, which includes exchanging messages twice per month via an online platform and meeting in person three times per year – but the results are powerful. That’s especially clear right now, said Rife, who sees College Now’s volunteers pitching in to help their mentees adjust to the sudden closure of colleges and universities caused by the coronavirus.

“As students are faced with massive changes while trying to finish their courses for the semester, mentors are vital to help students figure out how to adapt to remote learning, evaluate housing options, and assist with enrollment questions,” she said. “College Now provides mentors and students with a curriculum to help them talk through challenging issues and situations, and provides resources for students faced with financial, academic, or emotional hardship.”

 To apply, please visit www.collegenowgc.org/become-a-mentor. You can contact Jabari Dorsey, Mentoring Program Manager, with any questions at 216.635.0268 or jdorsey@collegenowgc.org.