Mentors sought for 'commitment' to kids
TOWNSHEND -- As the owner of ICS Auto Restoration, Brian Schmidt isn't interested in late-model cars.
A 1929 Model A Ford is more his speed.
"I don't like working on new cars, so all the cars I work on are very old," Schmidt said. "And I work by myself."
But on a recent afternoon outside Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend, Schmidt had a few "helpers" in the form of students enrolled in RAMP -- otherwise known as the Ready-to-Achieve Mentoring Program.
Schmidt is just one of the mentors providing guidance and encouragement to RAMP students at three Windham County high schools. And he believes he's benefiting from the experience, too.
"It's well worth the commitment," Schmidt said. "It's really not a lot of time to commit in the grand scheme of things."
RAMP administrators are hoping more adults are willing to make such a commitment to students at Leland & Gray, Brattleboro Union High School and Bellows Falls Union High School.
The after-school program, run by Brattleboro-based Youth Services, was launched in 2009 and now serves more than 30 students mostly aged 14-17. The focus is on kids who are "needing extra support," said RAMP Director Michelle Bos-Lun.
There is a relatively small group of mentors at each high school, but "the more we have, the better," Bos-Lun said.
She added that "it's great if we can form long-term relationships" between mentors and students.
The program emphasizes development of stronger social skills and job-readiness. Students meet in a group setting weekly, and administrators ask mentors to commit to attending at least twice a month.
"We match students up with caring adults and help them discover their interests and to look at career possibilities," Bos-Lun said. "We want somebody who is caring, and somebody who enjoys the energy that teenagers have."
There is a focus on the so-called STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math. But Bos-Lun said program administrators "broadly define that -- we want to be as inclusive as we can."
It is important, she added, that mentors "have the willingness and the ability to talk about a lot of different careers. They don't just talk about their area of expertise."
That's no problem for Schmidt, who said his discussions with students focus sometimes on job interviews and sometimes on "life in general."
"If they want to talk about cars, we talk about cars," he said.
Last week, he lifted the hood and opened the doors on his prized Model A outside Leland & Gray, allowing students to peer at the engine and climb inside the cab.
On the same day, the RAMP group heard from two local real-estate agents. A week prior, students visited Harlow Farm in Westminster and harvested more than 1,500 pounds of pumpkins.
"All of those went to the Vermont Food Bank and are being distributed around the state," Bos-Lun said.
The diversity of the RAMP experience has benefited both current and former participants. Chris Carlson ended up with a regular paycheck from Jamaica Cottage Shop.
"I got a solid job -- my first job," Carlson said. "We took a field trip, and I asked for a job application."
The Jamaica resident said he also "picked up on some social skills" through the program.
The same is true for Brittney Sabolevski, a Townshend resident and a junior at Leland & Gray.
"It taught me how to be more of a people person -- to be in a community of people," Sabolevski said.
She tested those people skills by representing Vermont at an August RAMP conference in Washington, D.C. Sabolevski offered a presentation about a RAMP farm visit.
"I was a little bit nervous, but it was actually exciting," she said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.