Mentoring at Higher Achievement set Cameron’s life on a whole new trajectory. Volunteering wasn’t new to him—he had given of his time previously through church and school—but in the fall of 2019, he was looking for a meaningful way to spend his time outside of his 9-5 job. “My work felt disconnected from the larger community,” reflected Cameron. “I wanted a way to contribute to something bigger than myself.”
Cameron’s wife, a high school teacher, often shared with him the struggles of her students who were not equipped with the tools and opportunities to succeed in high school. When a co-worker recommended Higher Achievement, he knew it was the perfect opportunity.
Cameron immediately felt at home as a mentor at the Boushall Achievement Center in Richmond. “Day one when I walked in, there was a warm greeting from staff and scholars,” he remembers. “I saw scholars leading and felt a sense of family in the program, from the initial gathering, to the lessons, to the reflections each evening.”
As a mentor, Cameron helped 5th and 6th-grade scholars look at problems that affected their everyday lives and guided them in identifying ways in which they could make an impact in their community. In the fall, his group of mentees decided to tackle the challenge of getting students more comfortable when they began school. Together, they talked about what it was like to start a new school, and what might make it easier. Scholars came up with innovative solutions to the problem, including a survival kit with a color-coded map, a handwritten note, stress ball, and an assigned buddy to help them with the transition.
“Scholars exercised their empathy and problem-solving like a muscle. Kids even as young as 5th grade could look at a problem, pick it apart, and demonstrate greater emotional acuity and problem-solving skills than people my own age,” asserts Cameron.
As scholars worked through mentoring lessons, they developed confidence in their abilities as leaders and problem solvers. Mentors like Cameron provided tools and encouragement for scholars as they came to recognize their agency in the world around them.
Seeing scholars come to their own realizations and solutions gave Cameron a deep sense of pride in their efforts. “I look forward to this work every single week. The scholars are self-starters and I love to watch as they mature and begin to teach their peers.”
Cameron experienced first-hand the impact of switching from an in-person to a virtual program in the spring of 2020. He recognized the challenge Higher Achievement faced as an afterschool program moving to an all-remote model while meeting the academic and social needs of scholars and their families. Mentoring shifted from a cumulative project-based model to a modular discussion-based model that met scholars where they were and responded flexibly to their needs.
Cameron guided scholars in discussions of segregation and the Black Lives Matter movement during virtual programming. “Our discussions in the summer and fall became larger so that we could explore the larger context of the issues. Unlike previous mentoring sessions, our goal wasn’t necessarily to problem-solve, but for the scholars to understand and process what was happening around them.”
Because of his work with Higher Achievement, Cameron knew he wanted to make a career shift to something more people-focused.
“When Covid hit, it was a time for introspection for everyone. I was questioning all areas of my life and asking myself, ‘What am I doing this for?’. But I never questioned that for Higher Achievement.”
He is currently working to help facilitate the vaccination process in New York City. “It’s taken me away from mentoring at Higher Achievement, which was a brutal decision. Mentoring is like an anchor each week. The scholars center and teach me, and I can’t wait to get back to working with them again in the fall.”
Mentors build relationships with the same group of scholars every week through academic enrichment and personal encouragement as someone who shows up for them, believes in them, and will stand by them as they work to secure their futures.
Whether you’re looking to re-engage with service or are getting involved in your community for the first time, we’re happy to have you join us.