By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation
Kate and Lorneesha are a hard-to-miss pair. Both are outgoing with big smiles and their shared laughs reveal a special bond.
The two are part of iMentor's inaugural cohort at North-Grand High School. The program's launch in September 2015 marks the New York-based organization's expansion into Chicago.
Since they were matched at the beginning of Lorneesha's junior year, Kate has been instrumental in helping Lorneesha, who will be a first-generation college student, plan for her next steps after high school graduation. During their monthly in-person check-ins, they review the college application process, explore school options and discuss financial aid, among other topics.
Because of Lorneesha's multiple career interests, Kate helped Lorneesha develop a flexible college plan that allows her to discover her interests. For instance, the high school senior enjoys her culinary class at North-Grand High School and is currently considering a degree in culinary arts. She is also interested in pursuing a legal career.
"My mentor is a big help to me in everything inside and outside of school," says Lorneesha. "The college process is hard and I know college won't be easy, but with her help I know that I can get through it."
What makes this pair really special is not only their mentoring relationship, but a friendship has also emerged. With the recent passing of Lorneesha's father, Kate has become more involved with supporting her mentee. She attends Lorneesha's basketball games and her culinary competitions to cheer her on. And the support is reciprocal: Lorneesha was at Kate's wedding last summer to share in her mentor's special day.
"By going to Lorneesha's basketball games and inviting her to my wedding, we have been able to build trust," Kate says. "Because of this, even when plans change, Lorneesha knows that I will be in her corner no matter what."
Kate and Lorneesha's support for one another exemplifies the cornerstone of iMentor's philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of cultivating meaningful and personal relationships between pairs. Mentors don't just discuss "academic performance or how to pay for college," says iMentor CEO Mike O'Brien. "This work happens at the intersection of academics, family and friends. Our model embraces that complexity."
When Lorneesha goes to college next fall, the two will continue their mentoring relationship as part of iMentor's College Program, which gives pairs the opportunity to extend their match through college completion. If Lorneesha enrolls in a college outside of Chicago, Kate will connect with her through video chat, phone and email. The College Program launches in September 2017.
ECMC Foundation investments helped fund iMentor's expansion to Chicago. Founded in 1999 and first launched in New York City, iMentor partners with public schools in low-income communities and connects students to mentors that help them navigate the challenges of applying to, persisting through and graduating from college. To date, they have matched more than 15,000 students across the country.
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