Meant for mentoring
Two new AmeriCorps workers help local kids plot their futures
Some job titles are so vague and fuzzy it’s hard to imagine what the people in those positions are expected to do. That’s not true for Douglas County newcomers Erik Wood and Erika McIntyre. Each will soon be handing out business cards bearing the words “School to Career Navigator.”
That’s the simplest way to describe the duties of these two AmeriCorps members hosted by Douglas County Partners for Student Success. Wood and McIntyre will be working with students across the county, helping young people develop plans for their post-high school education and potential careers.
Wood and McIntyre have been helping to carry out the DCPSS mission since early September. For those who aren’t familiar with the name, AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors. Its members do public service work in the fields of education, public safety, health care and environmental protection. Members commit to full-time or part-time positions offered by a network of nonprofit community groups and public agencies.
Both Wood and McIntyre understand that connecting the dots on the path from school to career can be a challenge for kids, especially those living in a rural area with fewer resources than large cities.
“It’s difficult for students these days to figure out a pathway to whatever education or career they want after high school, and it can be easy for the choice to be nothing or to work in the service industry,” Wood said. “A service job is not a bad thing, but it’s vulnerable, because it’s easy to replace someone in those jobs.
“We’re trying to steer people to positions that make it easier for people to succeed further on in life.”
McIntyre said it’s crucial for students to be exposed to the idea that even if they don’t come from a high-income family, it’s possible to go on to college – and that a two-year degree can be just as valuable as a four-year degree.
“We want to help them understand that technical education is important, and we have a need for people like welders, auto technicians and machinists,” she said. “It’s time to get rid of the idea that those kind of jobs aren’t as meaningful, and there’s a great need for them.”
The two AmeriCorps members can offer some perspective on career paths from personal experience. Wood, who grew up in San Diego and graduated from San Francisco State University in 2015 with a degree in sociology. He considered joining the Peace Corps, which probably would have resulted in an assignment in another nation.
“But I realized we have a lot of issues here in this country, and plenty of communities in need here,” he said.
Oregon native McIntyre has lived in Stayton, Albany and Redmond, where she was doing caregiving for a family member. She attended Linn-Benton Community College for a year and was drawn to education through some child development classes. That exposure stoked her enthusiasm for working with kids and also mentoring programs, both of which are key facets of her job here in Douglas County.
One of the projects both Wood and McIntyre will take part in involves developing a manual for local mentors. They’ll identify existing resources for youth, as well as the skills and training mentors need to be effective. This ultimately will enable us to establish a more formal mentoring program that will help us boost graduation rates and launch more students to gainful employment.
Asked what qualities a mentor needs, Wood identified humility. “They don’t need to have all the answers, but they do need to provide good guidance.”
McIntyre added the best mentors know how to listen sincerely and be able to talk over options with the kids who turn to them.
“Kids sometimes need someone they can talk with out loud, who can think it through and not shoot them down,” she said. “It’s about letting kids work through it and giving them healthy support.”
We at DCPSS look forward to sharing more about the work done throughout the year by our school to career navigators. Stay tuned!