Kendall Morris, WBIR
tnAchieves needs more than double the mentors it had last year to accommodate the influx of students applying for the Tennessee Promise program.
The Tennessee Promise is a new scholarship program that provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors absolutely free of tuition and fees. The class of 2015 will be the first to take advantage of this.
Graham Thomas, director of community partnerships with TNAchieves, said the Tennessee Promise program basically provides the money for the scholarships, and tnAchieves is the program students must complete to access the funding for the tuition and fees.
“What it really means for tnAchieves, is that we have to go and find a way to support more than 30,000 students as they get into the college pipeline,” Thomas said.
The tnAchieves program previously served 27 counties in Tennessee. This year, the program is expanding to 84 of the 95 counties in the state, Thomas said.
In 2014, 14,356 students applied for the tnAchieves program with 2,212 mentors volunteering to help those students in the college application process. In 2015, tnAchieves is anticipating more than 30,000 students in the program, but currently, they only have around 3,000 mentors signed up. Thomas said they need around 6,000 mentors to accommodate all the students.
“Most of our students are low-income, first-generation students,” Thomas said. “They just need someone in their life to give them a little bit of an extra push, remind them of those things, work with them when there are forms they don’t understand.”
Ben Sterling, a tnAchieves employee, went through the tnAchieves program as a student during the inaugural year. He now holds a college degree and works for the program that helped him apply for college.
“I had supportive parents, but I was a first-generation college student so they were supportive. They encouraged me to go to college, but they didn’t know how to get me there,” Sterling said. “With the help of my mentor, they were able to answer the questions that my parents couldn’t, and that was a big thing for me.”
Thomas said mentors provide the encouragement many of the students don’t receive at home and remind students of important deadlines and dates associated with college-going process. Mentors meet with the students once in January and once in March.
Stacie Greene, a five-year mentor with tnAchieves, said, “You just provide a small amount of guidance, and they are so unbelievably grateful for all the help that they receive.”
To apply to be a mentor, visit the tnAchieves website or email firstname.lastname@example.org.