Sandra & Sandy, HEMI Family

It’s never too late in life to seek a mentor. Sandra Jones has proof of that.

“I have always wanted a mentor in my life – someone to take me to dinner, or to go shopping. That one person I could look up to,” she says.

Now a Hamilton County Job and Family Services children services worker, Sandra, 23, was in foster care for 13 years and “aged-out” of the system, a commonplace occurrence for foster care children who are in care during their late teens. There are staggering statistics about kids who turn 18 while in foster care. Many don’t complete high school, do not go on to explore higher education, and, unfortunately, go on to become homeless or are incarcerated.

This is the demographic that the Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI) hopes to target with their mentorship program.  They believe that every child needs to know that they have options past high school, if they want to work hard enough to achieve them.

Jones agrees.

“Everyone needs to be on the same page. There are programs and services within the system, and with HEMI, that not every kid knows about.”

Sandra (left) and Sandy (right) take a picture celebrating Sandra's graduation.
Sandra (left) and Sandy (right) take a picture celebrating Sandra’s college graduation.

She met her mentor, Sandy Urquhart, when she was 17 and already a member of the Ohio Young Scholars program, in line to attend Ohio State University. It would seem that she didn’t need someone to keep her on the right path at that point in her life, but she jumped at the chance.

When they met, there was a little bit of resistance, but Urquhart gave her a present to smooth over some of their jitters.

“It was a bit of a struggle at first because I think she [Urquhart] didn’t understand I already had a full ride to Ohio State. But she gave me a purple notebook, with a note inside that said she was nervous about meeting me and I was a little nervous too. I filled that notebook up after that.”

Urquhart was a part of the first crowd of HEMI mentors in 2009 when she met Jones. She had worked as a registered nurse, dealing with psychiatric nursing and mental health, but now works full time in school nursing at Mt. Healthy City Schools.

She describes reading the volunteer section of the newspaper and seeing the ad for the first time about HEMI five years ago, saying, “It shouted out at me, you know? I had to pursue it.”

She had been involved in other volunteer opportunities before, but she felt that HEMI fit into many of her own personal and professional values.  “I thought, ‘If I volunteer, I want a commitment.’ I think if you ask anyone at the organization, I’ve had a different, unique situation with Sandra. She already had everything figured out, so I had to take her lead.”

Jones says she has always had that drive to do it on her own. “If you want something right you have to do it yourself,” she says.

But she still wanted to have someone in her life who was proud of her accomplishments.

“It was nice to have someone be there for me,” she says about Urquhart. “She helped me see that I could do it on my own, if I wanted, but I didn’t have to.”

Mentorship has always held significance for Sandra. When she was younger, she wanted to be a teacher or a pediatrician because she felt that would give her the chance to make a difference in the lives of children. She hopes that once she has the opportunity and is secure in her career, she can give back to kids who go through situations similar to ones she has gone through.

“Foster care isn’t everything to all kids,” she says. “I can give back. I want to be their stability. If it’s three in the morning and you need to leave me a voicemail message, I will listen. They just need someone to talk to and I want to be that person.”

HEMI is recruiting now for mentors!

Please contact program coordinator Annie Schellinger dickar@ucmail.uc.edu or 513-556-4368

by Brian Gregg

Filed Under: News

Tagged: HEMI, mentor, mentorship, news