On Sunday, many area seniors turned their tassel as they were acknowledged for their achievements over the past four years. There are cheers, laughter, and some tears as they throw their caps in the air, high five, and hug their friends, classmates, and loved ones. For many, this is just what you do. For others, graduation is so much more. It is them beating the odds, defying the path they were once going down, and proving to the naysayers that gradation is possible, for anyone, when you put the work into it.
A community need survey was conducted in 2010 by Sioux Empire United Way, through this, they discovered a need to focus on youth who are homeless or unaccompanied, meaning they are not living with their parents or family; youth in foster care or residential treatment programs; and youth who have other risk factors for not completing high school. Statistics show that 1 in 5 youth will run away at least once. As of March 2019, 900 youth in Sioux Falls were identified as homeless, 40 were unaccompanied.
National Research has shown that mentoring has been found as an effective way to help young people who are at risk of school failure and dropping out. From the results of our 2010 survey and national research, USucceed was developed and is managed by Lutheran Social Services.
USucceed matches trained volunteer mentors with students who have been identified as being at risk of dropping out of school. Mentors are paired with a mentee for four years. Mentors will help their mentee set and meet goals. They are required to meet at least four hours each month. They will meet either at school or in a community setting to help the mentee develop, learn, and practice independent living skills, investigate careers, and explore higher education options.
There are also expectations for the students within the program as well. To be a mentee, they must be motivated to want to graduate and seek further opportunities after high school. For some, like Andrea and Maha, they have been paired with a mentor since elementary school through Lutheran Social Services’ Everyday Heroes program.
Andrea and Maha, twin sisters, graduated from Washington High School in 2018. Their success goes back to their mentor match in 2nd grade, Alyssa. Through the years, the twins were able to trust Alyssa with their questions and concerns while she helped them make friends, practice job interview skills, and make plans for after high school. Andrea and Maha are currently enrolled with South Dakota State University and are pursing nursing degrees. The twins shared, “having a mentor is like having a whole world.” Though Alyssa’s mentees have graduated, her relationship with them has not ended. The three of them meet over breaks and have plans to continue their friendship. The twin’s mother shared, “Alyssa really helped the girls make the transition from high school to college by informing them of what to expect, what to do, and not do while in school. The girls had a great first semester with excellent grades!”
Young people without high school diplomas have lifelong difficulties in our economy and society. Without a high school diploma and some post-secondary education or training, these young people will likely continue to live on the margin and area businesses will lose out on people who might otherwise have valuable employees. USucceed have given more of our youth a reason to turn their tassel and celebrate with their classmates.