I went back to school as an adult and I put four kids through college as a single parent. Every year, people would come out of the woodwork and ask me for advice on how to think through the college decision, and avoid accumulating a ton of debt. Twenty years later, I’m still meeting with families and students of all ages, and have authored four books on the topic.
I discovered Encore.org in 2006 when I was writing my first book, Back to School for Grownups. I’ve kept tabs on them ever since. I’ve also gotten involved with a local organization called SHIFT, which brings mid-lifers in the Twin Cities together to discover greater purpose and passion in their life and work.
The Generation to Generation campaign caught my attention because it honors the gifts of wisdom each generation can offer the other. It also seems to include a wide range of programs, from more traditional face-to-face in-school commitments to fully online mentoring that can easily fit around a busy and unpredictable schedule such as mine.
This past December I started volunteering with Strive for College mentoring first-generation college students. The program is fully online, provides excellent training and tools, and has a national following. Strive is a perfect match with my background, personality and schedule. What sealed the deal was our values fit. Not only does the Strive program help students get to college, the tools help them find colleges where they are likely to receive sufficient assistance to graduate without unmanageable debt. This is one of my passions and the topic of my most recent book Our Plan: A Family Centered Approach to Paying for College, which looks at how pursuing further education impacts the whole family.
What I enjoy most is being able to provide individual, practical information that helps the student stay on track. Recently one student said she didn’t know where to start and felt overwhelmed with the whole college process. Within a couple of exchanges we were able to focus on one topic and figured it out, so she could move on. There’s also an honesty and safety in the Strive environment that allows the student to open up to a neutral adult. Exchanges are viewable by Strive staff to ensure appropriate communication, so it’s safe, and quickly allows us to get to the heart of their question.
There were several teachers growing up that were very influential to me because they took time to listen, understand who I was and what my interests were – and then offer a word or suggestion that could help me along the way. That’s what I try to do with these students.