Team of about 130 volunteers, many over 55, assists first-generation students get in and remain in college
By Mary Beth Roach
Beverly Carter, 62, of Syracuse, is an extrovert with a capital E, and as such, she seems perfectly suited as a volunteer driver for the On Point for College program, transporting students back and forth from college.
Jeannette Artini, also 62, of Camillus, had just retired last spring after 40 years in the technology industry, and within weeks, she became as a mentor with On Point. She was matched with Amina Amin, 21, who was born in a refugee camp in Kenya, spent her early years between Somalia and Kenya, came to the United States in 2015 and is attending Syracuse University.
Carter and Artini are just two of 130, many of them 55 years of age or better, who give their time and talents to On Point, a program begun in 1999 by Ginny Donahue to assist first-generation students get in and remain in college and then succeed after graduating.
Carter said she has always been community-minded — a trait she attributed to her mother — and she estimated that she has been a volunteer for at least seven years. Her brother, Sam Rowser, is On Point’s current executive director.
Artini opted for a different volunteer role, helping Amin in a variety of ways.
“I think I’m her cheerleader, and it’s easy because she’s outstanding,” Artini said.
When Amin first arrived in this country, she faced some bullying and challenges with the English language. Yet, she excelled scholastically. She is in pre-med now, hoping to become a pediatrician, a decision she made after seeing the long lines of parents and children waiting for medical care at the refugee camp. While she is doing well academically, Amin said that she thought that she needed to get out of her “comfort zone” and begin networking.
With Artini’s help, she is doing just that. For instance, Artini has introduced Amin to Kristen Kratzert, an OB-GYN, now retired, who had founded the Woman’s Wellness Place in Syracuse in the mid-1990s. She thought it was important for Amin to get a sense of the variety of opportunities in the medical arena and to see first-hand how medicine is practiced in the everyday world. Artini believes it is important for women to help other women in the professional fields. She also helped Amin when she had to decide whether to attend SU or LeMoyne College. Amin said that once she reaches her career goals, she is looking forward to return to that refugee camp and help the people there.
She said that she cannot tutor Amin since the latter’s coursework in biology and chemistry is not Artini’s bailiwick, but she can help line up a tutor if and when needed.
“I really wanted to see an impact one-on-one” and make a difference, she said.
That desire to make a difference seems to be the common thread for the volunteers that get involved in the program, according to Katie Schmid, volunteer coordinator for On Point for College.
“The whole concept of helping a young person succeed is something that’s very universal,” she said. “That idea of paying it forward is really appealing.”
There are a variety of ways the volunteers can make that difference, such as driving, like Carter, or mentoring, such as Artini does. With the COVID-19 pandemic, Schmid explained that On Point began expanding its volunteer opportunities and they now offer a phone outreach program, career services support and more tutoring.
One woman who currently resides in California, for example, offers resume´ clinics over Zoom.
All volunteers undergo training, a background check and the New York state anti-harassment training, Schmid noted. Some volunteer roles have specific commitment levels, she added. Those who wish to become mentors, for example, need to be prepared to make a six-month commitment.
While the volunteers can see the impact they’re having, some, like Carter and Artini, seem to have deeper experiences.
Artini said that her experience is giving her hope.
“If Amina’s a sample of young immigrants coming to our country and making a difference, the future’s bright,” she said.
For Carter, her work has given her peace and in a way, freedom.
She does not get financial compensation for gas or the wear and tear on her car, but she said that the lessons she has learned from these young adults are more valuable to her.
She recounted two examples.
A few months ago, she was taking a young man to college. He had been homeless and had just gotten into a shelter several weeks prior. During the ride, he expressed his gratitude to Carter and his excitement at being able to better his education.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow! How do I take life for granted!’” she said.
Another time she was taking a young woman to school, and according to Carter, the student said, “’Isn’t it something for you to be the one to take me to school?’” Carter was a little confused by the statement. The student continued, telling her that “people come to help you, but we want to pick who comes.”
This second statement hit Carter like a lightning bolt.
Carter explained that as a child, her parents had split, her mother had remarried, and she lived with her mom and stepfather, whom she called “Dad 2.” Her biological father’s presence in her life was sporadic and it was a hurt that she harbored for some time. But that girl’s statement made her realize, she said, that while growing up, she had still had a place to live, food on the table. She understood, at that moment, that those who you think should rescue you, might not be the ones who do.
“It’s not who gives it; it’s that you have it,” she said.
That experience, Carter said, gave her freedom.
Those interested in learning more about the program, can visit www.onpointforcollege.org.
Top image: Beverly Carter and Katie Schmid