In 2021, Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana implemented its virtual mentoring program where six high school students were paired with mentors to help guide them through some of the most important years of their lives.
Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana was launched in the fall of 2019 to extend many of the Chicago region’s already successful and established programs to 19 local schools. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic arriving the following year, much of that programming had to pivot. The Northwest Indiana team still wanted to have options available to help students during the unusual time, and through the help of Andrean High School alum Luke Harangody, they were able to make the mentorship program happen.
“The pandemic forced us to adapt our plans in bringing some of our Chicago programming over to Northwest Indiana,” said Gisele Jones, Director of Community Partnerships and Engagement for Big Shoulders Fund Northwest Indiana. “We had a supporter of our Chicago schools with ties to Northwest Indiana. Luke, an Andrean alum and former pro-athlete, sought out one of our Chicago team members to find out if there was any way that he could be of service to students in Northwest Indiana, and it was his interest that prompted us to begin the virtual mentoring program here in Northwest Indiana.”
According to Jones, the program has certainly made an impact on many throughout the area. Harangody’s actions in particular inspired Bishop Noll Institute Principal Lorenza Pastrick to invite an alum, Ariana Diaz, to take part in the program as a mentor as well.
“In our community, I think mentorship is always efficacious for our students,” said Pastrick. “So for mentors that have walked the walk and talked the talk, I think it's a beneficial experience for them to share stories and to network. I think that will have inherent value. I thought that this program lended itself beautifully to our mission of creating leaders in our building, and so we jumped on the opportunity.”
Diaz, a digital marketing strategist at Accenture, also agreed that she loves being a part of the program for this very reason.
“When I was in high school myself, being a first-generation student and Mexican-American daughter of immigrants, I lacked a lot of support, and I wanted to make sure that I could be that person for the students in my position,” Diaz said.
Pastrick added that she has, “strong faith that this program is extremely beneficial to the students for many reasons, including the opportunity to network with adults in a field the students are interested in pursuing after graduation. To the students, having that extra source of guidance can mean the world to them, and can also be the key component in a student’s success both in school and in their futures.”
Relationships with the local Catholic schools is what helps the program thrive, as many of the recommendations for both mentors and students come directly from the school principals such as Pastrick. Big Shoulders Fund also uses connections with community and organizational leaders to engage potential mentors and ensure the students are receiving the best guidance possible. The mentors must successfully complete a mandatory background check and Virtus training. The students are selected by the principal and paired with their mentor through an assessment.
“The principal sends the student bios, we assess compatibility with the mentors to determine if they are going to be a good fit based on similar interests and backgrounds. Mentors attend the first virtual introduction meeting with Big Shoulders Fund and the school principal to discuss the program logistics, the students join later for introductions,” said Jones.
Although a majority of the program takes place during the school day, there are also opportunities for the mentors to connect outside of the school setting as well.
“The commitment hours are typically during the school day from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. We try not to take students out of the building or out of their learning environment during that time,” Jones said. “However, there are some instances in which the mentors, along with the designated school staff, can take the mentees out for special events such as a recent Bulls game.”
And for mentors like Diaz, having the opportunity to be a part of a program like this has been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It's been an amazing opportunity. The girls are amazing. They're so smart, so talented, and it's been great to mentor them and just be a shoulder for them. It’s been totally a great experience so far,” Diaz said. “I do believe everyone in general and in life should have a mentor whether they're students or in their professional career, but I think it's great that this program has allowed the students to have a mentor in high school and get into the habit of networking. “
Big Shoulders Fund is committed to enhancing the quality of education in Catholic schools throughout the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana areas through programs such as the virtual mentorship program. For more information or to learn how to get involved, be sure to visit their website here.