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college mapHighly motivated and focused, our high school students are persistently college-bound. Despite their determination, they are met with a bit of shock as the moment they have been waiting for arrives: college application season.  While this process is thrilling, it can also feel quite overwhelming, especially for students who will be the first of their family to go to college. Yet here at HOLA, we know what it takes to fulfill our mission to our students, at every stage. For our high school seniors, we’ve learned that the most effective way to guide them through the higher education portal is with one-on-one mentoring.

Our College Access Mentor Program is on a volunteer basis and is integral to the success of our PAT high school program. Mentors contribute their time, perspective, encouragement and guidance, empowering our students to make informed decisions, complete their college applications, and navigate the world of financial aid. Mentors have the ability to provide external yet personal support, that in turn broadens perspective, enforces confidence and sheds invaluable insight. Best of all, mentors and students forge bonds that continue long after high school graduation. We provide them with in depth training on the college application process, and also support in how to develop strong and trusting relationships with their mentees.

Last Saturday, our 2015-2016 mentors began their training and learned all sorts of strategies from our HOLA leadership team. Emphasizing the interpersonal relationship-building aspect, everyone participated in in-depth conversations drawing on personal experience and gained tips and techniques from HOLA staff members for supporting students as they take on this next challenge. Next week’s training will be led by our accredited college counselor, Laura Greenlee who will focus on the ins and outs of the application process. Greenlee will preface new mentors with all the specifics including timelines, how to help students to identify a range of potential schools in which to apply, essay writing, what makes a strong application, and financial aid packages.

We are still looking for a handful of committed individuals to join our group.  If you or someone you know is interested in being a mentor to a high school senior, please contact Luis Ramirez (lramirez@heartofla.org) and Lucia Juarez (ljuarez@heartofla.org). HOLA is grateful to our group of College Access Mentors who so generously donate their time and experience to help our high school seniors with their college applications. It’s a big commitment (weekly meetings all fall), but our mentors have hearts to match.

We’d like to leave you with a few words from a 2nd-year Mentor, Jessica Monterrosa who shares her candid reflection on mentoring at HOLA.

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Jessica Monterrosa, Mentor

One of the most surprising things I found about being a mentor is that although you come with the idea that you will be helping others, you also come in to work on yourself. In trying to build a trusting relationship with your mentee, you find yourself trying to forget about stresses at home and work to be able to reassure students that you are focused and listening to their concerns. In the middle of a chaotic day, you have to remember to come in with the energy and patience that will build trust, inspire students, and continue to drive them towards their goals. Similarly, HOLA can be a second home to many students and a temporary distraction from all their responsibilities outside of HOLA. At the end of a mentoring session, both mentors and students leave with a sense of accomplishment and look forward to the meeting.

I began mentoring due to my own positive experience as a student with the high-school mentoring program. I still try to share the idea of “Why not me?” that I found most empowering as a student, the idea that nothing is unachievable. This idea helps reassure students that although they might be one of the first in family to attend college or leave home to attend college, that they are capable of accomplishing their goals and be comfortable with facing a new challenge. In having a mentor, I began to envision myself in previously unimaginable scenarios and dismantle my own limiting notions of what I could achieve. While the mentor relationship helped me develop my sense of confidence, I also built a friendship with my mentor over the course of the program. Having a mentor helped me reflect on my own self-doubts and hesitations, and feel that I had a safe space to express myself without judgment.

As a returning HOLA alumni, I feel a sense if duty to continue empowering my community. It is definitely a rewarding experience to see students excited and confident about the choices they are making and be equally as happy to be the mentor to be working together with the student to accomplish their goals.”


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