Riley’s Reflections

I want to begin this post by thanking everyone who not only made Project Jumpstart possible, but who made it a true success. I mentioned in my last update that I’d go into greater detail on everyone’s generosity and selflessness, so here it goes.

When I started this process back in February, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Growing up in a college town, I’ve grown accustomed to the emphasis placed on education. As such, I was hopeful that people would buy into my idea to create a program to expose local refugee students to the processes and systems associated with higher education, my understanding of which, with college educated, American parents, I took for granted. Despite these preconceived hopes, I was blown away by everyone’s support and enthusiasm for this endeavor. Not only did people give me the affirmation that I needed to believe in this idea for myself, but they donated their time, gas money, and brainpower to make it come to fruition. Nearly every single presenter declined my offer of compensation; Pat Lewis and her tutors with Col Prep offered their ACT and SAT prep services for free; local restaurants gave key food discounts; and local artists worked pro bono with the non-profit Boomerang Youth Inc. to contribute a creative component to the sessions. I want to give an extra big thank you to the Refugee Community Partnership of which I’ve been a member for three years. The individuals associated with RCP are so altruistic, enthusiastic, and innovative; working with them was a genuine pleasure.


On that note, I’ve been truly inspired by the collaborative spirit of this effort, which contrasts so greatly from the work that I did last summer: addressing the persisting effects of Hurricane Matthew in Eastern NC. I was frustrated and disheartened by the lack of communication, information sharing, and openness between the state, non-profit organizations, and local communities. The process through which I developed Project Jumpstart was the exact opposite. Everyone acknowledged that we were working towards the same objective, and everyone offered their unique talents and skill sets to make the program successful. AND, to top things off, everyone upheld their commitments so I didn’t have to scramble at the last minute!

So, again, an enormous thank you to all of you who contributed.

And now for a quick recap and reflection on the end of Week One and the entirety of Week Two. The first 5 days wrapped up nicely with a fun tour of Dr. Steve Meshnick’s lab at the Gilling’s School of Public Health, a personal statement writing workshop, a tour of UNC, a study skills workshop, and a panel of college students, half of whom were first generation. The students continued to be engaged and positive, and their energy was contagious! The second week was primarily devoted to ACT/SAT prep. As I mentioned above, Pat Lewis and tutors from her company Col Prep did test strategy and practice workshops for each of the 4 sections of each exam. Our thought with this design was to givethe students a sampling of their options so that they could get a sense of which test fit their personalities and skills. Furthermore, we hoped to teach them some test taking tricks and tips to make the exams less intimidating and overwhelming.

On Monday and Friday of the second week, we continued with our community-focused poetry and photography sessions with Boomerang Youth Inc. The group of students that was able to stick around for the afternoon was slightly smaller, and the more intimate experience made the sessions that much more impactful. By the end of the four sessions, each student had written an individual, community-inspired poem and had taken three accompanying photographs. In addition, they created four collaborative, community-centric poems, the last of which they’ll present to the community in September through an event with the NC Botanical Gardens! I strongly encourage anyone who is available to come out for the reading; the poem is truly special. I will post details as they become available.

I’ve given a few interviews about Project Jumpstart, and the interviewer always inquires about two things: 1) my biggest takeaway, and 2) what made the program worthwhile. My answer, without a doubt, is the students. The high schoolers that I got to know over the past few weeks are incredibly bright, inquisitive, and determined. They know what they want out of their futures, and they don’t shy away from pushing themselves towards their goals. They are funny, kind, and they LOVE food (I finally ordered a satisfactory lunch on the last day…like I said: they know what they want!) If they learned half as much from the program as I learned from them, then I feel like we did our job.

plan to continue to facilitate Project Jumpstart workshops and sessions throughout the school year, and I will be working with RCP to turn this program into an annual event. Thanks for staying up to date on the program, and I hope to have more news soon!

To stay connected to Project Jumpstart, please like our facebook page and follow us on Twitter (@Jumpstart_NC). We will be posting another student’s reaction to the program in the next few days!