(Originally posted on GrantCOnnected.net’s website on October 5, 2016)
Every Wednesday afternoon, Fauzia Sharif eats her lunch at Marion High School with senior Darice Upchurch. They eat together as they talk about Darice’s classes and grades, and Sharif helps her with whatever she needs. They have been doing this for the past two years as a part of the Project Leadership program.
Project Leadership’s goal is to “get students to and through some kind of post secondary education,” Brenda Morehead, Project Leadership’s director of impact, said.
The program primarily works with students labeled at-risk, meaning students who come from low-income families, with recruitment starting during their 8th grade year. They work with 21st Century Scholars, students who are approved to get free college tuition through the Indiana Department of Education.
Project Leadership started in 2007, catering to students in both Grant and Delaware counties. At that time, according to the Indiana Department of Education Compass website, Marion High School’s graduation rate was 66 percent. For the 2014-2015 school year, the graduation rate was 95 percent.
Because the program is still young, Project Leadership was not able to provide its own graduation statistics. But over the last six years, the program has been able to identify $12.3 million in financial aid for its 100 students.
Morehead said the program has had successful recruiting efforts. In 2007, the enrollment for Project Leadership was 16 percent; now, it is more than 80 percent.
Sharif meets up with her mentee once a week during lunchtime at MHS, helping her to keep up her good grades and explore her college options. She said they have a great relationship.
“I want her to succeed … I want her to make something of her life,” Sharif said. “I’m very driven with that, to help her in any way I can.”
Along with the mentoring program, Project Leadership also offers lots of “bridge services” for high school students. These services include having labs for scholarship aid, FAFSA and college applications.
The staff at Project Leadership love hearing the success stories from many of the students involved in the program.
“Sometimes we’re sitting here in the office plugging away at things, hearing the lives we have an impact on and the positive impact that it is, is exceptionally rewarding,” Morehead said.
Steve Gibson, director of programming, said the staff is always looking for ways to add programs and services for the students.
“We are learning as we go along what their needs are and trying to develop material and programming to meet those needs,” Gibson said. “That is what it is all about—taking a look at our communities and meeting needs. Not building just to build, but building with a purpose.”
In her third year of being a mentor, Sharif said she loves what she does and loves what the staff at Project Leadership is doing to help these students at risk.
“(Project Leadership) is a group of the most wonderful people I have ever met. They are dedicated. They take time out of their lives to go and help these kids,”Sharif said. “I feel very honored to be working with this group of people.”