Summer Spark

August 19, 2014

By Matt Hawkins

Jasmine Taylor ’15 returned home to Chicago with an ambitious agenda — help a nonprofit youth organization fund several initiatives and pair 300 students with career mentors for the 2014-15 school year.

Taylor is interning with Spark Program, an agency that develops leadership skills in at-risk junior high students through mentor-based apprenticeships. Spark has programs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

“This is a great program I wish was available when I was in elementary school because having a mentor earlier would have shown students like me how anything is possible with some assistance along the way,” the psychology major said. “Middle school is an important time in children’s lives and can have a big impact on their confidence in school and beyond.”

Taylor, who grew up on Chicago’s south side, had benefitted from a career mentorship during high school. That made the Spark opportunity a “no-brainer” to give back to her community.

“That stepping-stone has motivated me to be a hardworking individual and help other students the best way I can,” she said. “Students involved with Spark will be able to experience that stepping stone a bit earlier by having a mentor in middle school instead of waiting until high school.”

Spark’s Chicago outreach began in 2011 with 63 students and has a goal to impact 300 students this school year. That’s where Taylor’s summer is significant. She’s developing relationships with potential mentors, seeking catering partners for the annual mentoring kickoff night and building bridges with organizations that mentor students beyond junior high.

The workload challenged Taylor to manage time and resources, learn new skills and cope with stress. The biggest challenge thus far has been preparation for the fall Match Night kickoff.

“The ultimate goal is to have the entire Match Night meal catered free,” she said. “That is quite an ambitious goal because I’m depending on the generosity of others to help Spark.”

A step back from the whirlwind of activity, however, revealed a refreshing payoff.

“The most gratifying thing is realizing the impact my work will have on the students who participate in the program,” she said. “This will give them confidence to believe in themselves and not become a product of their communities.”

Taylor’s summer was a big step toward her long-term goal of working with inner-city students. After Bradley, she’ll pursue a graduate degree to further her skills for the task.

“School psychology is a great career because psychologists help children succeed academically, socially and emotionally through collaboration with children’s families and teachers.”