Neah-Kah-Nie students ASPIRE for greatness

ASPIRE Volunteer Kelly Ayers assists student Meriah
Huber, over the last eight months Kelly has helped many. – Courtesy Photo/Margaret Whiting

This year marks the first for the Neah-Kah-Nie School District’s foray into the ASPIRE program and so far it has turned out to be a slamming success.

By Brian Cameron

ASPIRE is a program of the Higher Education Coordinating Commission’s Office of Student Access and Completion.  It serves to provide useful and needed services to middle school and high school students within the Neah-Kah-Nie school district and also acts as a valuable service for career guidance for students expressing interest in life after high school.
Not just assisting the services of school guidance counselors, the ASPIRE program acts on an entirely new and different platform to better aide students as they move forward from middle school, to high school and beyond.  Taking students under the programs’ wing can provide them with some much needed skills for the inevitable time in which they are thrust out into society on their own.  Anything from helping college bound seniors fill out the FAFSA application, OSAC, college introduction and careers and future’s counseling in a variety of capacities.
“The program is really well organized, you don’t even need to know the direction you want to go before you begin,” Said Margaret Whiting the regional ASPIRE program director for Neah-Kah-Nie school district. “This is an amazing program and we’re absolutely lucky to have it.”
The ASPIRE program relies off of volunteers from the local and regional community to donate their time and knowledge to help aide students wishing to move into their adult lives.  Speaking with volunteer Bill Saunders of McMinneville, he had spent an entire career in the advanced medical field with Kaiser and was presently assisting Hannah, a NKN high schooler, with advice on the types of classes she would need to focus on in order to make it to medical school.  Another volunteer, Jill Hanson, of Manzanita, was helping another student in her goals to become a teacher and was showing her options that Western Oregon University had to offer in the realms of higher education for educators.
“These are bright kids, capable kids,” said Hanson. “They have lots of decisions ahead of them and sometimes they need a little extra nudge from someone outside of their friends or family.”
Currently the ASPIRE program is in its first year at Neah-Kah-Nie and it has quickly turned into one of the most popular services the school district offers to both students and parents alike.  What they do need presently are more volunteers, desperately.  When Margaret Whiting became involved she had no idea the program was going to flourish in popularity but as more kids got involved it became clear to her that it was a very needed service for the students as they get ready to face the world in front of them as adults.  The more volunteers the more capable they are at helping wayward students on their way.  The only requirement is a 30 minute video series about the program that focuses on what it is to be a volunteer for the ASPIRE program.  The program can work with its volunteer’s schedules so if some can only make it in to help once a week, or once a day, there is always a need for the assistance, and the kids are better for it in the long run.
To date there are other ASPIRE programs being offered to students at the high school in Seaside and at Tillamook Bay Community College in Tillamook, but the program is statewide with chapters in almost every region.  Funding for ASPIRE comes from a number of grants for higher education as well as generous donations which go into paying for the operational budget as well as periodic field trips to college fairs and similar events.  The Mudd Nick Foundation is one of the program’s larger donation sources.
“This has been an absolute highlight for me to be involved with,” said Whiting who was in the middle of helping Greg Elligsen, a NKN Senior.
“Its awesome to have someone in the community help us with our future plans,” said Elligsen. “Everything from scholarships, career planning, FAFSA… it’s been so helpful.”