Thanks to our indispensable partners, Literary Arts’ College Essay Mentoring Project (CEMP) served 64 students from four high schools across the Metro area in the 2020 Fall semester. To make that possible, three sections of Freshman Inquiry students from Portland State University joined us, as well as 22 community volunteers. Our volunteers have varied backgrounds and fascinating stories. We’ve highlighted a few of them below.
Ami Patel has written poetry for the last 10-15 years. Recently she added YA Fiction to her repertoire. She found her way to CEMP via an online call for volunteers to an informal network of writers of color in the Portland area. When she read her student’s essay about the struggle to retain their heritage language, Ami remembered her own teen years as a child of immigrants, and her attempts to integrate both sides of her cultural self. She is grateful for the opportunity to affirm students sharing the truth of their experience in their own words.
Ami grazes multiple books at one time, but on her Kindle right now you’ll find YA novel Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Ann-Marie McLemore, Portland Book Festival alum Natalie Diaz’ Postcolonial Love Poem and the short story collection If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan.
Cay Horiuchi immigrated to the United States from Japan as a teenage exchange student. Cay’s brother also immigrated to Canada. To make sure his children didn’t lose touch with their Japanese heritage, their father scanned by hand every book in his personal library. He posted them to a Google Drive folder so his far-flung children could access Japanese language books from anywhere. Cay’s current author is a recommendation from their mom, though: Yoko Tawada, a Japanese expatriate now based in Berlin.
Cay was inspired by how “driven, passionate and hopeful,” their students were. While reviewing student essays, Cay practiced what they call, “active reading.” After they read an essay multiple times, they take a walk outside to immerse themself in the student’s story. For Cay, this practice is an antidote to what they call, “binary thinking, informed by religious or political culture, that the world is only black or white, and avoids the opposite point of view.”
Michael Jonas was drawn to CEMP in part by his own history of struggle with poverty. At age 12, Michael’s family lost their house. The family often lived without a car. Neither of his parents had a four year degree. As teens, Michael and his brother learned to believe that if they worked hard, and pushed through obstacles no matter what, education could be “a great equalizer,” to open doors for them that would otherwise remain closed.
Teachers and mentors in Michael’s life believed in him, and told him he could do it. Sometimes the encouragement came from unexpected quarters. Looking back on that time, Michael observes that a student never knows where the needed advice will originate, to help push them through an obstacle. Michael volunteers for CEMP in part to provide students with plenty of pushes.
For the new year, Michael resolved to read for a solid chunk of time each day. Currently, that time belongs to Barack Obama’s new memoir, A Promised Land.
College Essay volunteers are as unique as their histories, but they all make a positive impact on the lives of the students they serve. Volunteer recruiting for our Spring session opens soon. YA authors, active readers and obstacle-overcomers are encouraged to apply as volunteers. To join our Spring recruitment list, please send your name, email, and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.