While many of the headlines about TN Promise focus on the financial benefit of the program — tuition-free college — the time that volunteer mentors spend eliminating barriers for students is critical to their success. The truth is, there is no replacement for a robust, local support system to help students as they navigate the college-going process.

Each year, tnAchieves recruits more than 9,000 volunteers from communities across the state to support students as they transition from high school to college. We ask mentors to spend just one hour per month serving three roles for students. First, the mentor is a taskmaster. They remind students of important college deadlines. Second, the mentor is a resource. They answer simple but important questions like, “How do I register for classes?” Finally, and most importantly, the mentor is an encourager. Mentors normalize college for students — yes, we all failed our first college math test! This does not mean your college journey should be over.   

I often tell mentors, and other states and communities that come to tnAchieves to learn how to launch a program like this, that the encouragement mentors provide is the “secret sauce” to TN Promise’s success. In the middle of an ongoing worldwide pandemic, encouragement is more important than ever. In the middle of a process that is already full of uncertainties for a first-generation college attendee, we are facing uncertainties than none of us could have prepared for six months ago.

Right now, tnAchieves still needs 3,500 volunteer mentors to support the Class of 2021. While the role of a mentor remains the same, we will deliver the program in a way that prioritizes safety for our students, families, volunteers, and staff. This year, we are introducing tnAchieves CONNECT. CONNECT is an entirely online mentoring platform that allows mentors to connect with their TN Promise students in a new and meaningful way. The software features email, texting, and video conferencing options. Mentors will also be able to track their students through the process in ways not previously possible — all from the safety of their homes.

tnAchieves needs 3,500 volunteer mentors to support the Class of 2021. In just one hour a month, mentors can change the trajectory of a student’s life by opening the doors to college.

Please consider joining our efforts by completing a new mentor application.

Graham Thomas is the deputy director of partnerships for tnAchieves, which serves as the partnering organization to TN Promise in 90 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Contact Graham at graham@tnachieves.org or (615) 604-1306.