BRATTLEBORO—Braiden Hodge is 17, lives in Putney, and is a junior at Brattleboro Union High School. Three years ago, he wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking about his future.
Then he got involved with Youth Services’ RAMP: Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program. Now, he’s working part-time as a cashier at Burger King in Brattleboro and mapping out what he’ll be doing when he graduates from BUHS next year.
He is considering being an emergency medical technician, a police officer, or a military policeman.
“It’s been a great experience,” he said. “Where else can you explore a career, and get paid to do it?”
According to Michelle Bos-Lun, RAMP director for Youth Services, the voluntary program, which started four years ago, provides career-focused mentoring to at-risk youth ages 13-17 who need extra support. Students also get a $10 a week stipend for participating.
This school year, Bos-Lun said RAMP served 30 students at Brattleboro Union High School, Bellows Falls Union High School and Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend.
The career orientation of RAMP makes it different from other mentoring programs. Students go on site tours to businesses and colleges, hear from guest speakers, and work on their personal career plans. Participants are particularly encouraged to consider careers in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
“It’s as much an enrichment program as it is a prevention program,” said Bos-Lun. “The students learn about job skills and readiness, and learn what it takes to get and keep a job. By doing this, we help keep them out of trouble and keep them focused on graduation.”
Bos-Lun admits that the stipend is “the initial draw for some students, but what keeps them coming back is that they like it, and they value the relationships and opportunities that come with being in RAMP.”
Also, she said, they work hard on making it interesting. She spoke of a recent group of Leland & Gray students who went to visit Big Picture Farm, a goat dairy and confectionery in Townshend, and spend time with Louisa Conrad and Luca Farrell, the duo who run the farm and make caramels from the goat milk.
“They saw everything from the goats being milked to the caramels they make from the milk to the wrapping and packaging machine,” Bos-Lun said. “It helps to expose them to a lot of different things and find out what they love.”
The program has been successful, but like many nonprofits, RAMP is facing a cash crunch. Bos-Lun said there is only enough money for one more school year. After that, they have no idea how they will fund it.
If students at the three schools are interested in participating, Bos-Lun said they should contact their school’s guidance counselor, or contact Youth Services at 802-257-0361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Not enough kids know about RAMP,” said Hodge, who will be leaving the program in a couple of months after he turns 18. “It should be available to more people.”