Like many great ideas, this one began with a run.
A group of friends, all Nike attorneys, were out pounding the pavement one day soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, tossing back and forth ideas on how they could help improve their communities.
From these early discussions, the seed for Marathon Education Partners was planted. It’s a rather unique mentoring organization: Mentors, called “partners” are recruited from various professions, and are matched with a fourth-grade “scholar.” They pledge $100 per month, for 10 years, to be put away in a college fund for the scholar.
Students who qualify for the program are almost exclusively on free and reduced-lunch programs, and have a parent or guardian who expects them to study hard and attend college, according to Executive Director Virginia Hanson. Parents must also write an essay in support of their child becoming a scholar.
Although its origins are on the other side of the river, Marathon Education Partners also works with students in the Washougal and Vancouver areas, and recently added Camas to the list, with five scholars at Grass Valley Elementary School. Two have been matched with partners, but the other three are still waiting.
“If we can find local partners who are interested, that would be ideal,” Hanson said. “Convenience (in location) is a huge issue in how much time the partners can spend.”
Grass Valley Principal Patricia Erdmann was approached about the program by Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland,
“The fourth-grade teachers and I were so glad to be approached about this program last year, knowing that it would be a great opportunity for our students,” Erdmann said. “Children are well set for success when they know their parents are supporting them to study hard and become responsible learners. Marathon Partners provides yet another strong support for children: Another adult who believes in them and encourages them to do their best.”
Camas resident and business owner Art McCallum has been involved in Marathon Education Partners for four years. He first became interested in it after a friend, Jim Lilienthal of Camas, approached him for donations to the non-profit’s annual auction.
“And of course they want you to buy tickets, too,” he said jokingly. “So I attended the auction, and ended up volunteering to serve on the committee.”
Eventually, McCallum was asked to serve on the board of trustees.
“This organization is changing lives,” he said. “When I grew up, I didn’t have mentoring like this, but I went to private schools, so I got it there. These kids don’t have that opportunity.”
McCallum, who owns two Shell stations — one in Camas and the other at Fisher’s Landing — said he tries to mentor young people who work at his business.
“But with this program, it’s like going back in time and starting when they are still very young and excited,” he said. “It changes their lives forever.”
One example of this, McCallum added, is the story of Anna Likhatskaya, a scholar who graduated a year early thanks to the support of her partners, John and Christine Aanderud.
She is going to attend Concordia University in Portland and major in nursing.
“I really enjoyed the time I spent at the events that were organized by the directors at Marathon,” she said in a speech last winter. “They encouraged me to participate more in the community and to think college.”
With the help of the Aanderuds, Anna also received a 4-year scholarship from the Ford Foundation.
“That’s the beauty of this program,” McCallum said. “Many of the partners are well equipped to navigate the higher education system, which can be very overwhelming. It changes college from a possibility to a probability. There is a high chance of success for those whose families support higher education and are dedicated students.”
Students are typically recommended for the program by their teachers, and then interviewed by a panel of professionals. They must have letters of recommendation from teachers and parents, as well as write an essay about why they want to participate in the program.
The program is one that is near and dear to the heart of Washougal School District Superintendent Teresa Baldwin. She has served on the board of trustees for more than two years. Before that, Baldwin was involved with the selection of scholars for the program in the Evergreen School District.
“The magnitude of the Marathon mission was so compelling that eventually I agreed to join the board of trustees,” she said. “My work as a trustee has been largely administrative, related to developing systems for scholar recruitment, accountability, fund-raising and strategic planning. I am not a partner, so I have not had experience in that role. However, listening to the stories of young scholars and talking with partners about the scale of their contribution in changing the future of a child has been an enriching experience.”
After Baldwin became superintendent in Washougal, she asked the organization to consider adding students from local qualifying schools. As a result, two scholars from Hathaway Elementary were selected for the program.
Currently, there are 72 scholars who attend schools in Washington and Oregon. The board of trustees is hoping to expand it to 100 students in the near future.
One of the ways they are trying to accomplish that goal is by hosting fund-raisers such as an annual dinner and auction. The funds used from this go to support college readiness activities and operational expenses.
It is set for 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Crown Ballroom in Portland, located at 918 S.W. Yamhill St. To purchase tickets, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 503-235-2500.
For more information about the organization, browse www.marathoneducationpartners.org.