COLUMBIA — As part of the Celebrate the Dream program, each of the fifth-grade classes at Parkade Elementary School spent three days in February piling into buses to spend a couple of hours in the everyday lives of professionals.
Sky Jimenez, director of Celebrate the Dream, founded the program in 1995 because of what she saw as a noticeable disconnect between students and black mentors in the community.
“The students did not know the work of black professional people in Columbia. That was hard to believe, and I wanted to fix it,” Jimenez said.
Including doctors, teachers, principals, insurance agents and coaches, Jimenez pooled together a group of mentors for Parkade students to interview and socialize with. After two hours of immersion in the professional world, students return to school to write a report about their experiences.
The result, Jimenez said, is a complete transformation in attitude and confidence.
“When we pick them up to take them to their mentors, they're nervous and quiet. But they come back different people,” she said. “They're confident and return to the school saying things like, 'I'm going to go to college. It will be hard, but my mentor had challenges too and I know that I can do it.' It's so inspiring for them.”
After running the program for 17 years, Jimenez said she’s amazed at the impact it's had on both students and mentors. “When it's over, the kids know that there's an adult in the community that cares about them.”
Mentor: DJ Johnson, Hickman High School basketball coach
Alvonta, 11, didn’t know Johnson once played professional basketball. As an aspiring player himself, he was pleasantly surprised when he visited the Hickman coach. Johnson took him around the school and motivated Alvonta to pursue his dream of playing professionally. “I wish I could do it all over again,” Alvonta said.
Mentor: Cheere Walton, Shelter Insurance
After spending the day with Walton at Shelter Insurance, Lakia, 11, learned she should never let anyone put her down. Lakia aspires to one day become a famous basketball player. Aside from visiting the cafeteria and meeting Walton’s colleagues, Lakia talked to Walton about the hard work she does on a day-to-day basis. “My experience was awesome.”
Mentor: Steve Calloway, University Hospital Pharmacy
Zach, 11, wants to be a doctor when he grows up, so spending time with Calloway, a pharmacist, was right up his alley. Calloway introduced Zach to fellow workers at the pharmacy and let him observe the process of medications being mixed, counted and sorted into various bottles. The experience was “amazing,” he said.
Mentor: Kathleen Claxton-Rogers, MU School of Social Work
Hoping to become a professional basketball player and doctor, Shawn, 11, is an ambitious young man. During his mentorship, Shawn talked to Claxton-Rogers, and he said he learned a great deal about helping people — something he hopes to achieve in the pursuit of his career goals. “I had a great time,” he said.
Mentor: Marcus McCaster, State Farm Insurance
Brandon, 10, spent the day with McCaster, a State Farm insurance agent. Brandon explored the workplace and met McCaster’s colleagues. While on the job, Brandon learned that he should always try his best to do well in school. “Never give up,” he said.
Mentor: Claudia Jones-Lewis, MU School of Social Work
Trisha, 10, took a glance into the life of Jones-Lewis at the MU School of Social Work. She said she did “lots of things” with her mentor, and was able to help with Jones’ work. Trisha wants to be a model when she grows up.
Mentor: Stacy Dameron, Shelter Insurance
Live life while you’re a kid instead of getting into trouble. That’s what Antione, 12, said he learned while working with Dameron, a first-time participator in the program. Before his visit with her, Antione said he wanted to be a football player. But a day of watching her interact with people changed that. “It was awesome. On second thought, I might want to work there,” he said.
Mentor: Carla Johnson, Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services
Adilene, 11, hopes to be a nurse one day, and was able to visit with Johnson. After getting the opportunity to observe how microscopes are used and how shots are administered, Adilene said she wishes she had more time to “hang out” and talk to Johnson.
Mentor: Toni Hayes, executive staff assistant for MU’s women’s basketball team
Chasity, 12, wants to be a basketball player when she grows up. Perfectly in tune with her career goals, Chasity was able to meet and get to know Hayes, the executive staff assistant for the MU women’s basketball team. While taking a tour around the athletic premises with Hayes, Chasity learned about the importance of sportsmanship and having fun.
Mentor: Dale Wright, Trulaske College of Business at MU
Eli Spurling, 10, visited Dale Wright, director of development at the Trulaske College of Business. Eli described his experience as “great” and quickly realized that getting a good job means going to college and developing math skills. He learned from Wright that he will have to work hard to succeed in the future. Eli wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up.
Mentor: David Smith of Smith & Parnell LLC
While visiting a courthouse with attorney David Smith, Bill Neal, 11, learned that he has choices. “If you want to fight for others and justice, then you should become an attorney,” Bill said — and that’s exactly what he wants to do. “I want to be a detective or an attorney when I grow up,” he said.
Mentor: Dale Wright, Trulaske College of Business at MU
Shavonna Barnes, 11, also visited with Wright and was inspired to be like him when she gets older. Wright gave Shavonna the grand tour of the College of Business and Shavonna said she hopes to go back soon. “To be a successful person, you have to believe in yourself and try your best,” she said.
Mentor: Jerome Sally, Hickman High School assistant principal
After spending time with Hickman High School assistant principal Jerome Sally, Cameron Carney, 11, learned that no problem is impossible to solve. Sally is a “problem solver,” Cameron said. Problems “may be hard, but they’re not impossible,” Cameron said. Cameron toured the school, interacted with the students and met the faculty while with Sally. “There was a lot of joking around going on between (Sally) and the kids,” Cameron said. “It was like they were best friends.”
Mentor: Nelson Henry, dentist, Vanderveen Dental Center
Before visiting Nelson Henry at the Vanderveen Dental Center, Emily Knarr, 11, said she wanted to be either a singer or an artist. After observing Henry as he worked on two patients, learning how to make appointments and meeting people at the front desk, Emily realized becoming a nurse or perhaps a dentist would also be good career goals. She said she’d need to do well in many subjects, especially math. “And while working on teeth, you need to be careful,” she said.
Mentor: Tyree Byndom, Express Personnel Services operations manager
While visiting Tyree Byndom, Kendra Lindley, 11, learned what it’s like to be an operations manager for Express Personnel Services. While at the employment agency, Kendra said she “worked a lot” with Byndom — she interacted with visitors and helped Byndom with his every day duties. “I signed someone’s paper that would help them get a job,” Kendra said. She wants to be a doctor when she gets older, and to do this, she knows she’ll have to do well in school. “I learned that I have to keep reading and keep practicing math to learn to get better,” she said.
Mentor: Joseph Magee, doctor
Aidan Crawford spent time with Joseph Magee. “They’re trying to find a cure for breast cancer,” Aidan said. Aidan peered through one of Magee’s microscopes at cells to see if they were growing or not growing. He watched the doctors compare the DNA samples from mice that have cancer to human DNA samples. “I saw a lot of equipment that I’ve never seen before and I saw how the doctors used the equipment and why they need it,” Aidan said. Magee gave Aidan a grand tour of the labs where research takes place. “It seemed kind of fun,” Aidan said. Being a doctor is something Aidan would like to pursue when he’s older. Magee “told me that you have to do well in school, and, so far, I’m doing well in school,” Aidan said.
Mentor: Clyde Ruffin, MU Department of Theatre
As an aspiring actress, Anna Pendergrass, 10, had fun spending a day in the life of Clyde Ruffin, chair of the MU Department of Theatre. Anna received an exclusive look into the life of the accomplished director and former actor while exploring the backstage, main stage and the dressing rooms stocked with costumes designed by Ruffin.
Mentor: Calvin Sandidge, State Farm Insurance
Armin Sejfic, 10, ventured through the ins and outs of State Farm with Calvin Sandidge. Sandidge introduced Armin to his colleagues and sent him back to school with a few State Farm souvenirs. When Armin grows up he hopes to become an architect.
Mentor: Courtney Jo Washington, Jesse Hall, MU
Faith Paulus, 11, experienced a day in the busy life of Courtney Jo Washington at Jesse Hall. Faith described it as a “learning experience,” and interacted with Washington and her visitors who needed help and information about various grants, loans and scholarships available at the university. Faith wants to be a doctor when she grows up — more specifically, a gynecologist. “I like babies,” Faith said.
Mentor: Chantez Adams, State Farm Insurance
Benzy Khleang, 10, wants to build houses when he gets older. While visiting State Farm agent Chantez Adams, Benzy watched Adams interact with customers and thought the insurance agency was a “cool place. I learned that it takes a lot of training before you get a job,” Benzy said.
Mentor: Gene Williams, Columbia Police Department
Gene Williams at the Columbia Police Department introduced Dametrell Washington, 12, to the police dogs and showed him the bulletproof equipment used by Columbia’s officers. Dametrell, an aspiring professional football player, learned to always get good grades and to stick with his dreams of becoming a professional athlete.
Mentor: Lou Lockridge-Lane, U.S. Department of Agriculture
While spending time with Lou Lockridge-Lane at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s state office, Cody Adams, 11, learned that for him to be successful in the future, he’ll need skills in math and measurements. Cody said he got to see everything in the department. He hopes one day to join the Army.