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College access coach Lisa shares on putting connection first

Lisa G. was a CollegePoint coach with College Possible Minnesota in 2018. This is her firsthand story on why connecting with the person behind the diploma matters most of all.

Having served a full year at College Possible, it’s hard to distill so many great experiences into just one story — all are amazing, outstanding, and equally deserve to be told. I entered this organization with just a little bit of hope and left with more than I could have ever expected. If I must choose a single story to share, then I choose to share the story of Asim, the plucky student from New York who taught me to be courageous in pursuing dreams, tenacious in facing defeats, and human – above all else – in our approach to helping other people.

Asim stuck out to me right away. We bonded quickly over our mutual love of video games and playful sarcasm, which helped break up the occasional monotony of my work. And he made it strikingly clear from the very beginning — New York University was his dream school. We spent countless hours poring over essays together; I reminded him, as gently as I could, that other colleges deserved a spot on his list too, just in case. And so, he applied to others, and was unfortunately rejected repeatedly. I began to feel Asim drift. He told me things were tough at home but wouldn’t elaborate. His daily calls were scheduled further and further between, until they stopped altogether. I tried to text, to email, to reach out however I could, but the response was always the same: nothing. I was at a loss and turned to my supervisor for help.

“Well,” he asked me, “what did you do before?” Simple advice, but it brought me back to the basics: We talked about video games, about that latest release he was dying to hear about, about anything. I texted him about Final Fantasy XV, and he responded the same day – suddenly we were in sync once more. Rescued from the silent abyss and reinvigorated by my willingness to engage him not just as a student, but as an individual, our relationship resumed as before. And not long after that, he approached me with the best news of all: He had been accepted into New York University (NYU) with fantastic financial aid. I was beside myself (even if he wasn’t, sheepishly trying to swallow his pride). I immediately linked him the first YouTube video I could think of, of a little boy cheering for two minutes straight. He loved it, and I could practically see him smiling through the screen. So, things were back to normal; and I felt I had done something right. I won his trust, and he had just been handed the keys to an incredible future.

Finally, the day came for Asim to sign up for his College Possible exit call, the last we would ever have together. I don’t think he realized this was goodbye. Part of me didn’t, either. By the end, he seemed surprised when I told him this was it. I thought I heard him choke up a bit. Maybe I did too. He rushed to promises, to make one last call before the end, even though his obligations were complete. He had everything he needed, I told him, but I would be waiting, I said. Contact me anytime. Tell me about your adventures. Even if I can’t be your coach, I’ll still be your friend. I swore to him months back that we’d play a round of games, any game he wanted once he got into NYU. I’d wait on that, too. I’m still waiting.

At first, it struck me as odd that a student who fell so far out of my reach would reengage just because of an off-handed mention to a random hobby we both happened to enjoy. Why not to my urgent nudges, my painstakingly written emails, my constant voicemails? But I’ve come to understand that, more than anything in this job, it is the human connection that matters. We all have objectives and tasks we must fulfill, that illustrious goal of college hanging above everything else. But how often do we stop to think about the passions that drive these young people? How often do we consider who they really are? Can humor and humility be leveraged just as much as a hardline stance? What makes a story great isn’t just one person, but two. And because I allowed Asim to tell his story, as only he does best, I learned so much more about my very own. I’m still waiting for that last call, whatever it may be, and looking forward to it every day.

If committing to a year of AmeriCorps service at College Possible to help empower the dreams of students in your community sounds like time well spent, join us at one of our upcoming information sessions to learn more. Register today!

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