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Expanding tnAchieves needs 1,700 volunteer mentors this year

11:30 PM, May 10, 2013   |    comments
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Virginia Hughes did something no one in her family has done before.

"It's amazing that she's come this far and we're so proud of her an what she's accomplished," said Hughes' mother.

Friday night, she graduated with an associates degree from Pellissippi State Community College.

But getting there wasn't easy.

"Finding ways to pay for college was very tough," said Hughes. "I was taking the steps saying I don't know about this. It's a big step to make and I was scared I would mess up."

Her parents didn't know many of the answers to the questions she had about college or how to pay for it. That's where Laura Harrill stepped in.

"Knowing that Mrs. Harrill had gone to college and had been through the experience, it was nice to know. She could answer my questions for me," said Hughes.

Harrill is a volunteer mentor for Tennessee Achieves' Blount County program. tnAchieves is a last dollar scholarship program aimed at first generation college students.

tnAchieves has grown 1,229% since its inception in 2008. This year they are sending nearly 4,000 students across the state to two year schools. One of the challenges they face is finding volunteer mentors. This year they need 1,700, mostly in East Tennessee.

They say mentors are what make tnAchieves different. The mentors guide the mostly first generation college students through the process.

Harrill helped Virginia get into school and that's where her duties officially stopped, but her guidance continued.

"We've kept up with each other. She wrote me the email saying, 'It's time! I'm graduating. Will you come and sit with my parents?' I was like... oh! Of course I would! Yes!," said Harrill.

Harill watched Virginia walk across the stage and recieve her diploma. Virginia has plans to study Anthropology at the University of Tennessee.

"Without tnAchieves I don't know if I would have been able to go to college. It's a dream come true for me," Hughes said.

tnAchieves says it takes 10-15 hours per year to be a mentor. Click here for more details.

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