Second annual BELIEF conference helps high school students aim for college

Whitworth’s BELIEF team hosted a conference for local high school students from low-income areas Feb. 28 to March 2. This college-prep program provided the students with resources and encouragement to make higher education an obtainable goal. The conference began at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday and ran through 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. BELIEF focuses on the goals, hopes and dreams of students beyond high school.

"This program is unique because it was started and is run by college students," said junior Kaley Hayhurst, one of the four program coordinators.

The other coordinators are seniors Molly Hough, Timothy Gjefle and Jonathan Whitmore.

This is the second year Whitworth is hosting the BELIEF conference.

"The first difference compared to last year is the size of the event," Whitmore said.

Last year’s conference consisted of 14 high school attendees from Rogers High School.

Other schools saw the impact the program had on the students at Rogers High School and contacted the BELIEF team to get their own students involved.

This year, about 40 high school sophomores and juniors attended.  These students came from Rogers High School, North Central High School and The Community High School.

"We reached a lot of goals from last year,” Hayhurst said. “We expanded to two more schools, we increased the amount of students attending and we are promoting to other colleges to put on the conference as well."

The BELIEF team worked with the faculty and staff of high schools to promote the BELIEF conference and invite students to participate.

Another avenue used to reach high school students was the RISE program. Whitmore is a mentor in RISE at The Community School in Spokane.

The RISE program consists of mentors and tutors who help high school students when they are having difficulties with their academics. The BELIEF team attempts to reach out to these students.

"Some of these students are struggling academically. We try to encourage academics and show them a higher education is attainable," Gjefle said.

The RISE program also allows opportunities for mentors to stay connected with the students and continue to help them pursue a higher education after the conference is over.

When the high school students arrived, they were paired with a college student mentor who guided them through the conference, answered questions and showed them what college life looks like.

"The job of the mentors is to build a relationship with the students," Hayhurst said.

Both the mentors and high school students were selected by an application process. These applications were used to match the high school student to their college mentor.

Every day, the mentor and student spent an hour together to get to know one another and build a relationship.

"I was a mentor last year,” Hayhurst said. “It was an amazing experience and I was empowered by it. I knew I wanted to get involved on the leadership team."

The high school students' parents and legal guardians are also invited to come.

The weekend events included workshops, team building activities, recreational activities, small groups, mock interviews and a college fair consisting of colleges from Washington and Idaho.

Whitmore lead one of the workshops. He taught students how to utilize technology in their education.

"The workshop will show students what tools they can use in a technological world to help advance their learning," Whitmore said.

There was a workshop lead by Marianne Hansen, the director of admissions that focused on financial aid.

"Past students said they've been told for so long that college was not attainable because of finances," Gjefle said.

The workshop informed students and their legal guardians about grants and scholarships that are available, as well as how to apply for financial aid and the FAFSA.

Members of the BELIEF team said they look forward to seeing the relationships that will be built with the high school students and hope to see growth not only in them, but in the mentors as well.

"I hope everyone learns from one another. I learned a lot from my student last year," Hayhurst said.

Rebekah Bresee Staff Writer Contact Rebekah Bresee at

IGNITE program sparks student volunteering

Freshmen are not the only newbies on campus. This year, the Service Learning Center has a new program called IGNITE. It is a program  that connects students with opportunities to serve. The program is run by Director of Service Learning Keith Kelley as well as student leaders. IGNITE commitment levels range from a spring break service trip to working a year-long commitment as hired staff.

Students choose areas to volunteer which fit their skills and interests.

Students interested in business can help in the small business support center.

“[The program] gives students opportunities to have dynamic, real-world experiences working on projects involving small businesses,” Kelley said.

Students wanting to mentor a child can serve through a program called RISE.

“RISE is the student development branch of IGNITE,” said senior and worker Andrew Pearce. “We target 15 or so schools in the Spokane area. We assemble teams of five students to meet once a week to walk alongside the kids.”

Students with a passion for cultural advocacy can volunteer with an upcoming program. IGNITE worker and senior Grady Kepler is working alongside junior Gifti Abbo, the other cultural enrichment advocate, on this project.

“We hope to create a program focusing on cultural identity and advocacy at Holmes Elementary,” Kepler said.

Many organizations in Spokane allow students to volunteer. One aspect that sets IGNITE apart from other volunteer services is the opportunity for leadership.

“IGNITE allows for a much more developed opportunity for leadership students to engage in high-level positions and situations that allow for them to get involved in the community and understand elements at play and to be a part of that effort,” Kelley said. “It transcends the basic volunteering model.”

One of the key components of IGNITE is the asset-based approach. As opposed to a charity model, the focus is working with strengths and resources already present in the community.

“We focus on leading from behind, not being the central and upfront role,” IGNITE worker and senior Ryan Knight said. “We support programs already in progress. We partner with West Central, learn from them, and do good things with them.”

This approach allows community members to take ownership and play a part in the change, instead of only being on the receiving end.

Those who serve end up benefiting as well. Students learn and grow.

“There’s so much growth and fulfillment that volunteers get to experience,” Kelley said. “It goes a long way to help us understand cultural difference and to be able to understand the world better and be more effective doctors, lawyers, whatever, later on in life.”

Kepler said students are already equipped to serve the community.

“Don’t wait until you have a degree to go out and make a difference,”  Kepler said.  “It’s really beneficial to do alongside your degree. Go serve.”

Students wishing to get involved can contact Kelley at

Here are some possible areas where students can volunteer with IGNITE:

Sustainable living — Work in West Central to cultivate healthy, local food options and aid families in making their homes more energy efficient.

Small business — Volunteer in the small business support center.

Culture enrichment — Work with the RISE program to work with English language development.

Mentoring and tutoring kids — Work with kids through the RISE program.

Serving abroad — IGNITE offers spring break service trips that provides students with many options to serve abroad.

Madison Garner Staff Writer

Contact Madison Garner at