A military chaplain. A mentor. A farmer. This is who James wants to be. A rising 11th grader who once struggled in school and had little ambition, James has become focused, confident, and committed to working toward his goals during his time in the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP).
Led by the Institute for Educational Leadership, RAMP is a career-focused mentoring program for youth with disabilities who are involved with or at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. RAMP is funded by OJJDP as part of its comprehensive Mentoring Opportunities for Youth Initiative. OJJDP has long supported mentoring programs, awarding more than $956 million in grants to mentoring organizations from 2008 to 2019. From 2017 through the first half of 2019, OJJDP-funded programs recruited 95,000 new mentors and served more than 600,000 youth nationwide.
The RAMP model is implemented nationwide by state and local organizations. It uses targeted mentoring to help young people transition to employment, pursue continued learning opportunities, and achieve independent living. RAMP participants explore career interests; set short- and long-term goals; and develop practical workplace skills, including resume writing, interviewing, and relationship building.
James was referred to RAMP by his teachers, who knew he needed help to improve his social competency, build his character, and find employment. During his time in the program, he has developed close relationships with his coordinator, mentors, and peers. The program has also given him the skills to better interact with future employers.
"I've learned how to talk to people. I know that I have to give respect to get respect. I am much more prepared for the workforce, and I’m not afraid to advocate for myself and others."
—James, OJJDP mentoring program participant
A self-described hands-on learner, James has been able to explore his interests through outings to police and fire stations, military recruiting centers, and local businesses. "I have experienced so many different careers by actually visiting workplaces. We got to see what they were doing on a day-to-day basis, not just listen to someone talk about their job," he said.
James was hesitant to set weekly goals when he first joined RAMP, but he quickly realized that having clear goals helps keep him accountable and motivated. In the immediate future, James plans to maintain his grade-point average and graduate high school on time. Long term, he wants to join the military and become a chaplain. He also loves to work outside and hopes one day to have a small farm. When it comes to giving back, James is committed to helping motivate young people who face challenges.
"I struggle in reading a little bit, but I’m not going to let that stop me from achieving my goals. It's okay to have weaknesses or disabilities," James said. "RAMP has taught me that you can work anywhere, no matter your disabilities or weaknesses. Everyone is equal, and everyone can work. If you set your goals and believe in yourself, you can achieve it."
Whether he is a chaplain, a mentor, a farmer—or all of the above—it is clear from his poise and perseverance that James's dreams will continue to grow.