Stories of Service: Haden Parrish

Meet Haden Parrish, Virginia’s AmeriCorps Brand Ambassador for December 2018! Haden, who is currently serving as an AmeriCorps member with the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC) program, says his own high school experiences influenced his decision to join AmeriCorps. “When I graduated high school I was able to attend the University of Virginia and follow my dreams” he says. “Although I got myself there, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my college adviser.” Advising Corps members serve as college advisers at high schools throughout Virginia —  helping students with applications, financial aid, scholarships and more. Haden adds, “As my time at UVA closed out, I knew I wanted to go back to my high school and return the favor of support that my college adviser gave me. I have loved my time back in my old high school, and I’m beginning to realize that I think I want to get my masters in school counseling and once again come back to Fluvanna County High School. I would never have had the opportunity to realize my passions without AmeriCorps, the College Advising Corps, and Fluvanna County High School. I am thankful every day for this opportunity to serve!” 

About the Virginia College Advising Corps . . .

“VCAC is a joint venture of The University of Virginia and the College Advising Corps and is an AmeriCorps program.  We are a group of 36 college advisers, four VCAC staff members and 40 site supervisors serving 40 high schools and approximately 8,711 seniors.  Many of us are Virginia natives, many of us are not.  Some of us are first-generation college graduates while others have been surrounded by academia our entire lives.  Some of us grew up in the communities or similar communities to which we serve and some have experienced cultural shock and cultural growth.  Because of these differences, we as a Corps all have the goal of facilitating intellectual growth and easing the path to higher education and the workforce. 

We each have a different experience and that is what gives us the ability to serve such diverse populations.  Each of us has our own story and unique journey through higher education which allows us to serve a variety of individuals every day at our site.  As a Corps, we train for four weeks over the summer before we begin at our sites, then continue to have monthly training sessions and weekly virtual meetings.  We spend a lot of time together and get to learn about each other’s quirks, challenges, and successes.    It has been an honor to become friends with my fellow advisers, and every day they challenge me to be the best adviser I can be.  Although we are each responsible to the sites we serve, every site benefits from the individual experiences and talents that each adviser brings to VCAC.”

Haden on Winning . . .

“‘I believe that we will win’ is the chant the kicks off every Fluvanna County High School porting event  This photo shows four of my students from our school’s Student Government Association positioning the chant above the gym doors with a large sticker printed with equipment recently donated to the school.  These students came up with the idea of putting blue and gold handprints representing our school colors above the gym doors accompanied with the spirit chant so that whenever our school’s athletes enter into a game they can slap the door frame and know that Fluvanna’s spirit is with them.

In all honesty sports is not my thing — in fact, I avoid it.  On the other (blue and gold) hand, spirit is my strength.  My favorite thing about the chant is that it turns the word ‘I’ into ‘WE’.  Every time these students or the faculty see this, it is a reminder that we as individuals are responsible to each other for our mutual success.  As the college adviser to these students, I believe that they will win. 

I am a College Adviser through the Virginia College Advising Corps, a joint venture of The University of Virginia and the College Advising Corps, an AmeriCorps program.  Although the premise of my position is to assist students at my site in finding responsible and reasonable paths into higher education, I know that more simply put it is my goal as an AmeriCorps volunteer to help the people at my site excel in the ways that are best for them.  College Advisers not only exist to help our students apply to schools that fit them, but we are also here to assist students to clarify their passions.”

Haden’s Not-So-Typical Day . . .

“There is no ‘typical’ meeting with a student.  My duties range from helping students apply for their FAFSA to increase their chances of attending school in an affordable manner to calling admissions departments to see if they received a student’s test scores and official transcripts to ease an anxious heart.  One meeting could consist of researching which community colleges in our area have associates degrees in cosmetology and business because my student wants to start and own a barbershop, or maybe it is calling a school’s counseling center so a student can hear firsthand from a therapist what mental health resources will be available to them if they attend.  I research which trade schools accept the FAFSA so my student can make good money without losing too much on tuition first, or we work on writing professional emails and practicing interview techniques so my students are prepared to enter the workforce.

I have not yet had a boring day.  I am constantly working in an ideal dichotomy of educating and learning.  I’d be lying if I said that every interaction or every service hour left me feeling inspired, but somewhere in between watching a student’s hard work fall into place and simply having a student remember what ‘FAFSA’ stands for makes it all worth it.  Serving at my site has put my own struggles and privileges into perspective, allows me to learn from my past to facilitate my future and give advice for theirs, and hopefully ease a little of the student stress that comes with planning for after high school.

I believe that they will win whatever it is they are working for, and sometimes it seems that having one person believe in them is enough to help them believe in themselves.”

Haden on Role Models . . .

“The College Advising Corps operates on a ‘near-peer’ model, a philosophy that manifests in recent college graduates working with high school students attempting to follow a similar path.  We are positioned well to help high school students because we are only 5 or 6 years removed from our own high school experience.  We have had drastically different life changes and growth in that short amount of time, but the advisors in our program are still able to closely empathize with the high school journey. 

I greatly benefited from this model when I was in high school.  I am the rare AmeriCorps service member that has the opportunity to serve in their own community.  I grew up in Fluvanna County and graduated from the high school where I now serve, and much of my style is modeled after the College Adviser that I had when I was here in high school.  When you picture the prototype of a highly anxious high school student, I was worse.  I had convinced myself that I would never get into college, that I would make no friends, and that I would never find my passions.  However, every step of the way my college adviser was there to ease my concerns.  Now that I am in her former position, I cannot imagine how much time I took away from other students, but Ms. Charles always made time to help me.  As I sit at the desk that I used to come to and stress, I realize that I am the only person that could have gotten myself into college, but I couldn’t have done it alone.  I would not be in AmeriCorps today without having benefited so much from the AmeriCorps member before me.

I had role models in high school that taught me the same standards I try to hold myself to today: The Librarian who sponsored the Interact Club that I was a part of taught me to appreciate community service and to incorporate helping others in as many aspects of my life as I could.  My school counselor that showed me the power of listening and empathy.  My AP Government teacher that encouraged me to always ask questions and expect more from those around me.  These adults in my life showed me who I wanted to grow up to be, and gave me the characteristics that I continue to strive for.  But Ms. Charles was in a different position.  She was near-peer, a person who had recently gone through the same thing I was working towards.  She had insight into college applications and admissions that was still relevant, and college information that was still generationally appropriate.  A lot of college advice that students in high school receive starts with ‘back in the day when I was in college’ or ‘this has probably changed but’, and while that advice can still be helpful, it means a little more coming from a person who just lived it and graduated from it.  Ms. Charles knew how to ease my concerns and explore my excitements, and I don’t think I would have been as successful in my applications or my transition into college without her assistance.

Near-peer is something I take very seriously because I know the potential that it has on how my students view higher education and life after high school.  Although I go by ‘Mr. Parrish’, living life as a young professional often seems to me like I am on the verge of adulthood.  I still benefit from near-peer because I have awesome supervisors that continue to mentor and inspire me.  Pictured at right is my site supervisor and go-to counselor at my school, Ms. Holland, and the Assistant Director of VCAC, Valencia Harvey.  They are the people I seek whenever I have a question about work, a concern or new thought about my life after AmeriCorps, or a funny moment to share.  Without the ability to practice or receive near-peer mentorship, my experience in high school as a student and as a staff member would have been sorely lacking, but with this model my students are better able to realistically think about their postsecondary plans and I am better able to grow as a service member.”

Haden on the Power of Asking Questions . . . 

“I’ve been working with some of my student’s since the very first day of the academic year.  I start every conversation with a new senior by saying, ‘What do you hope to be doing next year, what are you doing to prepare yourself for it, and how can I help?’  Some of these conversations last less than 5 minutes — they know what they want to do, they’ve done all that they need to prepare, and they don’t need any more assistance.  But more likely than not these conversations turn into repeat visits, consistent emails, or multiple meetings a week.  Some students don’t know what they want to do, others have been planning since kindergarten.  

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is get students to ask the questions they really care about.  All my life I have been ready to ask any question that comes to mind, so it often surprises me that students are committing up to four years of their life to an academic institution, but have not asked a single question of substance.  There are many reasons a student may not want to ask a question, and I do not mean to overlook the responsibility of educators to acknowledge the implications and nuances of excepting students to constantly be engaged, but it is my responsibility to provide these students the chance to grow.  Students have a right to answers, but the only way to get answers is to ask questions.

Most of my work is in-office meeting with students, but so much of my success and their success is contingent on either bringing professionals into the school or taking the students to the professionals.  I’ve had thirty different colleges or universities visit my students to speak with them about the application process, student life, and to address any concerns.  Some of these schools even provide on-site admissions where an admissions rep comes to the school to meet with students, review their applications and transcripts, and either accept the student to their school or defer admission with advice on how to improve the application.  We have also either gone on or plan to go on five field trips to institutions of higher education, one of which was overnight and allowed students to see three schools on one trip.  Both of these opportunities lets students hear information first hand and hopefully inspires them to ask questions. 

If students are reluctant to ask questions, I come prepared with my own.  Since starting in this position I have asked every admissions rep the same two questions: ‘What mental health resources are available to students at your institution?’ and ‘What are areas of improvement you think your institution could benefit from?’  The first question is an important one for students to know as well as allows them to realize that their questions can stray from their typical concerns about food or freshman-parking options, and the second hopefully sets them up to always seek ways to improve.  

We all benefit from asking questions.  Ask your supervisors and colleagues questions, ask the people you serve questions, and most importantly, ask yourself questions.”

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