RAMPing Up from Mentor to Program Coordinator (Part Two)!

Head shot of Julie Gilson The following blog is written by Julie Gilson, Coordinator for the Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) in Jacksonville, FL. RAMP is a program of the Institute for Educational Leadership, the host organization for NCWD/Youth and is based on a variety of foundational materials developed by NCWD/Youth. This blog is Part Two in a series written by RAMP mentors who have gone on to be coordinators for their respective programs! Part One is also available online.

My name is Julie Gilson and I have been a RAMP Coordinator at the Independent Living Resource Center of Northeast Florida for over two years. I actually began my RAMP journey while I was still in college. I was a junior pursuing my degree in psychology at the University of North Florida, with hopes of one day becoming a mental health counselor. As part of my career planning, I realized that I needed more experience working with people with disabilities, since this population is often served in the counseling field. My college offered an on campus transition program that allowed students to mentor people with disabilities on campus, and I began looking into joining it. However, one day while talking to a friend who worked for the ILRC about my career and mentoring goals, he told me that the ILRC had a great mentoring program focused on high school students with disabilities. I met with the RAMP coordinator soon after who invited me to attend a meeting.

Group of ILRC youth smiling at camera I walked into my first RAMP meeting with the mindset that it was something I was only considering – no commitments were being made on my part, and I felt like I would probably end up joining my college’s program instead, because it was more convenient for me. I said hello to a few students, and spoke with one girl specifically about her week. It wasn’t anything particularly special, just a brief conversation on her favorite subject in school and what she had been doing lately. I helped her and some other students set weekly goals, and afterwards we participated in a role-playing activity in which we practiced interviewing skills. Then the bell rang, and all the students got up to leave the classroom. As I waved goodbye to them, the girl who I had spoken with walked up to me, gave me a hug, and asked “Are you coming back next week?”

That simple question marked a turning point in my career. To me, our time together had been nothing but light conversation. But to her, it meant that someone cared enough to take an interest in her life. At that moment, I realized that RAMP mentors might be the only supportive adults in the lives of these students, and that I needed to be part of a program like that. I knew that my answer had to be “Yes!”

ILRC youth soldering during STEM workshop After that, I became an official RAMP mentor. I planned my classes around the RAMP schedule so that I could continue to attend. At times of the year when RAMP meetings weren’t as frequent, I volunteered at the ILRC and helped out with office work. By the time graduation week came around, the ILRC was looking for a new RAMP Coordinator, and they chose me to fill the position.

My experience as a mentor has really benefited me since I’ve become coordinator for the program. Many of my mentors are college students like I was, and having had that experience, I can better support them. I have grown in amazing ways from my job working with individuals with disabilities, and look forward to continuing to do so here at the ILRC and with RAMP!

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