Volunteers are needed to help coach local students and their families through the college and financial aid application processes.

Volunteers are needed to help coach local students and their families through the college and financial aid application processes.

The Indian River School District is partnering with $tand by Me, the Delaware Financial Empowerment Partnership, to create a new college mentor program.

“We definitely are increasing focus on college planning this year because we find the students’ families need guidance on how to proceed through the college application process, which can be kind of overwhelming,” said Michele Murphy, community education coordinator for the district. “We’re starting the college mentor program to provide a trained volunteer to help families through this process, not just with the college application part but also with the financial aid side.”

Mary Dupont, director of financial empowerment for the State of Delaware and $tand By Me, said horror stories about a possible financial crisis due to student loan debt can scare people away from pursuing a college education.

“We want to remove the barriers and fears that make families feel like they can’t afford college,” Dupont said. “We want to show families that not only can they afford college, it is a great opportunity for any student graduating from high school.”

No prior experience is necessary to become a volunteer. Training involves a two-hour session on college applications and a two-hour session on financial aid. Volunteers will work November through April, three hours per week or less as needed to assist their mentees to reach their goals. From November through January, volunteers will focus on college applications. February through April will focus on financial aid, which includes guiding students and their families through completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Volunteers may choose to work on just one aspect of the program – either college applications or financial aid.

Dupont said volunteers will be provided plenty of support and training.

“We’re not just going to throw them out there to do a job that sound overwhelming,” she said. “There will be a lot of support provided through the school district and through the state.”

Murphy said the district would like to sign on 20 volunteers each for Indian River High School and Sussex Central High School.

In addition to the mentor program, the district is hosting numerous activities throughout November, which has been dubbed “College Awareness Month.” These activities include two workshops regarding finding money for college and one regarding hidden strategies students should know when applying and interviewing for college. For more information on these workshops, visit www.irsd.net.