BOONE, N.C. — Charlene Grasinger ’08 ’12, an Appalachian State University alumna and the assistant director of mentoring at Western Youth Network (WYN) in Boone, traveled across the globe to share the recipe for a successful youth mentorship program with a community in West Africa.
Grasinger, who holds a B.S. degree and an M.A. degree in elementary education from App State, was matched as a peer collaborator with Abiona Jean Bamigbade, from the Republic of Benin, while he was attending the Mandela Washington Fellowship Leadership Institute held at Appalachian in 2016.
Bamigbade is the founder and director for an organization that promotes education in rural communities and was paired with Grasinger to explore new ways to improve school performance among youth in his village.
They are one of several pairs who have kept in touch following a Leadership Institute and are now working together on programs to create a positive impact in African communities.
“I was able to share my passion for mentoring, and he spoke of his passion for education,” Grasinger said. Benin has a low rate of academic success, where many youth drop out of school early, she added.
Bamigbade said while he had mentored youth on his own, he had never thought about mentorship as a program. The conversation with Grasinger inspired him to develop a mentorship program in Benin after his return.
The two applied for a Reciprocal Exchange Award through the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The grant allowed Grasinger to travel to Benin to help launch the mentorship program in summer 2019.
Grasinger prepared workbooks for mentors and mentees, as well as other material to help manage the initiative. While she was in Benin, the program developed 21 mentorship pairs.
Since Grasinger’s visit, Bamigbade said more adults in his community are willing to volunteer their time in working with youth, and the students have developed confidence and new studying techniques that are improving their performance at school.
Grasinger has realized benefits in her own job as well, she said. “The exchange pushed me into examining every component of our process here at WYN to discover best practices and helped me create materials for training to connect better with mentors in our program,” she said.
“Positive relationships can change all behaviors and connect people to resources they need for success,” she added.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a program of the U.S. Department of State with funding provided by the U.S. government and administered by IREX. Appalachian is a sub-grantee of IREX and through its Office of International Education and Development has implemented U.S.-based Leadership Institutes as a part of the Fellowship since 2016. For more information about the Mandela Washington Fellowship, visit the Fellowship’s website at www.mandelawashingtonfellowship.org.
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About the Office of International Education and Development
The OIED is responsible for spearheading the internationalization efforts at Appalachian. The internationalization mission of Appalachian is to develop awareness, knowledge, appreciation and respect of cultural differences in both domestic and international contexts in its students, faculty, staff and the surrounding communities. The university is also dedicated to creating a campus environment that builds the theoretical and practical skills needed to interact effectively in a global society. Learn more at https://international.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.