Nia Andrews was born and raised in Philadelphia’s Germantown section. She got involved with Legacy of Hope through—surprise, surprise—Mike Rowe. “We were working in the ER one day and he was looking for volunteers for the PHL 24. I volunteered my time for the event and it went really well. I really enjoyed the people and Legacy's mission; and so I told Mike if there was anything else that came up, I would love to help out.”
Soon after, Mike got back to Andrews about Legacy’s mentorship program, telling her “I think you’d be great as a mentor.” She came on to speak with the students about the importance of communication and public speaking, and promptly fell in love with the program. “The students and I really connected. They asked the administrators for me to come back again; so I just kept logging on, and logging on, and logging on (the program was being run virtually because of Covid). After joining the mentorship program in 2021, Andrews assumed the role of VP for the program this year. Her love for Legacy’s Mentorship program is showing, as she has helped to grow the program from one school to three: West Oak Lane Charter School, Global Leadership Academy Southwest, and West.
“We expose 7th and 8th graders to career opportunities that they might not have been exposed to, while allowing them to create a project to help a family affected by cancer. This approach helps these students to gain different leadership styles and tools that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. We try to bring in mentors who are focused on things that the students are interested in, while still emphasizing our core values of finance and accounting, coding, leadership, entrepreneurship and communication.”
When asked to cite a memorable experience with the mentorship students, Andrews doesn’t miss a chance to celebrate the program’s positive effects, “To be honest with you, I think the reason I stayed on with Legacy and why I continue to invest my time is that every experience with the students is memorable. But one project that kind of brought things full circle for me was…working with a family that had a broken door. The students came up with a creative idea for fixing the door. They estimated labor costs and materials, and found a local contractor with whom they negotiated labor costs. Then they picked a representative to speak with the contractor; she pitched her idea to the contractor: waive the labor costs in exchange for publicity on the news and in their school newsletter that goes out to all the staff, the administrators and the students’ parents. They got a “yes” from the contractor; the student representative was so excited, she came back and reported to the students… just overwhelmed with joy, even the following week. All of the students were really excited, not only to help the family but to see their work come to fruition. Most importantly, they gained tangible skills of negotiations and project management while they were helping others. I did not have these kinds of skills in the seventh grade, at all!”
Because the mentorship program brings this type of real world experience and relevance to young students, it’s no wonder that Andrews is excited about growing the program even further. “Last year we had 12 students, this year we have 33 students across three schools. We still meet via Zoom, which presents its own challenges; we have to factor different things into our communications, learning from our mistakes and fine tuning as we go. For example, students have to square up—everybody has to have their camera on, everyone has to participate. And the chat box gets turned off.”
Right now, the biggest challenge of the program is teaching via Zoom. Andrews confirms “We’re doing really great work over Zoom, but I can only imagine how we can take the program to new heights and have the students bond not only with the mentors but with each other if they were in person.” Despite its imperfections, one benefit of Zoom is that Andrews has been able to get mentors from all over the country “because it’s so easy for them to log in from anywhere. But I do think, from the students' viewpoint, Zoom has been a challenge, and I have no doubts that they’d thrive with in person instruction.”
As if handling the mentorship program wasn’t enough, Andrews, who holds an RN, BSN also works in the ER at Our Lady of Lourdes and Jefferson Health. Ironically, she didn't want to be
a nurse initially and it was a student who set her on that path. She’d completed her Undergraduate studies in cell and molecular biology (with a minor in dance) at West Chester University; and then did some shadowing and work study, but was still kind of lost and not knowing what she wanted to do after undergrad. She ended up becoming a teacher and shares “I’ll never forget the day...I was a kindergarten/first grade bridge teacher at an all girl school; we were in circle time and there was this sweet girl...we were doing sight word reading and she turned to me and said “Miss Nia, I DON’T wanna be here!!” and she was totally crying. To be honest, I started crying too, and [to myself] I was like “I don’t want to be here either.” I applied to nursing school that afternoon on my lunch break, got into Gwynedd Mercy’s accelerated BSN program. I came out of the program and started working in the ER on April 1st 2020 (at the height of the pandemic for those of us with short memories). Andrews been gaining momentum ever since, and, ironically, has come full circle in the role of mentor/teacher, playing a key role in the lives of her mentees, and them playing a big role in hers.
Andrews is earnest when asked what inspires her “Hmmm…to be honest, I think I’m still working on it, like figuring out what concrete things actually inspire me. But some of it definitely comes from my family. We're a close knit family, and they give me support to do the things I’m really passionate about—working with students; I’m also a freelance dance instructor; so I work with students in a couple different capacities. And they're actually my inspiration too.”
In parting, we asked Nia if she had a favorite life lesson quote. Without hesitation, she responded “Yes! Marcus Garvey…Without confidence, you are twice defeated in the race of life. With confidence you’ve won before you’ve even started.” It seems like that confidence is woven into Andrew’s outlook and approach to life. Legacy of Hope is lucky to have her.
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