California Educator Leads Youth Mentorship Programs

Daily Point of Light # 7816 May 21, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Marquita Grenot-Scheyer. Read her story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

When Jean Egan founded Better Learning for All Students Today (BLAST), she was on a mission to help the most under-resourced youth of Long Beach with academic and social development. That was nearly 25 years ago. In 2011, when Jean asked Dr. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer to join the board, it didn’t take much convincing. Marquita herself, dean of the College of Education at CSU Long Beach at the time, is a lifelong educator. She’d started out in a Los Angeles public school classroom and would eventually retire from the role of assistant vice chancellor for Educator Preparation and Public School Programs in the California University System Office, the largest four-year public university system in the nation.

With her oversight of two BLAST programs that help youth prepare for college or the transition to the workforce, Marquita helps provide others with mentorship that was a pivotal part of own her journey. She has used her vast experience to guide the organization ever since. These days her number one student is her new granddaughter—her first—though she continues to serve as president of the board and make a difference in the lives of young people all across Long Beach.

Dr. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer, president of the BLAST board of directors, guides staff in implementing two mentoring programs for Long Beach youth.

What led you to go into education?

I had the good fortune of having some practicum and internship opportunities early on as a college student. I was also able to do some volunteer work in schools. When I volunteered with a teacher named Jackie who worked with a group of students with significant disabilities, I was in awe of her and the magic that she worked. I decided that was what I wanted to do. All along, I had amazing mentors and role models which led me to this extremely fulfilling career.

What inspires you to volunteer?

It comes from my parents and their spoken and unspoken words about how we sit in a seat of privilege and, therefore, have a responsibility to support our community. They did that and encouraged us do the same. It seemed to be a natural part of my work as a student and then as an educator.

Can you tell me a little more about BLAST’s programs and their impact?

We have two primary programs. The first is the Academic Mentoring Program (AMP), which provides one-to-one and small group mentoring for K-12 students. The second is the Bridge to Success program (Bridge), which helps equip middle and high school students with knowledge, skills and experience for their next step, whether that become college or career.

In both programs, the primary focus is on improving the academic and social success of K-12 students, but a secondary goal is to support college mentors as they’re going through their college programs. The opportunity to provide mentoring and support leads many of our mentors to careers either in teaching or social sciences. So, the benefits are not only for the K-12 students but also for our college mentors. Some of our pairs have developed relationships that have lasted years.

Tell us about your volunteer role.

I’ve been president of the board since 2016. I lead our volunteers in supporting a strategic plan and the work of our staff. I support the executive director and our small but mighty staff in developing and implementing our programs. A couple of years ago, when we had a series of interim executive directors, there was a period of time where I was providing direct support, which I really enjoyed. Our staff and executive director are the heart and soul of the work we do.

How many mentors do you have?

It varies. COVID-19 had an impact on us, because we had to move to virtual mentoring. AMP has about 150, and our goal is to get back to our pre-COVID total of 300. Bridge has continued to grow, because those are group vs. one-to-one mentoring. In that program, we have around 600 middle and high school students involved.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

Hearing the stories of the mentors and the mentees at our annual breakfast fundraiser will make you cry. These children and youth come to school with a lot of challenges, and having the opportunity to work with a college student has changed their lives. Over the last 25 years, we’ve impacted almost 25,000 youth. If I can provide strategic leadership and development to make that happen, it’s well worth my time.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned a lot about how you lead a nonprofit and about funders. I knew how to raise money for my college and to support faculty to develop programs for educator preparation, but the nonprofit world was really different from my academic world. I work closely with another organization called The Nonprofit Partnership. Their executive director and staff have been so helpful to me as I have come to understand the nonprofit world. And we have a group of really dedicated board members, some of whom have been committed to this work since the very beginning.

Why is it important for others to get involved with causes they care about?

There are so many needs in our communities, and to close your eyes and focus on your own family seems selfish. I’m a first-generation college student, and my parents were hardworking lower middle-class folks who figured out ways to support their community. Now I’m in a place of privilege, so I need to get involved.

It’s also fulfilling; I enjoy this work. We have two adult daughters, and they accuse both me and my husband of failing retirement, because we’re just as busy as we ever were before. But it feels good to continue to make a contribution. I do this work because it’s important, it’s necessary and it brings me satisfaction.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Marquita? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Kristin Park