Growing Our Own Program Grads Hope to Inspire Students

Cory Owens, a 1999 Harding High School graduate who benefitted from the Growing Our Own program, talks to students at Marion Harding High School.

Cory Owens, a 1999 Harding High School graduate who benefitted from the Growing Our Own program, talks to students at Marion Harding High School.

A group of 35 successful, college educated, minority professionals reunited at Marion Harding High School and The Ohio State University at Marion in early May to share stories of their life journeys, to reminisce, and celebrate the youth mentoring program, Growing Our Own, a program many of the participants feel had a direct impact on their personal growth and success today.

Marion City Schools and The Ohio State University at Marion partnered in 1998 to launch an initiative aimed at increasing the graduation rates of minority students. The effort, Growing Our Own, originated as a plan to help minority students get a degree in education and seek employment with Marion City Schools. The federally-funded program, which lasted five years, expanded to include more majors because of success in attracting minority students with interests other than education.

The program was funded locally by a $50,000 renewable grant that established a strong partnership between Marion City Schools and Ohio State Marion.  Dr. Dan Christie, Dr. Leslie Beyer-Hermsen, and the late Larry Prude of Ohio State Marion were a driving force in writing the grant and directing the program from the university side of the partnership, and Kathleen Clemons and Shawn Jackson, who are now employed by Ohio State, ran the program partnership for Marion City Schools.

From 1998 through 2003, an estimated 110 minority youth in the Marion area benefited from mentoring, financial assistance, and direction the program provided.

Over 10 years later, the program boasts many successful minority teachers, a bank vice president, a mother who is growing her own by homeschooling her children, a licensed practicing psychologist, a Ph.D. candidate who has taught overseas, a deputy warden for Ohio Employment Bureau Services, among the many success stories.

As part of a reunion brunch in May, program graduates talked to Harding students about their plans for college and gave them pointers on how to succeed.

“Inspiring personal stories can often help us see how our choices are powerful,” Sharon Watkins, coordinator of Harding’s HUB21 program and a co-organizer of the reunion, said.

“My hope is our students will enjoy the stories of these folks from Marion who have gone on and done well – most likely through a winding path of choices made along the way. The students will learn from them and maybe have their own dreams for themselves grow greater.”

Cory Owens, a 1999 Harding graduate who is now seeking his doctorate degree with plans to teach college and become a public speaker, challenged juniors and seniors to come up with a plan of how to achieve their dreams and to stick with it.

“You need to figure out what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you will get there,” he said. “You are on a countdown. You guys got to start figuring out what you want to be.”

Owens, who currently works as business development manager for the American Legion, urged every student to think of themselves as their brand. He cautioned them to watch what they put up on social media and how they act in school because it reflects on that brand.

“Hopefully you will not fire yourself,” he said.

williamsTamara Williams, the first graduate of Growing Our Own, teaches preschool at Taft Elementary School. Growing Our Own helped her pay for college at Ohio State at Marion.

“Without a doubt, it has taken hard work and dedication to be successful,” Williams stated in her biography submitted for the reunion. “However, I will be the first to admit that the help from the “grow Our Own’ program and all those involved jump started my career in teaching. I am forever grateful that all those involved with the program believed in its success and ultimately my success.”

Kathleen Clemons, who now works for Ohio State at Marion, helped launch the program while working as an intervention specialist for Marion City Schools. She said she was honored to take the project on shortly after starting at Marion City Schools, her first employer after graduating from college.

“It helped give many who had never been exposed to large numbers of minority teachers – or minorities from our community holding positions of power and authority – the opportunity to see firsthand that this not only existed in other communities, but that through Growing Our Own, it was quite possible that they could become teachers and/or community leaders right here in Marion,” she said.

Other notable Growing Our Own participants include:

jonesShawn La’Vista (Robinson) Jones
One of the original members of the initial class in the Growing Our Own program, Shawn La’Vista (Robinson) Jones grew up in Marion and attended Marion Harding High School.  Upon graduation, Jones attended both Wittenberg University and Ohio State Marion.  Jones is reaping the rewards of the program in both her professional and personal life.  She currently serves as an assistant vice president at JP Morgan Chase, where she manages operational controls to mitigate reputational and financial risk for the organization.  Prior to joining JP Morgan Chase in 2008 she was the founder and CEO of Office Matters, an administrative outsourcing company dedicated to improving operational processes for small business owners by providing staffing support, process development, and business coaching.  She and her husband currently reside in Phoenix, AZ.  In addition to her work at JP Morgan Chase, the couple currently own and operate the photography company Focus First Photography, where she serves as the Director of Business Operations.

floydCandace A. (Floyd) Parker
Growing Our Own participant Candace A. (Floyd) Parker graduated from high school in 2003 with the dream of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey. But her plans changed when she had her first child at 19 and needed to move back to Marion for family support.  Determined to finish her degree in broadcasting and still become the next Oprah, Parker enrolled at Ohio State Marion.  She spent about a year taking classes on the Marion campus before going on to Columbus, where she graduated with a degree in journalism in winter of 2008.  At this point, Parker was married with two children and one on the way. So plans began to change. Instead of being a famous talk show host, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom.  “I decided that I had my B.A. and that was not going away, but time with my three young children deserved all of my attention at that time.” Today, Parker is a stay at home mom who lives with her family in South Carolina. I work early mornings at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte and the rest of my day is spent homeschooling my three children. I could still become the next Oprah, but right now my focus is on educating my children and pushing them towards a successful future.   “So I guess you could say that I am now literally, growing my own,” said Parker.

lucasDr. Morgan Lucas
Growing Our Own program participant, Dr. Morgan Lucas is the co-founder of Agape Psych Services, PLLC, a private practice located in Arlington, TX.  She is licensed to practice psychology in Texas and North Carolina.  Dr. Lucas hails from Ohio, where she began and completed her higher education.  She received her Psy.D. from Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in 2008.  She completed her undergraduate studies at The Ohio State University at Marion.  Dr. Lucas attended Marion Harding High school and was a college preparatory student.  She graduated in the top 10% of her class and was involved in the Growing Our Own minority mentorship program.  Dr. Lucas is a generalist-trained clinician, but her specialty areas include women’s wellness, relationship issues, the treatment of eating disorders, work with juvenile offenders, and consultation/training.  Dr. Lucas also has an extensive history working with African American clients in various settings (schools, college counseling, correctional).  Dr. Lucas’ research has been focused on the academic achievement of African American students and the impact the “fear of selling-out” has on success.

richardsonTiffany Richardson
Tiffany Richardson was recently named Employment Business Services (EBS) deputy director for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS), supervising that office’s business services, civil rights, employee and organizational development, and Employee Services sections. Richardson has worked for EBS since 2010, first as a labor relations officer and most recently as the labor relations administrator. She has provided human resources, civil rights, and organizational development staff.  Richardson has a law degree from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and served as a legal intern for the Employment Law Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office before coming to ODJFS.

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