Higher Education Mentorship Initiative

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What is The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative (HEMI)?

Graphic of HEMI Partners: Hamilton County Ohio JFS Jobs and Family Services, United Way of Greater Cincinnati in Ohio, The Higher Education Mentorship Initiative

Every child has the right to an education. But not every child has the same opportunity for an education. The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative aims to change that.

The Higher Education Mentoring Initiative provides Hamilton County foster youth with access to a personal academic mentor. This stable one-on-one relationship begins in high school and focuses on preparing youth for the completion of post-secondary education, job training or military service.


Hamilton County cares for hundreds of foster youth every day. These children enter what is supposed to be a temporary system of care, but for many, temporary becomes permanent and they only leave at age 18. More worried about where they will live or how they will get their next meal, attending college or a technical school is rarely thought of or discussed. More than 100 youth exit the Hamilton County foster system annually with little support, structure or knowledge of how to make it on their own.

Disproportionally, foster youth become teen parents, incarcerated, unemployed, homeless and suffer mental illness. Hamilton County Job and Family Services and the University of Cincinnati Economic Center conducted a study in 2017 that found foster children aging out of Hamilton County’s child welfare system cost local residents $17.7 million in social expenses and lost productivity each year:

  • $8 million in health care expenses (mental health or substance abuse treatment, emergency room visits, hospital stays, uninsured child birth)

  • $2 million a year in criminal justice expenses (arrests, convictions, incarcerations)

  • $73,000 in homeless expenses (shelter expenses)

  • $7.6 million in lost productivity because they are unemployed or underemployed

HEMI can change that.


With a mentor’s help, HEMI youth learn the value of education and stay on track to achieving academic goals and setting themselves up for a better life. Mentors guide, listen and make a difference. They can even help a mentee achieve one of the many scholarships available from HEMI, including the $5,000 Moira Weir Scholarship. Each year, HEMI sets aside scholarship money specifically for young people enrolled in the program.

Many HEMI participants over the past few years are now college graduates – two even received their master’s degrees! Here are some other points of success:

  • 88% of HEMI youth have a high school degree, compared to 72% of emancipated foster youth

  • 47% of HEMI youth have a college degree or some college compared to 31% of other emancipated youth

  • 71% of HEMI youth are employed, compared to 47% of other emancipated youth and even 66% of young people who were not in foster care

  • HEMI youth earn $12.83 an hour, which is more than the $8.91 other emancipated youth earn, as well as the $11.96 earned by youth who were not in foster care


Our mentees have achieved:


Bachelor's & Master's Degrees


Associate's Degrees





Mentees and mentors are matched based on the mentee's interests and the mentor's background and experience. Personal compatibility is also important. Mentors meet regularly with their mentees to help youth reach their academic achievement goals and develop career readiness and general life skills.

The program has three main partners to support the mentee-mentor relationship:

  • Hamilton County's Job and Family Services Department identifies strong candidates for higher education success to enroll in HEMI and provides support workers to assist program youth.

  • United Way of Greater Cincinnati recruits mentors for the program and contracts with Found Village for mentor training and support. United Way also manages the Foster Youth Advisory Board to provide education and collaborative activities for the youth.

  • Found Village provides mentor training and support.


HEMI's goals are to:

  • Reduce the number of foster youth who drop out of high school

  • Increase the number who apply to and pursue higher education

  • Set foster youth on a path to successful careers and sustainable income


High school sophomores, juniors and seniors in Hamilton County’s foster care system willing to work with mentors on improving academic outcomes, graduating from high school and pursuing post-secondary options aligned with their aspirations.


Volunteers committed to supporting youth. Mentors commit to a long-term mentoring relationship with a minimum of two hours per week of personal interaction, including connecting in person, by telephone, e-mail, texting, etc. Once a month, they commit to attending a monthly HEMI social activity.


All mentors undergo background checks, attend a one-time six hour training, along with quarterly, three-hour training session. Topics include:

  • Understanding the mentee population

  • What research says about mentoring

  • Boundaries

  • Communication technology (how to text)

  • E-mentoring

  • “Focused” mentor sessions with identified objectives

  • Today’s high school experience and expectations

  • Senior Year

  • College Access

  • ACT practice tips


Contact Trina Jones: hemi@uwgc.org or call 513-762-7121.

For more information about the HEMI program and to make a donation, visit www.hcjfs.org/hemi.

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