LMH’s mentoring program proceeding with care amid pandemic

photo by: Gaskins Photography Collection LLC via LMH Health

Pictured from left are Kirk Johnson, Arie’Auna “Auna” Childress, Erica Hill, Fiona Swaggerty and Thayu Kimori. Hill is the creator of LMH Health’s Summer Leadership Academy, and the four students are this year’s participants.

The LMH Health Summer Leadership Academy, a mentoring program for local high school juniors and seniors, is proceeding carefully during the COVID-19 pandemic by offering a hybrid experience of virtual and in-person activities.

In collaboration with the Lawrence school district, LMH commenced the second annual Summer Leadership Academy on June 15. The Academy is a six-week introduction to careers in health care and has a focus on students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in health care, including people of color.

Erica Hill, finance and operations manager for the LMH Health Foundation, designed the Summer Leadership Academy in 2019 and oversees the program each year with support from LMH’s human resources department and Verdell Taylor, diversity and inclusion manager at LMH.

“The Leadership Academy is a comprehensive program that creates a learning culture and promotes personal and professional development for our scholars, all while being surrounded by caring adults who want to see them succeed,” Hill said. “The purpose of the academy is to provide an opportunity for students to learn and explore. Oftentimes, it’s a lack of opportunity that is the barrier to success.”

Hill and the academy planning team are prioritizing the students’ safety as the pandemic continues. To protect the students, changes to this year’s program will include virtual tours and meetings, workspaces that are safe distances apart and mandatory use of personal protective equipment while on location at LMH.

Whether virtually or in-person, the students will receive job training, mentoring from executive leaders and networking opportunities. At the conclusion of the program, the students will attend a celebration dinner and receive a $1,000 scholarship toward their college education, funded by community donations to the LMH Health Foundation.

“Providing paid internships to students from underrepresented groups is the kind of measurable action steps we want to see as a product of our equity work,” said USD 497 Superintendent Anthony Lewis. “The benefits of this partnership with LMH Health extend beyond these students and their families to the community at large as we create a leadership development pipeline from our schools to the workforce.”

Four students are participating in the mentorship program this year: Arie’Auna “Auna” Childress, Thayu Kimori and Fiona Swaggerty of Free State High School, and Kirk Johnson of Lawrence High School.

“Inclusion, diversity and equity should be woven into the fabric of who we are as an organization,” said LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson. “We want to help our community’s youth experience opportunities they may not know exist, and to experience them in a low-pressure environment where they can freely explore those options.”

Hill said mentoring in the workplace makes a positive impact on employees, especially women and minorities. She recalls a past mentor who had an important influence on her career.

“I had a mentor that created an opportunity for me to leverage my strengths, so I personally understand the value of mentorships and how they can change the trajectory of your life,” said Hill. “It’s important to understand that mentors and internships don’t make people successful — they create opportunities for people that already have promise. Sometimes an opportunity is all you need to flourish.”

Both Hill and Lewis believe that the first Summer Leadership Academy, held last summer, was a success.

“I enjoyed hearing from our scholars about the leadership, mentorship, and career exploration opportunities afforded them through their participation in the inaugural academy,” said Lewis. “With obvious excitement and appreciation, they shared that this experience proved pivotal as they transitioned from high school and began their pursuit of college, careers and dreams for the future.”

— Courtney Bernard is a development coordinator for LMH Health Foundation. LMH Health is a major sponsor of the Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.


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