#WVSUExtensionStories: A Mentor’s Work is Never Finished

A youth mentor is never off duty.

That’s a lesson Jameyia Richardson learned quickly when, at 20 years old, she signed up to mentor young people at WVSU Extension Service’s annual Health, Sciences and Technology Academy (HSTA) Forensic Summer Institute. The weeklong, residential 4-H camp uses a crime scene investigation scenario to teach forensic science to teens.

“Kids are always watching you,” she says with a laugh. “They won’t let you get by with anything.”

Barely out of her teens herself that first summer as a mentor, the role of “role model” was one Jameyia never anticipated playing.

“I was an English major,” she says. “I knew nothing about science.” But she saw the camp as a learning opportunity not only for the students but also for herself.

“One of our tasks was to get the kids up in the morning and ready for the day’s activities, then we would have some free time,” she says. “But I went to class with them, participated and learned, too. I showed interest, which made them show interest. It was the best decision I ever made.”

Soon she discovered her behavior was having an effect. The kids were approaching her during off hours to continue discussing what they’d learned in class.

“People want to feel what they’re doing is important,” she says of her interaction with campers, “and when you get involved as a mentor, it does that for them.”

As she learned with the students, she was careful to ensure her authority as a mentor was not compromised – something quick-witted teens can often see right through.

“When you are a mentor, there is a role model barrier,” she says. “I would tell them, ‘I’m not your friend, but nobody said we can’t have some fun, because I’m a big kid, too.’”

So as she dealt with the common issues of gossip, quarrels and hygiene problems among the adolescent campers, Jameyia was also bettering herself and her own skills in people management, learning to control a group, exhibit leadership tendencies and foster a sense of inclusion among all the teens.

“There’s always that one kid in the corner who doesn’t talk a lot and doesn’t participate as much,” she says. “So I would bring him into the group during social activities, make him the center of attention, and teach these kids that they all have things in common with one another, even when they think they don’t.”

Although her early motivation for getting involved in WVSU 4-H was purely personal (“I needed the money,” she says), that first summer as a HSTA mentor stuck with her and brought her back for more. She has mentored with various 4-H camps almost every summer since.

Now 25, Jameyia is a WVSU graduate with her B.A. in English and is eyeing possibilities both within and beyond West Virginia. She is finding that being a mentor is not only a job but a way of life.

“I was at the pool and was approached by a former camper,” she says. “He saw me the same way he saw me at camp: as a role model. So I’m always sure to present myself appropriately and professionally, whether it’s at my job, at the pool or on social media.”

In fact, a sense of pride, class and professionalism is one she has attempted to instill in several of the teens she’s helped, especially girls.

“I’ll admit, girls are often worse than boys. I see them posting things on social media and ask them, ‘Is this how you want to present yourself? Is this the woman you want people to see you as?’ And they get it.”

Camp organizers were quick to realize that Jameyia also “got it.”

“She is the epitome of a true mentor,” says Kelli Batch, WVSU’s assistant director for 4-H. “I saw the potential when she first came to us, and she dove into the role whole-heartedly. Being in charge of 100 teenagers was a real life lesson that allowed her to grow up quickly. Now she’s this helpful, honest and caring professional.”

Jameyia isn’t quite finished with WVSU Extension Service. Should her career search keep her in the area, she’s hoping to return to camp next summer to not only mentor a new group of teens but also help train the next crop of youth mentors.

Because, if your mentor switch is never turned off, you may as well put it to good use.

#WVSUExtensionStories: The Doctors Are In…Business!

Drs. Walter Neto and Brett Jarrell could become the next big thing in the beauty product business. This fall, with the help of Extension staff members at the WVSU Economic Development Center (EDC), the Huntington-based physicians will launch Biovita, a line of high-end cellular skin care products. It’s a success story that began, admittedly, by happenstance.

While completing his intern year of general residency conducting burn and wound healing research, Walter developed a serum to help in the skin graft healing process that proved to have anti-aging benefits. Teaming with Brett, an emergency room physician, the pair began pondering the feasibility of starting their own business. They tested the product with a select group of users in late 2013, and the response was overwhelming.

“Our users reported that their skin felt younger, silky, more hydrated,” says Brett. “Their friends were noticing a difference and were asking what products they were using to get those effects.”

As the product continued to be honed and additional items created, the urge to become entrepreneurs increased, with one glitch: medical school curriculum doesn’t cover launching and sustaining a small business.

“Having a good product and successfully marketing it as a business are two very different things,” admits Walter. The doctors needed help, and that’s where WVSU Extension Service stepped in.

While visiting the EDC with a writer friend, Brett met WVSU’s Community and Economic Development Specialist Sarah Halstead and liked what she had to say about startup business development. Soon, Brett and Walter were enrolled in Lean Startup 60X, an intensive business training course piloted at the EDC.

“We embrace and teach Lean Startup principles. We joke about the tagline associated with Lean Startup—fail fast, succeed faster—but that’s what we help people do,” says Sarah. “It’s been exciting to see Walter and Brett launch landing pages and social media campaigns designed to test their initial business and customer assumptions, and pivot based on the feedback. They’ve gained valuable customer insight that ultimately changed how they position their products.”

Now they’re equipped with skills and knowledge they never realized they’d need.

“We’ve learned to challenge our assumptions — to find out what people want versus what you think they want,” says Brett, pointing to the impact that the EDC’s educational resources have had on their process. The course had them hitting the streets of Charleston, talking with actual consumers about their wants and needs in a skin care product.

Throughout the 60-day program, the pair worked with writers, designers, financial advisors and marketing experts who helped them turn their anti-aging serum into an entire Biovita line of products — marketable ones.

Once launched, the line will include moisturizer, exfoliant and eye cream, available for purchase from the company’s website and through other online retailers to start, with in-store distribution in the works. And while the product is a local creation, its audience is much larger.

“We want to see where this can go,” says Walter. “Our goal is to take it internationally.”

An ambitious goal for a company that the creators admit was started on a lark? Not at all, say the experts.

“The playing field for startups is more level than ever now, with broadband, social media and access to affordable technology that didn’t even exist a year ago,” says Sarah. “People with a variety of business ideas are attracted to the EDC and its resources. We’ve created virtual and physical resources, and have nurtured a community of entrepreneurs who can test their assumptions and develop customers using fast, direct, cost-effective methods. We’re happy to help them fail fast, so they can succeed faster.”

Look for the Biovita line of products this fall.