Heidi grew up in a family that never shied from fostering youth and working with other individuals from challenging backgrounds. She realized at an early age that giving back was important, and how incredibly lucky and blessed she was. Still, she never saw herself as different from any of the people welcomed into her home and life. All were simply part of her larger family, and thus naturally developed a profound commitment to the idea that, “I am my brothers’ keeper.” Others have never been “others” to Heidi.
In high school, college and graduate school, she enjoyed serving in a variety of social service organizations. But her experience as a Big Sister with Big Brother Big Sister of Monroe County, in Bloomington, IN while an undergraduate, became the transformational event which played a critical role in the idea of College Mentors for Kids.
While a graduate music student in New York, NY, Heidi put together a concert and art series to raise money for charitable causes close to her heart, like the Fresh Air Fund and Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS (BCEFA). A high school intern at BCEFA that summer, Kristin Fogg Huang, became Heidi’s right-hand in building the concert series’ that summer; a great friendship and partnership was forged!
Though there are great stories in between – like another concert series and an organization for underserved artists founded while Heidi was in Italy studying opera – and for which Kristin visited and assisted yet again! – we’ll jump ahead to 1995, the founding year of College Mentors. Heidi had just returned from a year abroad and was back in Bloomington pursuing premedical coursework, and Kristin was engaged in her undergraduate studies there. Wanting to continue to impact the disenfranchised but now in a healthcare-related way, Heidi began to work on a novel program that could positively impact the youth she had encountered as a Big Sister in Bloomington, IN just a few years prior. From her foster-sibling experience she realized intervention programs for teens were often too little too late – so she focused on impacting elementary school children, who were just embarking on their academic journeys. Believing college students to be a valuable, yet untapped resource for children, she set out to design a program that would harness the energy, idealism, and resources that college students and a university campus could offer children. The mission centered on opening windows of opportunity for underserved children. The idea was simple: by exposing impressionable children to positive opportunities they might make healthier life choices and achieve: 1) the knowledge of opportunities they would not have otherwise had; 2) achieving a future in which they are financially independent; and 3) becoming adults who give back to their communities.
Heidi engaged Kristin, once again. With their dreams of inspiring and building brighter futures for children and a year of planning, College Mentors applied for non-profit status in 1996 and opened its doors as an official 501(c)3 in 1997. Pilot programs at Indiana University and Butler University paired mentors with 33 kids in the fall and spring of 1996. The following summer, College Mentors opened state-wide headquarters and in the next few years, Heidi and Kristin, along with other state staff, established four additional chapters, and helped lay the groundwork for 2 other chapters before their departure in 2000. That year, Heidi honored Kristin with the title of co-founder, an honor due for all of the extraordinary work and ideas she brought to bear on the development of College Mentors in the founding years, especially in the areas of child development, psychology and literacy.
Today Kristin has a doctorate of education in human development and psychology and Heidi is a physician. Both continue to work for those struggling to overcome great odds.
- 1995 – Indiana University students Heidi Schmidt and Kristin Huang were united by a common goal: to improve children’s lives by encouraging education. College Mentors for Kids is officially founded!
- 1996 – Kids in need of a mentor attend activities at pilot chapters at Indiana University and Butler University for the very first time.
- 2004 – College Mentors grows outside of Indiana! Our Illinois State University chapter opens and starts mentoring kids.
- 2008 – College Mentors hits a milestone – reaching and mentoring more than 1,000 kids during a single program year.
- 2013 – The College Mentors for Kids board of directors makes a commitment to growing into a national organization. Our first chapter outside of the Midwest opens in Ithaca, NY at Cornell University.
- Today – College Mentors is celebrating 20 years of mentoring kids and empowering college students. For the first time, we’re serving more than 2,000 kids a year.
o You can help College Mentors continue to grow to mentor more kids in new places across the country. Bring College Mentors to your community!
o Sign up to become a mentor at one of our 33 chapters!