KALAHEO — For Bronwyn Kay, getting help to make sense of the college application process made all the difference.
“There’s a lot to think about and deal with, so it helps to have someone that has the answers,” she said.
Kay, who graduated from Kauai High School in May, was one of eight high school students from around the island who participated in the The Bridge: Kauai to College program, which guides Kauai teenagers through the process of applying to college, free of charge.
From preparing students for interviews and exploring scholarship options to editing college essays, mentors are on hand to make sure their students get into college.
Because they want to be able to be with students as long as they can, the group likes to mentor students in their sophomore and junior years, said Susan Davis, president.
The group, which recently became a nonprofit, began in May 2016, and by August of that year, students were signing up, Davis said.
Kay, a Kalaheo resident, became a “Bridge Kid” after her grandparents heard about the program through a presentation Davis gave at Koloa Union Church.
“I wasn’t looking into college until my senior year,” she said. “And I didn’t realize what I wanted in a school. No one tells you things like state versus private schools and big campuses versus small ones.”
Kay, who is pursuing a double major in physics and engineering at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state, was paired up with Tory O’Malley.
O’Malley, who also lives in Kalaheo, said she wanted to become a mentor as a way to pay it forward after a friend, Marilyn Allen, helped guide her own daughter through the application process.
“My daughter was more than capable of going to college, but I was scared of the price,” she said.
Allen, who serves as vice president of The Bridge: Kauai to College, said it’s about making students and parents aware of the scholarships out there.
“(They) don’t realize there are funds available from colleges,” she said. “And that’s a surprise for people.”
Kay and O’Malley meet once a month.
In addition to helping Kay find scholarships, O’Malley proofread her admission essays, conducted mock interviews and wrote college recommendation letters.
Kay said it was beneficial having someone to keep her on her toes.
“It definitely kept me more motivated and organized,” she said. “When I graduated and knew I was going to college, it was such a relief.”
O’Malley also had a role in helping Kay decide to attend Pacific Lutheran University.
“I have a box of folders filled with scholarships and information about the different colleges I went to. I went to Tory’s house with five of them, and we talked about what the different schools had to offer.”
She said she eventually settled on Pacific Lutheran University because it gave her a chance to pursue a science degree as well as take humanitarian classes as part of that degree.
“You don’t normally get to do both,” she said.
If the students decide to come back to Kauai, Allen said it’s about empowering them to make positive changes in the world.
“They can come back educated and be able to help the community,” she said. “Theres the possibility for leadership for our island, and they can do it in a place they love.”
For the leaders of The Bridge: Kauai to College, the organization is more than just guiding students through the murky waters of college applications.
Through fundraising efforts, they hope to raise money to send their kids off-island to get other educational experiences. Money also goes to helping pay for college applications and college-admission testing fees.
A fundraising gala was hosted last year, and plans are already in the works for a Brazilian-themed fundraiser in December.
For O’Malley, the most rewarding part of the experience is seeing Kay succeed.
“And I don’t take credit for that. She had it in her,” she said.