Government shutdown slows "Big Idea" in local schools

The government shutdown is temporarily slowing the recruitment of mentors for the children of the Big Idea, a push to graduate 100 percent of current sixth-graders in 17 area schools.

But the shutdown isn't stopping community leaders from calling out for more volunteer mentors to work with the more than 1,000 members of the 2020 graduating class.

"Right now we can't do background checks on mentors, because we can't do fingerprint checks, because of the shutdown," said Dee Anne Everson, executive director of the United Way of Jackson County and the originator of the idea for the Big Idea.

Everson refuses to let a temporary problem slow the momentum of collecting volunteers for the effort.

"Everyone still needs to step up and put their best foot forward to get these kids to high school completion," Everson said.

The 1,053 students, gathered last spring from fifth-grade classrooms at 17 separate elementary schools — 16 from the Medford School District and one in Cave Junction — are the children of the Big Idea. The students are receiving help with their basic needs and their specific wishes to link them with programs that can provide for medical and dental needs, supply them clothing or YMCA memberships or one-on-one mentoring. The goal of the movement is a 100 percent high school graduation rate for the class of 2020.

"One hour a week with a healthy adult can change a kid's life forever," Everson said.

For more information call Talia Matthias at United Way at 541-773-5339 or email

— Sanne Specht

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