NPCC students give back through the Helping Hands program
NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (Nebraska) – North Platte Community College students are getting as much from a local mentoring program as the youth they are serving. A group of NPCC students have been working with the North Platte Public Schools Helping Hands program since last fall.
Through part-time and paid positions, NPCC students are responsible for serving as positive role models for elementary students identified through NPPS as having behavioral health needs. NPCC students provide classroom support, keep students engaged, help with coping skills, and follow up and implement behavior improvement plans. Mentoring is done in class, at lunchtime, during recess, in PE periods and after school, according to a North Platte Community College news release.
Brandy Buscher, director of NPPS student services, and Maggie Butler, coordinator of NPPS student services, came up with the idea for Helping Hands after seeing data released by the University of Nebraska Medical Center on the shortage of mental health professionals in rural Nebraska.
According to a UNMC report, 88 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are designated as federal mental health professional shortage areas (HPSAs). Eighty counties have a psychiatrist-to-population ratio below the federal HPSA ratio of one in 30,000, and 78 counties have no practicing psychiatrists.
“With Helping Hands, we’re really trying to ‘grow ours,'” Buscher said. “The thinking was that if we could recruit students from the college and get them to fall in love with our NPPS family, hopefully they would continue to work with youth and behavioral health needs. We understand that they will likely move on and pursue a higher level, but hopefully one day they will consider coming back and working for us or at least within the community.”
NPCC Psychology Instructor Courtney Johnston is in charge of referring college students to Helping Hands. All referrals must go through a formal hiring process with NPPS which includes submitting an application, interview and background check.
Johnston said he has noticed a huge difference in those who are selected to be mentors.
“Helping Hands is a great program,” Johnston said. “The college students I’ve talked to say being a mentor has changed their lives. Not only have they been able to gain work experience that will look great for future employment, but the opportunity has shaped the direction of their lives, from educational interests to career goals.”
Matthew Wright, of North Platte, is one example. After graduating from Sutherland High School in 2021, he joined the Army National Guard with plans to pursue a career in the Army. His plans changed when an illness delayed his deployment.
“I had always heard great things about NPCC, so I decided to sign up there,” Wright said. “I started studying criminal justice and had decided to transfer to the University of Nebraska Omaha for medicine when I started taking psychology classes with Courtney. She suggested I apply for the Helping Hands program and I’m so glad I did.
He now spends every weekday from 8am to 5:30pm working for the North Platte Public Schools, both through Helping Hands and as part of the Kids Klub after-school program.
“With Helping Hands, I help high-risk students develop coping skills,” Wright said. “Some students have very high energy, so it often means that I walk corridors with them or do activities to use up some of that energy so they can focus when it’s re-implemented in class. Other times, I sit with them in class to keep them engaged.
Wright serves as a mentor to 12 students. Some see them several times a week and others, who don’t need as much support, work them a few times a week.
“As I counsel kids with behavior problems, the best part has been watching them emerge from the program and succeed in everyday life,” Wright said. “It’s such a wonderful feeling. I can’t even explain it.
It has made a huge difference in what he wants to do with his life.
“Helping Hands definitely changed my perspective,” Wright said. “I know it’s a cliché, but the show made me realize that children are 100% of our future. You never meet the same one twice and when you see them in such different conditions, you want to love them all and support them in any way you can.
Since joining Helping Hands, Wright has decided to shift his focus to developmental psychology and social work. His goal is to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees in those fields.
“My ultimate goal is to get a doctorate and then go back to work for North Platte Public Schools,” Wright said. “I hope one day he can get a professorship.”
More information about Helping Hands and the opportunities it offers can be found online at nppsd.org.
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