When 8th grader Dawn Harper started struggling in her science classes, her mother gave her an ultimatum: Bring your grades up or you'll never run again.
Fifteen years later, Harper is a professional track athlete and Olympian, earning a gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and a silver medal in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
Her life has been a journey, Harper said, and it wouldn't have been possible without the mentors and tutors she enlisted to help her along the way.
"I knew I had to surround myself with positive people, mentors, people who believe in you," Harper said during a pep rally at Soldan High School in St. Louis City. "Do not be afraid to reach out. To this day, I still ask for help."
Harper joined St. Louis Rams safety and pro-bowler Quintin Mikell as an ambassador for United Way's new Education Express, a region-wide effort to match adult mentors with struggling students.
Patch editor Lindsay Toler signed up to volunteer with Education Express. Check out her experiences so far on her blog:
- All Aboard the Education Express!
- The Cost of Dropping Out
"People who get mentors and tutors are pretty smart," said Cheryl Polk, executive vice president for the United Way. "They're the ones that have the type of success in life we all dream about."
The program hopes to recruit 2,000 volunteers in the St. Louis area to work as readers, mentors, homework helpers and tutors. Volunteers go through an orientation before signing up to mentor students at a school or learning center in their neighborhood.
Mikell, who has played for the Rams for two years, said he depended on his math tutors in high school and college.
"At the end of the day, they helped me get through everything," Mikell said. "If you need a mentor, if you need a tutor, go out and get it. Don't be afraid."
Mikell had a special message to the adults considering signing up for the program.
"If you have the time, if you have the ability, if you have the desire, you have to go out there and help these guys," he said.
To sign up, call 314-539-4063x2 or log on to the Education Express website.