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"Bulldog Buddies" student mentees, seated from left, are Devin Baker, Jasmine Baker, Jalesa Bridges, Steve Tuttle, Union College mentor Robin Kinman and student mentees John Rodriquez, Angel Lozeno, Brandon Fisher, and Jeffery Smith; back row, Union College mentors Olivia Brock, Cody Thompson, Sideek Sanogo, and Kyle Hathorn.

Going to college once seemed an unobtainable goal for Barbourville middle school student Brandon Fisher. That opinion—and his life—quickly changed when he became involved in the “Bulldog Buddies” mentoring program.

“At first, I didn’t want to go to college,” Brandon, now a seventh-grade student at Knox County Middle School, said. “After I met Kyle, and we talked for a while, I started to get interested in going to college.”

Brandon and Kyle Hathorn, a senior at Union College, became “Bulldog Buddies” through a peer mentoring program revived by the college and merged with an existing program presented by Forward in the Fifth and The Center for Rural Development.

The two were recently reunited on the campus of Union College when mentors and mentees met to celebrate the success and return of the “Bulldog Buddies” program.

During the program, Jim Tackett, executive director of Forward in the Fifth, presented certificates to participants who successfully completed the peer mentoring program.

“One of the most memorable experiences in each person’s life is to recollect someone we looked up to and sought advice from,” Tackett said. “Through this mentoring program, we had the opportunity to unite young adults with middle school students in this community to help plant and cultivate ideas of opportunity and possibility.”

This is the second time Forward in the Fifth, a non-profit organization created in the mid-1980s by U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05) with local business and community leaders, has partnered with a major Kentucky college or university to help change the lives of young people in Southern and Eastern Kentucky.

The goal of Forward in the Fifth, an affiliate of The Center for Rural Development, is to reverse low educational attainment levels in the Fifth Congressional District.

In 2009, Forward in the Fifth joined Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia to launch a peer mentoring program in South Central Kentucky. The organization recently kicked off another mentoring program with the University of Pikeville to serve students in five Pike County schools.

“It’s easy to find a professional athlete or rock star to idolize, but it’s important to have people in our students’ lives who have already walked the road before them—someone who understands the challenges they face better than anyone else in the country,” U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05), who created Forward in the Fifth in 1986 with other leaders to help raise the educational attainment levels in the Fifth Congressional District, said. “Not only are these college mentors providing guidance and hope, but they are stepping out as leaders to improve the generation following in their footsteps.”

The “Bulldog Buddies” mentoring program, which was revived last fall after several years’ absence, continues to make a difference in the lives of Knox County students and their families.

“Brandon has started working harder in school to keep his grades up and is doing much better,” Diane Fisher, Brandon’s mother, wrote in a letter to Forward in the Fifth, an affiliate of The Center. “Before, he didn’t want to go to college, and now he strives harder to make sure his grades stay up so that he can.”

While Kyle has been more like a “big brother” to Brandon, he gives Brandon all the credit for changing his outlook on life.

“Honestly, there were times when we would work on homework, but I think I was just there for him,” Kyle said while spending time with Brandon at Union College. “The smile on his face when I walked into the room was awesome.”

Gabrielle Mellendorf, director of community outreach for Union College, said plans are already under way to continue the “Bulldog Buddies” program.

“When I received a telephone call from Jim Tackett with Forward in the Fifth, we were looking for a way to revamp our Bulldog Buddies program at Union College,” she said. “Getting that call, and making that connection with Forward in the Fifth, was exactly what we needed to jumpstart the program and get it up and running, so that we could continue to help the local schools in our area.”

Seventeen Union College students, all part of the Common Partner Program, a community service program on campus, were paired with middle school students from Barbourville Independent School during the 2010-2011 school year for the “Bulldog Buddies” mentoring program.

For more information on Forward in the Fifth or its peer mentoring program, contact Jim Tackett at 606-677-6000 or via email at