Each year Jackson Kelly holds an anniversary luncheon for the teachers and volunteers involved in the Jackson Kelly Education Elevators Program. Pictured are (front row) Kristina Kendrick, Douglas Crouse, Vivian Basdekis, Matt Tyree; (back row) Dr. Jim McJunkin (Thomas McJunkin's brother), Martha Nepa, Julie Swanson, Kellie Clark, Patricia Nidiffer, Lea Perkins, Erin Stankewicz and Allison McJunkin. (Courtesy photo)

This character award is given in Tom McJunkin's honor.

CHARLESTON – The Jackson Kelly Education Elevators Program celebrated its fourth anniversary in March. It was the first anniversary since the passing of the program's founder.

Thomas McJunkin died on Oct. 8, 2011, after a four-year battle with cancer at the age of 62.

Each year Jackson Kelly holds an anniversary luncheon for the teachers and volunteers involved in the program.

JKEEP is a mentoring program that Jackson Kelly developed in 2008 in partnership with Piedmont Elementary School in Charleston where mentors, who are known as Elevators, are matched students from the school.

"Once each week, Elevators visit the students they are matched with and they spend that time doing any number of things," said Erin Stankewicz, an attorney at Jackson Kelly and a member of JKEEP. "It really depends on what the Elevator and the student's interests are; they can read books, play games, paint—whatever their passion is."

Stankewicz said as Elevators, their role is to be a compliment to the teacher and to work with them to give the students extra encouragement and to mentor them.

Stankewicz said the Elevator and the student can spend their time doing anything they are interested in because there is no set curriculum.

"It's very creative," Stankewicz said. "We don't have a set guideline or curriculum, we just want to be there for the students and be mentors to them. A lot of these kids don't have anyone in their lives to just sit down and read with them or encourage them and be a role model."

After McJunkin's death, his daughter, Ali McJunkin, stepped in to continue her father's vision of the program.

"Ali has really taken the reigns," Stankewicz said. "She established JKEEP as a non-profit and is working on a handbook for the program, too."

Stankewicz said Ali McJunkin has also been working on having a space for the Elevators and students to meet within the school that would be just for the Elevators and the students.

"Ali is working on a dedicated space just for JKEEP, which will be in Tom's honor," Stankewicz said. "One attorney at Jackson Kelly has already donated more than $1,400 in books for the memorial library."

Ali McJunkin said Piedmont is dedicating a space in the school for the Elevators to meet with their students and JKEEP is trying to raise funds to outfit the space with furniture, books and supplies, recruit and train more Elevators and create an "Empowerment Fund" to help provide students with the tools they need for success.

"We hope to eventually get other businesses involved," Ali McJunkin said. "Businesses have the ability and responsibility to make a positive impact on our communities. Involvement in JKEEP is just one of the limitless ways businesses can permit employees to engage in personally satisfying and collectively important work, which, in turn, can benefit their job satisfaction and the business enterprise as a whole."

Ali McJunkin said JKEEP was her father's biggest passion.

"When my father passed away, I wanted to make sure it remained stable," Ali McJunkin said. "He started it because he believed education was important and believed businesses had to opportunity to make an impact."

Ali McJunkin said the Elevators help their students with self confidence and give them hope, which, in turn, reflects in other areas of their lives.

"When kids have more self confidence, it shows in their school work and the way they interact with others," Ali McJunkin said. "My dad thought that little things made a huge difference and one of the first things he taught was to have a firm hand shake and to make good eye contact—they seem like small things, but they make a difference."

Stankewicz said teachers at Piedmont have told them the students look forward to seeing the Elevators each week.

"The students enjoy having someone who they can trust, someone who believes in them and encourages them. Being a mentor to a student can really make an impact in their lives," Stankewicz said.

Stankewicz said JKEEP has also established a character award in Thomas McJunkin's honor that will be given to a fifth grade student upon graduation.

"We want to honor and remember him," Stankewicz said. "He always believed the only two things kids needed to succeed were the ability to read and aspirations."

The award will be given to one fifth grade student who shows integrity, loyalty and strength of character and who provides a shining example to fellow students.

The Jackson Kelly Education Elevators Program (JKEEP) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions in support of Fund can be made through The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation, 900 Lee Street East, P.O. Box 3041, Charleston WV 25331. Phone: 1-800-467-5909. Online: www.gkvf.org

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