Charting a different course:Sandusky-raised sisters collaborate on GapQuest, gap-year program designed with work-life balance – and budgeting – in mind

Hayley Kempton Studer and Melanie Kempton got to talking, as sisters do.

And the women – who grew up in Sandusky and attended Sandusky High School but now both call the Toledo area home – realized they should work together. 

Kempton, after a career in education, was looking to start a business; GapQuest would offer recent high school graduates a “gap-year experience,” one designed to be “holistic.” Studer, meanwhile, was a few years into a business she’d started, achi, that works to form partnerships among entities in the Toledo area designed to improve the region’s healthcare, both in terms of the health of individuals and healthcare payment models. 

“Our whole mission and goal as a company is to improve lives, create healthier communities,” Studer says of achi, “and that's really what she was trying to do with GapQuest (by) focusing on young adults.”

Kempton, who’d spent years teaching business and marketing to high school juniors and seniors – and who last school year worked as a long-term substitute teacher at Sandusky High – found her way to this path after spending a few months working with an existing gap-year program and wanting to do things a little differently.

For starters, how does Kempton think about a gap year?

“A gap year typically is defined as an intentional break from formal schooling in order to do something to either reach a goal or to clarify what you want to do,” she says. “A lot of times people think a gap year is just, you know, a wasted year – you’re going to fall behind – but the definition really is taking an intentional time period away from school in order to figure out your next step.”

She says the idea makes a lot of sense now considering the rise in the cost of college tuition and in the cost of living in general.

“You don’t really want to go off to school or make a decision to take on a lot of student debt if you’re not exactly sure of what you want to do,” she says. “A lot of people change their major five or six times before they graduate. There’s a lot of confusion out there, and a lot of times students don’t even know all of the options that are available.”

Enter GapQuest.

A subsidiary of achi for high school graduates 18 to 20 years old willing to relocate to Toledo, GapQuest – a play on the navigation service MapQuest – is built around a “unique ‘GPS’ system,” with the GPS standing for guidance, professional development and social networking, according to a news release for the program.

However, in a recent joint phone interview with Studer and Kempton, the latter focuses on the four main components that she says make it holistic: live, work, learn and play.

Live: “Students are going to be living in group housing, and they’re going to have roommates,” she says. “They’re going to have to learn how to balance their budget and cook their own meals and figure out how to do their own chores and negotiate the social things with roommates … (while) living away from home, maybe for the first time.

Work: “We are going to have a selection of what we’re calling ‘opportunity occupations.’ And those are career fields that don’t necessarily need a four-year degree but (where) typically you need something beyond high school, either certification or an apprenticeship or industry credential of some sort. And so we’re working with local employers in the Toledo area to get students lined up with careers that (pay) higher-than-median wages but don’t require the official degree.”

Learn: “The big component of learning is financial literacy and financial fitness, and we’re working with a couple of organizations around Toledo to have financial coaching available for the students so they can learn saving, investing, budgeting, insurance housing – all of the things that they’re not teaching in school. 

Play: “(GapQuest participants will ) have the weekends free. They can explore (Metroparks Toledo). … They plan weekend adventures, get involved in fitness and social activities, community-service projects.

“We’re trying to hit all facets of a life to teach (them) how to be a thriving member of their communities,” says Kempton, who will live on-site with participants and provide classroom and one-on-one sessions with them on Friday afternoons, as GapQuest-ers will work a half-day at the week’s end. 

The pilot year will begin in the fall – with only about 12 students as they work out any potential kinks in Year One – but some of the details need to be worked out. The cost will be roughly $3,500 for the year, Kempton says, although they are looking into applying to grants to help lower that figure. On top of that, participants will be responsible for living costs, including rent, with the sisters looking for a place that can offer rent at about $400 per month. (Whether a year in the program will be nine or 12 months is still to be determined, in part because the housing component is not finalized.)

“At the end of the program, we’re hoping that it's actually a net gain financially for the students,” Kempton adds. “So even though they’re paying a fee and paying rent, with the type of job that we’re hoping that students will get and teaching them to budget, the goal is for them to have $4,000 savings at the end of the year. So they actually will earn back their program fee and earn back all their rent – assuming they’re a good budgeter. If they’re going to send money every weekend and blow their money, they won’t have any, but the goal is to have $4,000 in their pocket for whatever comes next.”