5Qs: CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters on Giving Kids Exposure to Career Opportunities


DBusiness Daily News spoke with Jeannine Gant, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit, about the nonprofit’s programs that partner corporations with young adults, and why it’s important to give them work experience.

1. DDN: What services does Big Brothers Big Sisters provide?

(We service) Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, and we do community-based mentoring, school-based mentoring, and site-based mentoring. Community-based mentoring is what you would think of as traditional mentoring — we have “bigs” and “littles.” The “littles” are the youth and the “bigs” are the mentors that dedicate four hours a month to being a friend, a role model, someone who can spend time with them and be a motivator for them. They go to the movies and talk about school and relationships. Really, it’s just someone who doesn’t mind spending some time with the kids and making a difference in their lives. On average, our relationships last about two years, and I say on average because we have some relationships that have lasted 20 years and more — mentors who become an instrumental part of a child’s life, they see them graduate high school and college, and get married and have kids.

2. DDN: What other mentoring programs does Big Brothers Big Sisters offer?

We also do school-based mentoring, so we have what’s called a lunch buddies program where we partner with various corporations in the community. Corporations will lend their employees to come and volunteer a couple of times per month for an hour during lunchtime and we facilitate activities. For example, we have a relationship with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and they focus (their lunch sessions) more on health and so a lot of conversation around lunchtime would be about healthy living. We also have a relationship with General Motors and Chrysler, and the conversation may be more around leadership development.

3. DDN: Why is it important to expose kids to career opportunities at a young age?

A lot of kids and schools we work with, in a lot of cases, are low income. Oftentimes, kids are struggling with graduation and don’t graduate from high school. One of the things that we know is that most career pathways involve a high school diploma or high school degree. When you have an opportunity to be in a worksite mentoring program (called Beyond the School Walls) it’s very intentional around those things that a child needs to do to be successful. Things that are very intentional (about the program) including how to build a resume, and what is business etiquette in terms of communications and interpersonal skills.

4. DDN: How are mentoring programs like Beyond the School Walls beneficial for companies?

Essentially what a corporation is doing is looking at preparing a potential youth workforce. At the same time, for the current employee, it allows the employee to see that their corporation cares about the community in which they work. Especially with millennials, you see more and more millennials that are interested in companies that do good will in the community. We can actually bring the program to (a company). For the school, these kids get excited and they’re fired up to be in downtown (Detroit). So if you’re a kid and you go to an east or west side high school, you might not necessarily have an opportunity to get out of your neighborhood. This actually brings (the kids) down to where everything is happening in the city. … This offers them an opportunity to be a part of it. We work closely with the corporations to create a customized program specifically for their employees and what they want to do.

5: DDN: What are your goals for the organization moving forward?

Our goal is to continue to be relevant for the community, and that the community is inclusive of the youths and families that we serve but also the corporate partners that we partner with. How can we be relevant for them? How can we offer them a great return on investment? It’s (important) for an organization of our stature to be able to sustain and be relevant in the Detroit community and continue to identify ways for companies to get involved and for people to see that they can really help make an instrumental and impactful difference for the youth in our community.