Five Qs: Kristina Marshall of Winning Futures

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Kristina Marshall, president and CEO of Winning Futures, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about the growth of the nonprofit, which provides business mentorships for youth in southeastern Michigan, as well as its upcoming Rare Everyday Heroes Awards.

1. DDN: How has the nonprofit program grown?

KM: We’ve greatly evolved. In 1994, we had 50 students that were being mentored at Warren Mott High School. And now, it’s our 20th anniversary, and we’ve impacted over 30,000 students through the program. We impact 1,300 kids a year locally, and schools and nonprofits across the country have actually purchased our strategic planning and mentoring curriculum to implement in their own organizations. So now we’re impacting kids across the country.

2. DDN: What is the mission of the organization?

KM: We help kids explore who they are: their strengths, their talents, their likes, their dislikes. We help them create a five-year plan for their future and help them learn how to set goals to attain that vision. We work on career planning, setting detail-specific goals, and job readiness skills, so that by the time they’re done with our program, after they’ve been in our class for the year with a business mentor, they have laid out a strategic plan for their future.

The program is for all students. We believe that every student deserves a winning future. It doesn’t matter what their background is or what capabilities or resources they have. If they learn to set goals, create a long-term vision for their future, and have a business mentor, they can attain the level of personal success they want to have.

3. DDN: Why do you select business professionals to serve as mentors?

KM: Because that’s the area where young people don’t have connections. If you have a young person who has no idea what they want to do for a career or knows what they want to do, but don’t have anybody to talk to about it, it leads them into a sense of uncertainty and fear. If you can pair them with a businessperson that can talk to them about continuing education — showing them it can be fun and exciting — that can be motivating and help them see those small steps all lead to that career. So we pair one business mentor with three students and do small group mentoring. We pair youth with mentors based on interests, careers, and gender, so a male mentor would have boy mentees.

4. DDN: How does the Rare Everyday Heroes program play into all of this?

KM: In 2009, we worked with Gil Cox Jr., the founder of Rare and merged it into Winning Futures. Rare is about honoring role models in the community, whereas Winning Futures is about pairing role models with kids in the community. So we had similar missions and we both had scholarship programs providing high school students with continuing education opportunities. We’ve continued to operate the (Rare) program ever since.

The cool thing about this program is that once a year we take nominations in two different ways. One is through our high school scholarship program, where high school seniors across the state of Michigan apply for scholarships and write about an everyday hero in their community that’s making an impact. We select five students and give them each a $2,500 scholarship and then we honor their hero. Then in Detroit, individuals in the business community nominate people working in the for-profit industry who are making an impact in the local community.

5. DDN: What traits do you look for among the honorees?

KM: The people that we honor through Rare are the people we try to recruit as members for our mentoring program. We’re accepting nominations right now, and what we’re looking for are everyday people, people that don’t have news stores written about them or awards on their counter. Often, when people think of awards, they think it has to be for the CEO of a big corporation or the founder of a business. We’re looking for people who aren’t celebrities, but citizens of the state of Michigan who are naturally engaged with helping others. Maybe it’s a receptionist that’s always rallying the employees to help somebody in need, or it’s somebody in human resources who has helped create a fund for someone hit by a tragedy. Any person can be an everyday hero. It’s just the acts they’re doing that set them apart from others.

To nominate someone for the Winning Futures’ Rare Everyday Hero program, visit winningfutures.org by the May 1 deadline. Selected winners and their nominator will be invited to the Night of Heroes Event in July at the Emagine Theatres in Royal Oak.

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