Community engagement can be a major determinant in business success – people prefer to work with companies that give back to their neighbors. But while there are plenty of mundane ways businesses can partner with the community, such as adopt-a-highway programs or volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, these activities often fail to make a long-term difference. For companies that want to build connections and change lives, one of the best community engagement options is mentoring.
Focus On the Future
High school graduation rates are dismal in the United States. In 2003, 1 in 5 students didn’t finish high school and the numbers haven’t improved much in the past decade. Mentorship programs, though, can help improve these rates and support student potential. Students in mentorship programs are more likely to graduate, to go on to college, and pursue job opportunities. You can support that trajectory.
Working with high school students to improve graduation rates is especially important in urban areas. Rates tend to be highest in higher income, suburban regions, while urban school districts are more vulnerable to high drop out rates. Community programs shouldn’t just work with easy to reach youth – they need to cross class and access lines.
Open Up New Spaces
High-risk young people often struggle due to environmental factors that you can mitigate through community programs. For example, since 1924, businesses, teachers, and social workers have been sponsoring summer camp opportunities through Hands In 4 Youth, while many companies sponsor sports teams in their local area. If you encourage employees to volunteer with these teams, they can build meaningful relationships with youth that pay-off for both parties.
As a small business owner, having a mentor can be invaluable in reducing your isolation and boosting your business confidence. That’s why it should be no surprise that offering mentoring and internship programs is very successful and beneficial for the young people involved.
If you’re considering starting an internship program, it’s useful to look at existing programs as models. For example, the city of Madison in Wisconsin has a very successful program called the Wanda Fullmore Summer Internship Program. This particular program is targeted to youth who want to learn about local government and is an expansion of a program targeting young men of color who are often excluded from such opportunities. That’s an added value proposition for any program in a marketplace where, often, only wealthy youth can afford to take an internship.
It’s also possible to start a mentoring program that’s freestanding – not affiliated with an internship program. These are ideal for high school students who may not be internship ready, depending on the setting. Mentoring programs need clearly defined goals and strong evaluation standards to help students meet achievement goals. Ultimately, though, your company gets to define what your aims are based on community stakeholders.
Commitment to community circles back to benefit everyone. It connects businesses to the youth who are the next generation of workers. It helps to reduce crime, boost graduation rates, and propel students to college and career success. And employees benefit too; they connect with the community and learn leadership skills, regardless of current employment level. And mentoring relationships, even when the program is limited, often last a lifetime.
Author: Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who regularly covers tech, business, marketing, and social media. Follow her on Twitter.