Events, Giving Back, People

Mentoring program gives higher schoolers a winning future

In the 1960s a young man was a few credits short of being able to graduate from Warren Mott High School. To help him graduate his marketing teacher and guidance counselor decided to help him find a co-op job.  The owner of a local car dealership decided to take a chance on the kid. Good decision. Eventually that young kid, Sam Cupp, became the owner of the dealership plus 27 other businesses around the country.

His alma mater decided to honor him in 1994.  Cupp shocked everyone gathered at the ceremony when he said he wanted to start a mentorship program for students to give them the chance he was given.  He announced he wanted to start a scholarship program as well.

Mentor Lyndon Williams, photo from Winning Futures

Fast-forward 17 years and Winning Futures is providing after-school mentoring to high school kids in Warren, Sterling Heights, Pontiac, Oak Park and Detroit.  Cupp’s first mentee, Kris Marshall, is now running the organization.  The activities and structure of the organization has been developed into a curriculum that is used by after-school mentoring programs in 38 different states.

“We are a small, grass roots non-profit organization and it’s exciting to know we are impacting that many people across the country,” says Marshall, E.D., president and CEO of Winning Futures.

The impact on the students is great … almost as great as the impact on the volunteers.  Marshall noted the structure of the program makes it easy for people to become mentors.  By providing activities after school for the mentoring relationships, the mentors no longer have to worry about planning events or incurring expense in order to help their mentee. This point is critical because men on average make up 30 percent of all mentors while the population of boys looking for a mentor is 70 percent.  Winning Futures bucks that trend with 52 percent of their mentors are men.

Marshall acknowledges the structure and curriculum provided by her organization makes these numbers possible, but it is also the way they approach men interested in becoming a mentor.

“We’re not asking them to come in and be a new dad,” she says.  “We are just asking them to become a role model, a leader for this person.”

For volunteer mentor Lisa Crawford going into a high school for the first time since she graduated was intimidating.  She says she was probably more nervous than the three girls she was mentoring but she pushed through that initial fear and has found her experience gratifying.  Watching them all make the honor role and improve their attendance was important, but it was the appreciation they showed for her time that seems to matter most.

Mentor Lisa Crawford, photo from Winning Futures

She recalls her first year making a unique name card for her mentees each time she met with them.  It took a lot of work and it seemed the girls were not appreciative, so she decided to give it one more week and she would stop taking the time to decorate the name cards.  That week, her quietest mentee showed her a picture of the inside of her locker door.  She’d had saved each one of the cards and used them to line the inside door of her locker.

“That was a huge breakthrough for me to know I was making an impact …it mattered to them,” she says.  “Even reliving it now gives me chills.  It was like ‘oh my gosh, I’m making an impact.’  The things I thought wouldn’t matter ended up mattering a bunch.”

To Crawford, helping her girls learn how to set goals and work toward them helped her gain that skill as well.  She watched them grow academically and as leaders.  Ask her and she will emphatically tell you that is all the reward she needs.

Winning Futures is looking for volunteer mentors for their upcoming programs at Cass Technical High School and Harper Woods High School.  A volunteer recruitment event is being held at Hockeytown Cafe on September 30.  RSVP’s are required.  For more information please contact them at or call 586.698.4418.

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