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GM helps students paint a better picture of Detroit with community service projects

The General Motors Student Corps

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Editor Note: During the North American International Auto Show, Detroit Unspun/The HUB will bring you stories of what the auto industry is doing to help improve Detroit’s neighborhoods.

A fifth-year student at the University of Detroit-Mercy found his career path and a number of new friends by supervising high school students, college interns and General Motors retirees for summer adventures in community building.

“The fun thing was empowering students to be involved in changing their communities, see them tackle big projects and shape their future with the help of mentors,” says Matt Ybarra, 22. He will receive his MBA in spring and hopes to stay involved with the GM Student Corps as a coordinator.

The student project provides high school students with paid internships and the opportunity to give back to their neighborhoods through community improvement projects they plan and complete. In 2015 the project involved 55 GM retirees, 14 college interns, nearly all from UD Mercy, along with countless GM volunteers. They mentored 130 students at 13 schools for 10 weeks. The program began in 2013.

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra meets with GM Student Corps members and mentors in the courtyard at Osborn High School. Student Corps members and GM employee volunteers are cleaning-up the high school, boarding up vacant residences, whacking weeds and mowing lawns as part of the non-profit Life Remodeled effort to make over the 4.5 square-mile Osborn neighborhood. A record 3,700 volunteers from GM are participating in this year's effort. (Photo by Steve Fecht)

General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra meets with GM Student Corps members and mentors in the courtyard at Osborn High School. Student Corps members and GM employee volunteers are cleaning-up the high school, boarding up vacant residences, whacking weeds and mowing lawns as part of the non-profit Life Remodeled effort to make over the 4.5 square-mile Osborn neighborhood. A record 3,700 volunteers from GM are participating in this year’s effort. (Photo by Steve Fecht)

“One by one Student Corps is changing the equation that defines these young people,” says Mark Reuss, executive vice president of GM Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “For many students this internship is their first job, addressing an immediate financial need while putting them on a path to success.

Ybarra says the high school students soak up knowledge from GM retirees like sponges once they realize the older folks are there to help them. Mentors not only help them size up the jobs, find the tools to do the work and the motivation to stay on course, they forge relationships that last well into the school year.

Retirees and UD Mercy supervisors stay connected with regular check-ins through the school year. Mentor shave joined the students on college visits, helped them find work, assisted in college applications and attended graduation ceremonies. Mentors also coach students on points of etiquette, such as shaking hands, making eye contact, tying a necktie and conversing with adults.

“Much credit goes to the high school students themselves. I’m proud of their suggestions. A group from River Rouge chose to redo a bridge because it is the first thing people see upon entrance to the city and the last on the way out. When they finished gardening it looked so nice,” Ybarra says.

To explore careers, students toured the GM design center, GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, the GM Proving Grounds, GM dealerships, Focus: HOPE, WXYZ-TV and other local businesses. They spent a celebration day at UD Mercy playing with robots, watching the chemistry club perform experiments and touring the campus.

“So many high school students would perform better if they had the kind of support they need and desire. This program has helped inspire young people to aspire to college and explore scholarship opportunities,” says Pamela Rhodes Todd, director of pre-college programs for the College of Engineering and Science.

GM retiree Brad Rogers, right, lends a hand as GM Student Corps worker Alexander Markarian, left, clears weeds and other plants from outside City Hall in Madison Heights

GM retiree Brad Rogers, right, lends a hand as GM Student Corps worker Alexander Markarian, left, clears weeds and other plants from outside City Hall in Madison Heights (Photo by Rob Widdis for GM)

The 2015 schools included Central Collegiate Academy, Detroit Public Schools Cody Campus, East Detroit High School, Flint Southwestern Academy, Hamtramck High School, Harper Woods High School, Henry Ford High School, Madison High School, Melvindale High School, Detroit Publics Schools Osborn Campus, Pontiac High School, River Rouge High School and Van Dyke Lincoln High School.

Individual schools selected students based on their leadership potential, determination, participation in school activities and academic performance.

General Motors Student Corps workers Sierra Stewart, 17, left, Brittany Carney, 17, center, and Alyssa Davis, 17, right, spread mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren (Photo by Rob Widdis for General Motors)

General Motors Student Corps workers Sierra Stewart, 17, left, Brittany Carney, 17, center, and Alyssa Davis, 17, right, spread mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren (Photo by Rob Widdis for GM)

The GM-sponsored program is an extension of its commitment to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan. The GM Foundation gave a $271 million grant, the largest in its history, to help raise graduation rates at targeted Detroit-area high schools.

The GM Foundation also supports the Forgotten Harvest Million Meal Challenge with a $50,000 grant that enables the food pantry to provide sack lunches all summer to kids enrolled in the school lunch assistance program. The organization sponsors Reading and Rhythm on the Riverfront in summer whereby kids ages 3 to 10 come to the Detroit riverfront two days a week to see live entertainment, hear a story read by a local celebrity and receive a free book.

The summer youth strategy is one part of an overarching program to help surrounding communities in its headquarter city. In addition to students and mentors, the neighborhood residents step forward when they see their parks and buildings are being spiffed up. City employees lend their time and equipment. Last year the teams renovated 15 school and 17 parks. They removed 1,844 bags of trash, spread 208 yards of mulch, used 157 gallons of paint, refurbished 232 fire hydrants, and constructed more than 300 benches and picnic tables.

General Motors Student Corps worker T.J. Nguyen, 16, lays down mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren (Photo by Rob Widdis for General Motors)

General Motors Student Corps worker T.J. Nguyen, 16, lays down mulch on the grounds of Lincoln High School in Warren (Photo by Rob Widdis for GM)

“GM Student Corps shows the tremendous impact companies can make by harnessing the power of their retires and employees to mentor young people,” says Heidi Magyar, director of GM’s new community outreach group. “The program helps build communities with a ‘lead where you are’ mindset that instills teamwork, determination and pride in themselves and their communities.”

– Top photo by Jose Juarez for GM

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