Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 3, 2013

Big Brothers Big Sisters taps into the power of corporate classrooms for the ultimate ROI

Comcast employee Dwayne Bien-Aime, mentors Nasir, a 
young student in the Beyond School Walls program, a partnership
with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Special to Philanthropy Journal

T. Charles Pierson

Every two weeks, hundreds of kids are welcomed to Comcast offices around the country. This experience has a big payoff: students doing better in school, getting along better with their peers and parents and gaining the confidence to graduate from high school and consider college.

It started as a “Big” experiment five and a half years ago. Today, Comcast hosts our largest workplace mentoring program in the country.

In 2008, Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern Pennsylvania teamed up with Comcast and invited students from a local elementary school to the company’s corporate headquarters in Philadelphia. The program partners with schools identified as serving low-income families, measured by the number of children who receive free and reduced-priced lunch. Big Brothers Big Sisters matched the student "Littles" in one-to-one mentoring relationships with Comcast employee "Bigs."

You can imagine wide-eyed elementary students walking into the tallest and most recognizable building in the Philadelphia skyline – 58 stories high and one of the greenest buildings in the country – and dodging visitors in the lobby to see the massive Comcast Experience Video Wall, one of the largest LED screens in the world. Also imagine the raised eyebrows from Comcast employees as a line of 35 elementary school students marches among the employees’ sea of offices, cubicles, labs and conference rooms: day one of Comcast’s Beyond School Walls program.

“Beyond School Walls is such a powerful program because it teaches children who may otherwise never have exposure outside of their neighborhood, let alone to a corporate setting, about the endless opportunities that are available to them if they positively apply themselves at school and in their community,” said Charisse R. Lillie, vice president of community Investment, Comcast Corporation, and president, Comcast Foundation.

Beyond School Walls differs from the more traditional Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring where Bigs and Littles get together after school or weekends for activities. Instead, Littles leave the walls of their classroom to spend time with their mentors in the workplace to have meaningful conversations about school work, careers and life.

Mike Wigo, manager of digital media for Comcast in
Philadelphia,shoots pool with his Little Brother (center).
Mike Wigo, manager of digital media for Comcast in Philadelphia, says this program made it easy to mentor. “This is the very first time I’ve been involved in a program like Big Brothers Big Sisters. I always wanted to work with kids, and Beyond School Walls gave me that opportunity.”

Wigo’s Little, Hansel, says the program gave him direction: “I used to be an out-of-control kid, but I’m evolving because of the advice Mike gave me.”
Hansel is an example of what can happen through corporate one-to-one mentoring and early data indicate it has powerful impact. According to 2012 Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Survey data,* one year after being enrolled in the Comcast Beyond School Walls program, Littles showed significant gains in educational expectations and social acceptance. Eighty-five percent of Comcast mentees maintained or improved in outcomes related to educational expectations. That’s 4 percent higher than other Big Brothers Big Sisters site-based programs.

The need for programs like Beyond School Walls is painfully evident. According to the U.S. Department of Education 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, one in five American students isn’t graduating. Even if students do graduate and go to college, 20 percent need remedial courses in college.

Comcast took a bold step and invited Big Brothers Big Sisters into the corporate space five years ago as part of an innovative national philanthropic partnership. Response has been overwhelming, and now 13 Comcast offices across the country host Beyond School Walls programs in which Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies carefully match and support 300 employee Bigs and their Littles.

“We have a waiting list for the program. Our employees have seen what a difference their co-workers have made in a child’s life, and they want to do the same,” said Fred Maahs, director community investment, Comcast Corporation, and vice president of the Comcast Foundation.

This unique corporate classroom concept is an example of the innovative ways Big Brothers Big Sisters is beginning to invite time-strapped professionals to become mentors and find environments that engage Littles in learning. It makes sense that the latest “mentoring classroom” is online and digital. Big Brothers Big Sisters is piloting a program called “mentor2.0.” This online mentoring program for high school students provides another “Big” opportunity for even the busiest professional, requiring only one guided email a week and one team meeting a month at participating high schools. Early data tell us graduation rates could be boosted by as much 20 percent.

America’s finest minds and most successful people gather in the workplace. It is a convenient place for Littles to meet with their Bigs. Comcast demonstrated through Beyond School Walls that its most valuable asset – its employees – were ready and willing to share their time, knowledge and expertise with this country’s most valuable asset: our youth. That is the ultimate return on investment, and we challenge other corporations to follow Comcast’s example.

*Note: Data is from the 2012 report. The 2013 Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth Outcomes Survey Report was recently released.                                                                                                                                                                                                               
T. Charles Pierson is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Follow BBBSA on Facebook and @bbbsa on Twitter.

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