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Spring 2017
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CTDO Magazine
Mentoring Ensures Pathways for Middle Schoolers

Insurance brokerage firm Keenan & Associates works with Los Angeles Team Mentoring to help at-risk youths navigate a pathway to a good life.

Youths in the middle school age group (12 to 14 years old) are among the most overlooked and underserved population in Los Angeles. Yet this is one of the most critical stages in their lives, determining how they will transition into young adults and when they begin making choices about their eventual career direction. Experience has shown that youths are five times more likely to graduate from high school if they have a meaningful relationship with a caring adult. Enter the Los Angeles Team Mentoring (LATM) program.

LATM provides mentoring for at-risk middle school students, affecting more than 20,000 young lives over its 24 years of service to the community. The program guides middle school students growing up in challenging urban environments to recognize and reach their full potential. Through a school-based team approach to mentoring, adolescents are given the tools and support necessary to make positive choices during this formative period in their lives.

To enhance its proven program for assisting these young people, LATM engages with companies and their employees to provide mentors to share their time, experience, support, and encouragement. The program was a perfect fit for California-based insurance brokerage firm Keenan & Associates's corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative to help young people get the right start in life.

The Keenan CSR initiative is designed to support those in need in local communities and fulfill a longstanding corporate commitment to service and giving back. Keenan CSR activities include:

  • Impact Days when all employees join together to accomplish community service projects
  • Abuse Prevention Center to provide resources to help schools prevent physical and sexual abuse
  • Corporate work study internships for high school students
  • School supplies drive to assemble backpacks for students
  • California YMCA Youth & Government Program for middle and high school students
  • Holiday drive collection of food and toys for underserved families and children
  • Volunteer time off, giving each employee two paid days annually to volunteer with a nonprofit organization
  • Right Start mentoring program
  • Everyday-Kindness.org tracking system to count acts of kindness at schools.

"Our company appreciates being among the organizations recognized for supporting and giving back to the communities where we do business. This has been a fundamental commitment for Keenan since its founding," says senior vice president Dan Keenan. "We have been gratified to see the growth in our CSR programs and the opportunities they afford for our associates to make a difference."
"It is truly a privilege for our company and our associates to be acknowledged by Los Angeles Team Mentoring," adds Keenan CEO Sean Smith. "The work they do is vital to the mission of empowering and preparing our next generation. And I know that our involvement is an extremely satisfying experience for the Keenan people who participate and volunteer their time."

Case in point

Trisha Pond works as a marketing coordinator for Keenan, and she has volunteered for the past two years as a mentor in the LATM program. "In 2014, our CEO announced that all employees would be given two work days per year solely dedicated to volunteering," Pond says, sharing how she got started with LATM youths.

Pond dove right into using her volunteer hours from Keenan, and began to search for opportunities on her own. She soon found an announcement that the LATM Summer Leadership Camp was seeking volunteers to interview their middle school students. "I believe encouraging and advocating for our youth is a very vital task in today's society. My focus is helping to give our youth a voice that is too often disregarded and not always heard," she says.

Specifically, volunteers would review the student projects they worked on during the camp week, speak with them about their future college plans and career goals, and offer them feedback on their presentation and interview skills, Pond explains. "This was right up my alley, and I signed up with zero hesitation."

According to Pond, the impact of giving back through youth mentoring is surprising and fulfilling. "I sat with two young ladies during the interview process and was immediately humbled," she notes. They each gave her a brief background on their family, home life, and what it was like being a middle school—aged student in Los Angeles. They shared their struggles, their hopes, and the change they wanted to see for their generation and generations to follow. "It was refreshing to hear these young girls speak with such confidence and that LATM had encouraged this vivaciousness that I was witnessing."

Following her brief summer camp session at LATM, Pond was ready to get even more involved. "I wanted to do more with this program. Fortunately, I did not have to wait too long. LATM's school-year mentoring program was offered to Keenan employees," she says.

Every Monday, she spends two hours at Wilmington Middle School to mentor a group of students. She explains that she was nervous at first and wondered how she would be able to juggle her workload, and if the commitment of an entire school year would be too long. Those worries immediately vanished with the support of her supervisor and once the mentoring began. "It felt like the school year flew right by, and I couldn't believe when we were already meeting for our last session."

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LATM's Community Impact

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The mentoring project with LATM in Keenan's Torrance office has been so successful, and received so enthusiastically by its associates, that Keenan has now expanded volunteering opportunities with mentoring organizations from its San Jose and Riverside offices. What's more, in recognition of the company's enthusiastic participation, LATM recently honored Keenan's CEO and senior vice president at its annual fundraising event.

Personally, Pond found that volunteering as a mentor helped her discover another dimension in exemplifying Keenan's company motto: "You make a difference!"

"The program was a growing experience for not only the students, but for me as well. The topics we discussed hit head-on with anything a middle school—aged student would face, from peer pressure, self-image, leadership, family, and more. Watching how the students each grew in their own way over the year was amazing to see," says Pond. "My mentees keep me humble and remind me not to be so stressed about my everyday pressures, especially after learning some of the pressures they face at such a young age. Whether they realize it or not, they also make a clear impact in my life."

One LATM middle school student expressed what the mentoring relationship has meant to her: "The one big thing I learned is there are many paths in life, but I need to take the one that will help me have a good life in the future."

Pond summed up her volunteer commitment: "I became a mentor because I wanted the opportunity to inspire younger generations to keep their dreams big and their heads held high throughout their life. I love being a part of this program and knowing I am making a difference. I may not be changing the entire world by mentoring. However, if I can make a positive impact in one person's life, then I have at least changed the world for one person."

About Los Angeles Team Mentoring

Los Angeles Team Mentoring was founded in 1992 in response to civil unrest that plagued the city. Its innovative team-based mentoring approach was developed to combat the overwhelming negative challenges confronting young people in inner-city middle schools. It was also an answer to expanding the reach of mentoring to a greater number of deserving youths. The agency operates at 11 middle schools throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

About Keenan & Associates

Founded in 1972, Keenan is a top-25 largest insurance consulting and brokerage firm in the United States. With headquarters in Torrance, California, Keenan has a staff of more than 700 insurance specialists and branch offices in Riverside, San Clemente, Oakland, San Jose, Rancho Cordova, Redwood City, Pleasanton, and Eureka.
 

Are You Giving Back?

Giving back to our communities doesn't just mean reaching into our wallets. Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of talent development professionals. How do you define "giving back" and how do you think it affects your organization? What are you or your employees and organization doing to give back to the profession or society at large? CTDO would love to share your giving back story.

Contact Ann Parker, senior manager of the Association for Talent Development's Senior Leaders and Executives Community of Practice, with your ideas and stories.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author
Charlotte Doepker, vice president of marketing at Keenan & Associates, leads a team of designers, writers, event specialists, and digital marketers. She also is responsible for Keenan’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and serves on the board of Los Angeles Team Mentoring.
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