Sometimes, folks overlook Detroit as a cosmopolitan city. I am originally from Connecticut and spent a lot of time in New York City, Washington DC, and Boston, so I understand the sentiment. However, I think Detroit can hold its own. I’ve never felt more Detroit pride than when I attended an amazing event for the Friends Of The Children in Detroit at the Shinola Hotel last Thursday.
The mission of the Friends Of The Children is to provide mentors for at-risk kids from the Detroit area. That mission alone would have been enough to make the event special, but this group takes it to the next level. The mentors are full-time staff of this organization, in charge of eight children each, and they stay engaged with these kids and their families throughout high school. Their impact on these families is huge – it literally changes the lives of young people for generations.
I believe the impact of this event will stick with me forever. Both my colleague and I had a great time speaking to mentors and hearing success stories. It was delightful and inspiring to mingle with other guests who were leaders across industries, including automotive, advertising, commerce, consulting, law, and banking, who all had one important thing in common: a passion for helping young people and making an impact on the community.
Challenges and Reflection
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What touches me most about the experience is that this event made me reflect on my own upbringing. I grew up in a loving home, but my dad worked very hard managing a small grocery store to support the family. He gave me a great work ethic, but academics were not a priority – he had quit school in eighth grade to help support his family. My mother was a homemaker with no formal education after high school. Getting guidance about education and what I needed to do to succeed was difficult at best. At an early age, I knew that I needed more guidance but did not know where to turn for advice.
As you can imagine, being a nerd by nature made my struggle that much more challenging. I channeled my needs towards my imaginary mentor Vince Lombardi. Although the great coach and I never met, I pretended that he was holding my hand through life. Because of his example, I gave everything I had to my studies, sports, and every other interest and effort. I also had a great love for my teammates and a strong desire to care for all those who surround me. I still carry that attitude with me today. But even with imaginary Vince Lombardi by my side, I would have been even better off if I had one of these mentors as a young person.
Lessons like these really come full circle, too. At the event, I was reminded of a conference I attended years ago in Boston, where I ran into one of the young folks I once mentored at Washington Post Newsweek Interactive. He introduced me to his current boss as “the person who had the largest impact on his career.” That statement was a huge surprise, and worth about a billion stock options. This confirmed that investing in the people around you creates a ripple effect of good that never ends. When someone gets mentored, they often become a mentor later in life.
Building a Community
Perficient has been recognized as one of the top companies to work for in Detroit for four consecutive years, and one of the reasons is our commitment to community involvement. My colleagues have dedicated themselves to so many great programs, including the Bright Paths Program and our “Electrifying the Future of Automotive” program, to improve the lives of those around us. I was proud to represent Perficient at yet another impressive organization’s event near my home and office.
The event closed with the students giving us an outstanding choral performance. These young people are so talented, and with the proper mentoring and infrastructure, there is simply nothing they can’t accomplish. Making an impact doesn’t have to start big. Even a small thing is magnified and makes a difference. One team, one mission!