"They are on campus in the morning to greet the students, and they stay after school to help them get their homework done," says Bernadette Morales, senior corporate relations manager for City Year Los Angeles. "They work so hard and care so much that they don’t have time to think about themselves."
Enter Comcast NBCUniversal, one of the longest-standing team sponsors of City Year Los Angeles. In January 2015, The Women’s Network, one of the company’s employee resource groups, instituted a mentoring program for the corps members.
Besides providing professional support, the mentoring program provided a bit of fun. Among other activities, NBCUniversal employees and their City Year mentees watched an LA Kings game from the corporate box, attended a special screening of "Pitch Perfect 2" on the Universal lot, and spent a day at Universal Studios Hollywood.
"Fun for sure, but every month’s activity also had a theme," explains Erica Marie Dionne, community service lead for the employee resource group. "There were discussion and conversation guides. At the Kings game, they discussed teamwork. At the movie, which was about students’ graduating and moving on, they talked about how to get started in a career."
The mentors were drawn from all sectors of NBCUniversal and included lawyers, human resources professionals, finance people, and even a Telemundo news anchor.
Some of the mentor-mentee pairings were especially fortuitous. A senior vice president who had been the first in her family to attend college offered very specific career and academic advice to a City Year member in the same position. Two corps members with entrepreneurial aspirations were paired with business development executives who knew the ropes of structuring deals and making a profit.
The goal of the program was not necessarily to steer the young people into entertainment careers, but to open their eyes to a wide variety of work experiences and to afford networking opportunities, Erica Marie says.
City Year AmeriCorps members are 17- to 25-year-olds who commit a year to performing public service in an urban setting. All are high school graduates. Many are taking time off from college.
Typical is Nick Turton, who was a sophomore at the University at Buffalo when he applied to City Year Los Angeles for two reasons: he wanted to do some good in the world, and he wanted to live someplace other than his native New York for a while.
Hooked on service during his middle school years, Nick was paired with Jamie Braucht, a digital assets manager for Universal. As it turned out, the professional relationship was extended last summer when Nick landed an internship in her department. Watching Jamie on the job every day, Nick learned the value of a personal touch – like a friendly greeting each morning – when it comes to office morale.
Nick’s best summer memory was cheering on Special Olympics gymnasts with a crew of NBCUniversal employee volunteers, all wearing their company t-shirts. "In terms of future career, community engagement development is what I hope to do," says Nick, now a junior at the University of California in Santa Barbara. "Helping the community made me view NBCUniversal in a good light. It was good to see a corporation giving back."
The original mentorship project, which ran through June 2015, was so successful that it has been renewed and expanded for this school year. In November, City Year corps members shadowed about 30 NBCUniversal employees for a day, a few of whom even got a sneak preview of the new Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.
One measure of the project’s success is that its benefits flow both ways, according to Erica Marie. The NBCUniversal participants called the young people they met "amazing," "smart," and "gifted." One wrote, "I love the type of young adult that AmeriCorps attracts ... It really gives us ‘old’ folks hope for the future."
For her own part, Erica Marie believes that the community investment work supported by NBCUniversal improves her relations with coworkers. "When you get your hands dirty on a project or you get your family involved, you develop a broader outlook about what’s important in the world," she says. "I’m happier working here knowing that the company cares about the big picture in the community. It makes a difference."