Celebrating 10 Years of Comcast NBCUniversal’s Beyond School Walls
In 2008, eight-year-old Alize Delgado had spent almost no time outside of his North Philadelphia neighborhood. That changed as he stepped off his yellow school bus and into the Comcast Center as a member of the first “class” of students matched to Comcast employee mentors through the John Alchin Big Brothers Big Sisters Beyond School Walls program.
Ten years later, more than 250 children have followed Alize’s footsteps into our Comcast headquarters through Comcast NBCUniversal’s Beyond School Walls, the nation’s largest workplace-based mentoring program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The program pairs students from high-need schools (“Littles”) with Comcast employees (“Bigs”) as they meet for an hour every other week during the school year at 16 Comcast offices across the country.
Throughout the last decade, the program has transformed the lives of 1,327 “Littles” and 1,008 “Bigs” – including Alize, now 19, and his “Big” since 2008, Comcast Vice President of Network Access and Technology John Raezer.
Below meet a few more of our employee “Bigs” and their “Littles,” whose lives have both been positively impacted by the Beyond School Walls program at Comcast NBCUniversal:
Karl Martino had doubts about becoming a mentor – as someone who grew up without a father, he wasn’t confident he could be a role model for another male. Even on that first day his nervousness took hold, but realizing Jahmeir, nine years old at the time, felt the same way when they met at the Comcast Center plaza put him more at ease.
He quickly learned that the anticipation wasn’t the only thing they had in common. Martino, Senior Manager of Software Development and Engineering, and Jahmeir had a mutual love of video games, storytelling and coding. Knowing Jahmeir was quite creative, Martino set him up with coding exercises on Code.org and Scratch, a tutorial from the MIT Media Lab that teaches programming code in a fun and interactive way while building critical thinking and collaboration skills.
“Coding was something he wanted to get exposed to and he is so well-rounded I knew we could do this together,” Martino said. “Beyond School Walls offered me a special space to mentor and have a lasting impact on someone.”
Four years later, Jahmeir has enrolled in a special admission arts and technical high school, and he and Karl are still matched and see each other often. “Our relationship is still growing and I think we’ve been able to learn a lot from each other. I can be there for him as he gets older,” Martino said. “He’s built my confidence and I’ve been part of a conversation I didn’t even know I’d have – it helped me find something in myself.”
Like some other artists, eighth-grader Alicia prefers colored pencils to conversation. But that made it challenging for her “Big,” Lakshmi Balaji, to know she was making a difference during their time together.
Toward the end of their first matched year, Balaji, Comcast Manager of Sales Tool Deployment, got her answer when Alicia shared with her personalized anime drawings of both Balaji and her puppy. She had researched the name “Lakshmi,” which means the Hindu Goddess of Wealth, which was reflected in the drawings.
“When Alicia handed me these drawings, I knew that our time spent together is having a real effect on her – beyond just when we meet,” Balaji said.
In addition to the scheduled activities during Beyond School Walls, she tried to maximize Alicia’s visits to her office in ways that would cater to Alicia’s interests. Balaji brought Alicia to meet colleagues in various creative roles – they spent time with an art director, a graphic designer, a creative communications specialist and others. “I wanted this to be useful for her and not just a chance to get out of school for an hour,” Balaji said. “She has a chance to see new possibilities and career paths for artists.”
Now together in their third year of the program, Balaji knows she has learned lessons of her own. “I want to help her get set up on her career goals,” she said, “but I also have to remember to set my expectations because sometimes part of being an artist is just being a kid.”
“Daniel was already perfect when I met him,” Jamar Johnson, Comcast Senior Manager of HR Technology humbly said of the mentor relationship he started with his “Little” two years ago.
Big Brothers Big Sisters had been recruiting more male mentors, and a colleague of Johnson’s thought he’d be a good fit for Beyond School Walls. Apprehensive and a little intimidated at first, he felt comfortable soon after he sat down with Daniel, who had already studied their match profile and got the ball rolling with questions about their mutual interests.
In addition to chats about comic books and science fiction, the pair also regularly discuss what Daniel wants to be when he grows up. Discussions around the technology and communications fields have led to tours of the Comcast production studio and Daniel’s enrollment in math camp. “We were going through his report card and he had strong grades in math. I explained the importance of a solid math background for what I do and encouraged him to hone his skills,” Johnson said. “A few months later he mentioned his summer plans, which included math camp at Drexel University!”
Johnson explained that while Daniel comes from a great family and stable household, he sees real benefit in the program as it introduces him to a different type of work environment and a way to explore his future that may not have come up otherwise. The pair is excited to start their third year together and have kept in touch over the summer, keeping up on camp and Daniel’s family visits to Puerto Rico. “I know our relationship will last for the rest of our lives,” Johnson said.