Evanston volunteers, students grow in workplace mentoring program

By: Natalie Hayes, Sun-Times Media
Published: May 31, 2014

EVANSTON — When Evanston-based social media manager Stacy Bosowski volunteered to mentor a sixth-grade student for a new workplace-based apprenticeship program, she was slightly apprehensive about her lack of experience working with kids.

But spending eight weeks with Ana, a student at Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School in Evanston, Bosowski discovered her inner teacher and a newfound enjoyment of being around children.

Bosowski, who works for a quantitative and analytical research company called Burtch Works, is one of 10 North Shore-area business leaders who volunteered for Explore, a mentorship pilot program offered by Youth Organizations Umbrella, or Y.O.U.

Y.O.U., which provides after-school programming for students, partnered with a national non-profit called Spark to offer the apprenticeship program for the first time this spring.

Explore gave 10 middle school students from Evanston and Skokie the opportunity to learn about career options and get a close look at what it takes to succeed in the workplace.

The experiential learning program partnered students with mentors for 90 minutes of one-on-one time per week, in addition to a leadership class on Saturdays to learn real-world skills like goal-setting, public speaking, and time management.

Ellen Muench, experiential learning coordinator for Y.O.U.an, said academic performance and behavior weren’t part of the criteria for selecting students for the program.

Nonetheless, the “pre-teen” age range of 11 to 13 years old, she said, offers a critical intervention phase before students enter high school.

“The idea is to have kids build the job skills they aren’t learning in school, while helping them develop strong relationships with adults who aren’t their parents,” Muench said. “It helps them further engage in academic life.”

On Wednesday afternoons in Bosowski’s office, Ana and Bosowski built an unexpected friendship.

Bosowski showed Ana how to make her own blog and provided tips on how to act in a business environment, and Ana taught Borowski that spending time with a child can actually be really fun.

“I didn’t have a lot of confidence that I was able to make a big impact because I hadn’t hung out with a kid since I was a kid,” Bosowski said. “It was surprisingly refreshing to see someone ask me why pajamas can’t be worn in the office.”

Students were matched with mentors according to their career interests.

Other career fields offered in Explore were finance, the boutique fashion industry, large-scale grocery delivery services, and the restaurant industry.

At the end of the eight weeks, mentors and parents gathered to watch students present what they had learned during Y.O.U.’s Discovery Night at Northwestern University.

Because the pilot program was a success, Muench said, Y.O.U. is planning another career mentorship program in the fall that will include a larger number of students.

“The goal was to strengthen the connection between the classroom and career options,” Muench said. “But then this other thing happened where these deep relationships were formed.”

Other local businesses and companies that volunteered for the program include Acquirent, Chalk Boutique, Evanston Capital, Found and Peapod.

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