Big Brothers Big Sisters initiative highlights career exploration, soft skills for the workplace

When it comes to setting goals and joining the workforce, some students lag behind their peers for a whole host of reasons.

Perhaps they lack role models, or are wary of the unknown. Quite often it’s simply the fact that no one has taken time to offer them guidance on how they can begin planning early to create the future they desire.

The organization Big Brothers Big Sisters, or BBBS for short, recognized the need for corporate mentoring and rose to the challenge by creating a country-wide “Beyond School Walls” workforce development program to provide one-to-one mentoring for students.

One goal of the curriculum-based mentoring initiative is to help students learn job skills that will benefit them both now and in the future. “Bigs” also work with mentees to encourage them to explore career opportunities and assist them in developing “soft skills” like eye contact, listening, interacting with adults and conducting themselves in a corporate environment.

“When you look at kids who live in generational poverty, what they need is to envision how to go to work. This program takes the fear out of it,” said Maddie Young, president and CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region.

The regional Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter began the Beyond School Walls program locally in 2017, in partnership with Capital Blue Cross, which was the first business in the region to participate.

“It took some preparation on the front end, with background checks and training for our employees, but it has been an extremely worthwhile experience, not just for the students, but for the mentors as well,” said Susan Hubley, vice president, corporate social responsibility.

Capital Blue Cross was a good fit for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ first partner organization in the midstate, Young said.

“Capital Blue Cross has a diverse workforce with individuals who perform a wide range of job functions. We wanted the kids to see firsthand the benefits of working at Capital Blue Cross because they are a large employer in our region,” Young said.

Continuity is key

The program has grown from 12 matches since its inception, to 17 matches as of January 2019.

The Harrisburg-area students who are currently participating in the program are in high school, but they’ve been part of Beyond School Walls since they were in eighth grade in 2017, when the partnership with Capital Blue Cross began.

They were selected by school officials in collaboration with the Big Brothers Big Sisters staff. Students stay matched with their mentors through graduation and meet two hours per month at the Capital Blue Cross offices in Susquehanna Township. This low time commitment makes the program accessible to both the mentor and the mentees as they plan around their busy schedules.



The group of student participants have now built up their skills enough to tackle project management. Mentors and mentees are working in groups to develop four projects which will have a positive impact on the Harrisburg community. Teams are currently working together to set project goals, consider expenses, present their ideas to their chosen beneficiary organizations and develop a plan to implement the project in the spring.

Stephanie Kohr who works at Capital Blue Cross as a senior internal auditor has been working with 15-year-old Heather Rojas since the program started. The 34-year-old said she’s witnessed substantial growth in Rojas during the three years that she’s been participating.

“When I met her, she was shy, but very driven and smart. She attends every session and puts a priority on that. I’ve seen her mature and open up a lot,” said Kohr.

The mutual benefits of Beyond School Walls for Rojas and Kohr are evident. The first thing Rojas mentions when she talks about Beyond School Walls is seeing her mentor.

“We talk about my life overall and every time it’s something different. I’ve learned about finance, life choices and careers,” Rojas said. Kohr has been helpful in pointing out the pros and cons of jobs she has considered, Rojas added.

Another helpful aspect of the program, according to Rojas, is the boost of confidence she’s acquired. “I used to be really shy. Now I know how to interact with adults,” said the Bishop McDevitt student.

For Hubley, vice president of corporate social responsibility at Capital Blue Cross, mentor-mentee relationships like Rojas and Kohr’s reinforce the impact of the company’s participation in the Beyond School Walls program. She hopes that more Central Pennsylvania companies will climb on board.

“We are supporting 17 students, but there are many others out there who could benefit from this program. Our hope is that other companies will follow our lead and consider partnering with BBBS to start a Beyond School Walls program at their workplace. It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” she said.

To learn more about Beyond School Walls, click here.

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