This week in Philadelphia, Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of America honored Comcast NBCUniversal with its Chairman’s Award during the organization’s annual national conference. The award, accepted by Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David L. Cohen, recognized the company’s dedication to mentoring through support of the BBBS Beyond School Walls program.
Through Beyond School Walls, student “Littles” meet regularly with our employee “Bigs” at Comcast locations, providing the students a chance to observe a workplace environment while developing one-on-one bonds that can last a lifetime. The hope is to provide a glimpse into a corporate environment and open kids’ imaginations to a wide variety of professional careers and options.
Beyond School Walls is the nation’s largest workplace mentoring program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Comcast launched the initiative in Philadelphia in 2008, and it has expanded to 15 Comcast offices nationwide, with more than 300 employees volunteering as “Bigs.”
Last year, 85 percent of Comcast Littles nationally maintained their grades or improved in school, and our program retained a significantly higher percentage of students over the national average – 66 percent versus 42 percent. We’ve also been successful in attracting nearly half as many boys as girls to our program, which BBBS tells us is historically a challenge.
Here in our hometown, all Littles come to us from Potter-Thomas Elementary School in North Philadelphia. Every two weeks, about 55 students take a school bus to Comcast Center to meet with their Bigs for about an hour. They are hard to miss in our elevators during the crowded lunchtime rush and as Charisse R. Lillie, our Vice President of Community Investment, likes to say, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We have seen how transformative Beyond School Walls is for the children served and our employees alike. In 2009, when we partnered with another nearby school in North Philadelphia, our Bigs discovered that the school’s library was missing some essential materials – books! They responded by organizing a drive that resulted in the donation of over 1,600 books, four new computers and a printer. Beyond School Walls is truly one of our most popular volunteer initiatives, with a current waiting list of employees hoping to be matched with Littles.
Little Ilaida and Comcast Intern Program Manager Jasmin Senior are a terrific example of the program at its best. Ilaida began visiting Comcast headquarters last year to meet with Jasmin who, coincidentally, grew up in the same North Philadelphia neighborhood where Ilaida currently resides with her mother and sister. Jasmin’s understanding of Spanish helps her communicate with Ilaida’s mother and allowed them to see each other outside of the Beyond School Walls program. During their outside meetings, Ilaida and Jasmin play basketball – a shared passion – and, because of Ilaida’s talent as an artist, have visited the Barnes Foundation.
Initially, Illaida said she couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to work in a “boring” corporate setting when she began the program. But as her visits to Comcast grew more frequent and her relationship with Jasmin strengthened, she changed her mind. Ilaida now plans to pursue an internship with the company, and sees a bright future for herself, one she didn’t necessarily see a year earlier. And that’s exactly what the Beyond School Walls program was intended to do.
“I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to participate in the Beyond School Walls program and get to know Ilaida, who is so special to me now,” said Jasmin. “The program has made a lasting impact on both of our lives by allowing us to inspire each other to work harder, dream bigger and, most importantly, to have fun!”