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Benny’s Superpower: Celebrating National Mentor Month

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He said, “I have a superpower.”

I wasn’t sure if I heard him correctly. I thought to myself, “Did he say, ‘superpower?’ Is this guy crazy?”

Feeling it necessary to get more information, but not sure I really wanted to know more, I nervously responded, “Really? What is it?”

“I’m a super listener,” said Benny Vann, general manager and director of engineering for BCS Automotive Interface Solutions.

Relieved that he didn’t say something like, “I can hear squirrels talk,” I dove deeper to learn more about Benny.

Benny is in his third year of mentoring in our Workforce Prep program. He started in 2018 at Mumford High School, then went to Cass Technical High School in 2019. This year he’s participating in our Virtual One-on-One Mentoring program.

I asked Benny how he became interested in mentoring. He told me about his parents who taught him the importance of responsibility and discipline and encouraged him to explore and learn. He told me about an elementary school teacher, Mr. Burchie, who recognized and nurtured his interest in science. He told me about his first professional job at Ford Motor Company and his boss, Mr. Yeung, who challenged a green recent graduate, 23-year-old Benny, with a difficult engineering algorithm problem – a problem that Benny fixed, earning him two patents. And he told me about his former boss at Leggett and Platt, Steve Henderson, who challenged and supported Benny in developing an innovation plan that led to building a tech center in Detroit.

“I want to share and help others, like I was helped, and give back some of what I learned,” said Benny. “You know, it’s in my head and my heart. It’s part of me. It makes me happy. It brings me joy.”

Benny is currently mentoring high school junior, Adib Mahdiath. This is Benny’s second year working with Adib.

“He’s an amazing mentor,” said Adib of Benny. “He helped me increase my confidence and improve my grades and learn how to manage my goals and time. He helped me identify and explore careers that interest me. I don’t know yet what I’ll study in college, but I’m much more focused and I have some really good ideas.”

“He was kind of quiet at first. Kind of introverted, like me,” Benny said of Adib. “Over a period of time, he opened up and became more confident. There’s been much growth in his confidence. He just needed a little help with career exploration and academic planning.”

This past year has been difficult for many people for many reasons. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with our economy, education system, and healthcare, just to name a few. Interestingly, Benny finds our Workforce Prep program to be a refuge from the storm.

“The world can be a crazy place,” said Benny. “Especially with all the things that happened in 2020. The mentoring program kept me grounded and motivated and helped my wellbeing. It gave me positive thoughts – hey, there’s hope here! And for students, sometimes they just need someone to listen. Someone who will help them stay positive and achieve their goals.”

After talking with Benny and reflecting on his work as a mentor, I question if listening is his superpower. Don’t get me wrong. Listening is certainly an important part of mentoring. But what good is listening if you’re not putting it to use? Benny is passionate and dedicated to empowering and uplifting others. Perhaps his superpower is that he’s a super mentor. And his number one tool? Listening, of course.

January is National Mentor Month. We take this opportunity to recognize and celebrate our 142 current mentors, like Benny, and our 1,250 former mentors. Since 1994, it is these people who dedicated themselves to helping more than 49,000 students achieve success through our Workforce Prep program.

Learn more about our mentoring program and other volunteer opportunities by filling out a General Interest form.