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2018 Awards Ceremony – Changing the World!

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2018 scholarship winners left to right: Brittany Padilla, Breia Swanigan, and Samantha Susalla.

I’ve been to many awards ceremonies in my lifetime and I’ve watched a few on television. They’re mostly mundane. Too many times participants rave about themselves or how something they’ve done changed the world when really they didn’t. The Winning Futures Awards Ceremony this past Thursday was different.

I’m still somewhat new to this organization, however, I had a general idea of what would happen at the event. Twenty students would receive a total of $30,000 in scholarships, and 20 local business professionals would be recognized for their mentoring dedication and service. Simple, straightforward, and unfortunately, it sounded kind of boring.

I took my seat and like any good audience member, I quietly listened. What I heard was astounding.

These 20 kids weren’t straight A students or record-breaking athletes who received a scholarship for their accomplishments. These kids are overcoming challenges – real challenges – that would make many of us curl up in a ball and hide in the closet.

First high school graduate from the family; English is a second language; working full-time in addition to being a full-time student; living in poverty; no mom; no dad; little support at home; little or no direction in life – interestingly enough, while they all faced and overcame challenges like these, they also all had potential. They just needed a little help and guidance. That’s where the mentors come into the picture.

The thought of being a mentor evokes images of meeting with some kids, giving them some advice, and patting them on the back. That’s not how it works with Winning Futures.

Before stepping foot into a classroom, Winning Futures mentors go through an extensive application, interview, background screening, and three-hour training. Then their mentoring voyage truly begins, meeting with 3-4 students at their school for one hour every week for 20-22 weeks. It’s a significant personal investment in time, energy, emotion, and the kids they work with.

The mentors who received our Mentor of the Year Award did all this and more, also meeting with students on their personal time, taking them to their workplace for job shadowing, introducing them to different careers, and ultimately helping them understand that they have value and a “winning future.”

Dave Fernholz is one such mentor. He’s been a Winning Futures’ mentor for 20 years, following in the footsteps of his boss, mentor, and friend, Mike Fitzpatrick. More than 70 students have benefited from Dave’s sagely guidance, and for this reason, he received our 20-Year Mentor Award and Sam Cupp Legacy Award.

“I have learned over these many years that students now and then are pretty much the same,” said Dave. “They want to be heard, they want to be understood and they want some straight advice. I hope I’ve given this to my students. If I have, then I have succeeded in helping them and the community.”

I would be remiss not to mention the people and companies who support our program, many who attended the ceremony. They are smart people who understand and appreciate the value and importance of investing in today’s youth. The bad news is that there are too many to list here. The good news is that you can peruse a list of these champions here.

I left the Awards Ceremony feeling pretty good about the organization I joined in February, knowing that my work is relevant and meaningful. And, at least in a small way, we are changing the world.

Want to join our mentor ranks? It’s one of the most gratifying and fulfilling things you’ll ever do and without hesitation, you can tell people that you’re changing the world! The Shoot for Your Goals mentoring and basketball camp with Greg Kelser is a great, low-investment way to test the mentoring waters. This unique camp, from July 16-19 at Cass Technical High School in Detroit, includes in-class leadership development and on-court basketball instruction. We are recruiting mentors for one-time, one-hour, and one-day in-class mentoring. You do not need basketball knowledge or skills to participate. Sign up today!