Back in 2014, in a move that delighted reporters, bloggers and railfans alike, Amtrak started to offer free traveling residencies to writers. I’ll admit to the temptation to apply. I, too, love what writer Jessica Gross, on Amtrak’s “trial run” for the program, described as the “sense of safety, borne of boundaries” that comes from train travel, finding myself calmed by the erasure of uncertainty.
What to make of boundaries? Read any advice column and you’ll learn that boundaries are set to wall us off from the intrusions of others. Healthy relationships require you to respect your own boundaries, they write, and those of others.
But boundaries are more than ramparts for our hearts. They can also connect us and, in the case of a recent community engagement program, allow us to serve others.
A few months ago, we profiled how McKinstry employees participated in the Skills that Shine mentorship program with the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship (WSOS). This program paired employees with college juniors and seniors from low- to middle-income families to practice job-readiness skills such as resume-writing, networking and interviewing through guided content.
It was a well-designed program with well-defined boundaries. WSOS students, who often lack the social capital their wealthier peers may take for granted, needed help transitioning from school into the workforce. Employers supplied mentors, who received clear expectations, guided content for their meetings, and parties to bookend the school year. Mentorship magic followed.
This isn’t the only such program we run each year. Every spring, our HR department in Seattle conducts resume and interview workshops with the senior class of Northshore School District’s Secondary Academy for Success. In Colorado, McKinstry’s STEM Mentor Program partners McKinstry professionals with a disadvantaged local area school each year to provide meaningful networking activities, real-world projects, and hands-on learning experiences for students. We also run career panels, job shadows and tours throughout the year.
Students and educators love these events. The challenge is, they take a significant amount of time to plan and coordinate. While there is nothing wrong with spending time and energy on projects that are valuable for students, we want to be effective. We also want to make sure that our programs aren’t just benefitting those who have the resources to know to ask.
That’s why we need more programs like Skills That Shine. I found it easy to recruit for a structured program with a clear ask of those who participated, and a firm end date. I doubt I would have had such an easy time were it to have been open-ended, with fuzzy expectations and nothing to guide the mentorship conversations.
So, to all of the education-focused nonprofits out there: give us more! Build a program that is easy for employers to step into, help students, and then exit when the time-bounded program ends. I promise we’ll come along for the ride. All we need is comfort of a train ride’s boundaries.
Do you know of a good program out there that makes it easy for employers to get involved? Tell us about it in the comments section!
Kevin Lynn is McKinstry’s community relations specialist. He lives in Seattle and blogs about his experiences in the “Building Good” series.