The Gift of Mentorship is Helping to Change Lives

Jan 17, 2020 2:35 PM ET

Once a month, Comcast employee Steven Greene gets in his car and drives two hours to have lunch with 16-year-old Micah, a student he mentors at our company’s Jacksonville, Fla. regional office. He doesn’t mind the drive, and December’s meeting was especially worth it – he got to witness Micah’s big smile when he was gifted a free iPad. “Surprises like this are what make the commitment even more special,” Steven said.

In fact, Micah was one of 26 high school students that day to receive free iPads from Comcast NBCUniversal as part of our Beyond School Walls program, run in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters. The program enables employee “Bigs” to provide student “Littles” with one-to-one mentoring at Comcast offices – where the students also get to experience a professional working environment. The iPads are part of Comcast’s larger focus on closing the digital divide. We believe that success starts with opportunity, and in today’s digital world, we are working to provide everyone, regardless of income, with equal access to technology and the chance to gain vital digital skills.

“Mentoring has a deeper purpose for me,” said Steven, who grew up in a low-income neighborhood himself and now helps to improve operational efficiencies as part of Comcast’s Vendor Management team.  One of his high school teachers, he said, pushed him to take honors classes – support that changed the trajectory of his life. “I can give counsel and advice, but just being able to relate to someone and say, ‘I understand where you are coming from’ makes the relationship so unique and special.”

The pair plan to do a series of digital literacy activities during Beyond School Walls over the next few months. Michael told Steven he can use his iPad whenever they meet and at home to build a foundation for his future – hopefully working in real estate to support his dream of writing comic books.

In total this year, more than 300 “Littles” across 14 Comcast locations received iPads that they might not have been able to otherwise afford. They’ll gain increased access to tech at home and more opportunities to learn digital skills, as well as a chance to explore their own creativity.

According to the Pew Research Center 35 percent of teens say they often or sometimes have to do their homework on their cellphone. This is more prevalent among lower-income teens, including 45 percent who live in households earning less than $30,000 a year.

Activities that our Beyond School Walls matches across the country are working on include:

  • Learning iPad basics from an IT employee including how to create an email and download apps
  • Playing Google Interland, a game designed to teach Internet safety topics such as phishing, harassment and passwords through puzzles, challenges and quizzes
  • Bringing the iPads on field trips and taking pictures to be historians for the group
  • Discussing examples of a range of personalities on social media and who is a “friend” or “foe”
  • Exploring how to use LinkedIn with insight from HR employees, and more

More than 1,200 Comcast NBCUniversal employees have participated in the Beyond School Walls program since its inception more than 10 years ago at our Philadelphia headquarters. For the school children enrolled in Beyond School Walls, being matched with a “Big" introduces them to brighter futures, careers and possibilities. And employees report that the relationship positively impacts their own lives as well – citing the program as one of the top reasons they love coming to work.

“You learn a lot about our youth and how advanced they are, and you learn a lot about yourself,” Steven says. “It makes me appreciate what I have and makes me want to give back more when I see the benefit – if I could have more than one Little I would!”