GM Student Corps Paints the Town – And More

128 high school students learn leadership, teamwork and important life skills
Aug 19, 2015 12:10 PM ET

DETROIT, August 19, 2015 /3BL Media/ – Pontiac High School students returning to classes this week are being greeted by a new, massive “PHOENIX PRIDE” sign that represents more than the school’s mascot. Ten of their classmates helped refurbish several areas of Pontiac this summer as members of the GM Student Corps.

As paid GM interns, Student Corps members transformed the school’s once-shabby entrance, volunteered at local social services agencies, assembled bicycles and refurbished a community ball field. Working alongside volunteers from GM Powertrain in Pontiac, they learned about leadership, teamwork and making a difference in their communities.

“From now on these students will see their school and their community in a different light,” said Lew Elbert, a GM retiree who spent his second summer as a Student Corps mentor. “This summer gave them a jumpstart on adulthood, a sense of what’s out there and a lesson on what people can accomplish together.”

Pontiac High – new to the program this year – and 12 other schools recently wrapped up their Student Corps projects and presented their outcomes to Mark Reuss, program champion and GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, and his leadership team.  

In all, 128 high school students, along with 55 GM retirees, 13 college interns from the University of Detroit Mercy and one from the University of Michigan-Flint, refurbished 11 schools and eight parks in their communities, painting, pulling weeds, spreading mulch, rebuilding broken benches, constructing a gazebo, planting vegetables and much more.

In addition to selecting projects and operating them like small startups, the students attended life skills classes where they learned organization, decision-making, personal finance, conflict resolution and tips on applying to college.

To explore careers, they toured GM Design, GM Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, the GM Proving Ground, GM dealerships, Focus: HOPE, WXYZ-TV and other local businesses; and spent a day at UDM. Students also met with community leaders.

“To revitalize these communities, we must improve education and inspire our young people to lead and serve and give them a reason to stay,” said Heidi Magyar, director of GM Community Outreach. Magyar was part of a team that developed the GM Student Corps.

In Detroit, students at Detroit Public Schools Osborn Campus joined the nonprofit Life Remodeled and thousands of GM volunteers to give the school and surrounding neighborhood a massive facelift. In the school’s greenhouse, students built a new table with repurposed wood from an old gym floor. Outside, they rebuilt the pond and re-landscaped the courtyard, even making way for a butterfly garden.

In addition to Pontiac and Osborn, participating high schools were Central Collegiate Academy, Detroit Public Schools Cody Campus, East Detroit, Flint Southwestern Academy, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Henry Ford, Madison, Melvindale, River Rouge, and Van Dyke Lincoln. Schools selected Student Corps participants based on leadership potential, citizenship and academic performance, and qualities such as determination and grit.

“My favorite thing about this program was that we got to give back to our own community while becoming better people,” said Javier Cartagena-Rodriguez of Pontiac.

Together, the 2015 GM Student Corps spread 999 yards of mulch; planted 700 flowers and trees; moved 61 yards of soil and stone; applied 246 gallons of paint and stain; and laid 750 feet of landscape edging. Equipment included two front loaders, 278 brushes and rollers and 300 feet of hose.

Students also formed relationships with their GM retiree and UDM college student mentors, who will stay connected with regular check-ins during the school year. Mentors have joined the students on college visits, helped them find work, assisted with college applications and attended graduation ceremonies. Mentors also coach students on points of etiquette, such as shaking hands, making eye contact, tying a necktie and conversing with adults.

The GM Student Corps was inspired by the GM United Way Network of Excellence. Funded by a $27.1-million gift in 2010 from the GM Foundation, the program has helped raise graduation rates in seven Detroit-area schools from 50 percent to nearly 80 percent.

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