Mike Gallagher, Correspondent
Recent graduates of the Council of Michigan Foundations’ (CMF) 2014-’15 Mentoring Program explained that they initially participated as a way to learn additional skills that would help them in their careers in the nonprofit sector, especially in philanthropy.
What they walked away with, they say, was a new-found awareness of the potential they possess to effect positive change in the field, to blossom as leaders in their chosen professions and to understand the importance of paying forward their new found skills to the next generation of young professionals.
The graduation ceremony for the 12 mentees and their mentors was held at the University of Michigan’s Sam Wyly Hall at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
Based upon evaluations of the initial mentoring program launched in 2011 through the Michigan Forum for African Americans in Philanthropy (MFAAP), a CMF affinity group, the program was expanded to include individual leadership coaching, 360-degree personal assessment, year-long leadership development programming and a capstone project.
The graduates this year included: Ronda Alexander, Community Support Strategies; Stephanie Awalt, AmeriCorps VISTA; Kelly Cleaver, YNPN Detroit Board; LaNesha Debardelaben, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History; Arelis Diaz, W.K. Kellogg Foundation; Lynnette Ferrell, Frey Foundation; Carol Gardner, Ruth Mott Foundation; Katherine Hanway, Center for Arab-American Philanthropy; Arielle Milton, The Skillman Foundation; Danielle Skonieski, The Skillman Foundation; Andrew Tyus, BC Pulse-Michigan State University; and Eboni Wells, The Skillman Foundation.
The program paired experienced individuals with both newcomers to the field and others anxious to learn about – and take part in - the mentoring dynamic. The goal was to bring together and share the rich talents of experienced individuals so they could teach, coach, counsel and encourage those who wanted to grow their capacities through exploration in a collaborative environment.
The relationships fostered during the year-long experience are expected to form the foundation for successful, multi-year partnerships, according to the participants.
This year’s graduation ceremonies also featured short Capstone Presentations highlighting each graduate’s selected nonprofit project conceived, developed and put into action by the mentees during their year-long participation.
Also as part of the final program agenda, leaders, mentors and mentees heard from a stellar group of coaches and speakers, including Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, associate dean of undergraduate programs/Clinical Professor of Strategy, Management & Organizations at U of M; Shannon Polk, principal, Leadership Solutions; Evelyn (Eva) Montalvo, executive coach and founder of Evaluation Leadership LLC; and Carlos Sanchez, director, Latino Business and Economic Development Center.
“Mentoring is a strategic approach to developing an individual’s goals and skills,” Wooten explained. “It is also a flexible concept that should reflect the unique culture and objectives of your organization.
“Mentors can fill one or more roles for their often-younger mentees,” she added. “They can be a career guide, an information source, a friend and an intellectual resource to collaborate on research projects or provide constructive feedback and criticism on new projects, programs or career issues and challenges.”
Polk challenged the graduates to continue their love of learning and individual growth. “You need to bring your whole self into the space you are operating in. Growth is found in the journey; it lasts a lifetime!”
Highlighting the virtues of “a true leader”, Sanchez shared, “In order to go forward we must look at the past. A leader is self-assured, confident, in control and has the right answers. You must periodically do an introspection: What are my goals? What is it I want to achieve? How do I go about achieving that which I want to do?
“You have to find your ‘true north,’” he said. “You have to find the way that works best for you. No two people are the same. We have different personalities, strengths and drives. Find out what works best for you …and develop those skills that will take you where you want to go. This mentoring program is a great start, but it is only a beginning. Build on these strengths.”
Mentor Donna Murray-Brown, president of the Michigan Nonprofit Association – a former mentee – praised the mentoring program for nurturing “those who are our next generation leaders.
“This year being a mentor, I was able to see the amazing talent that CMF has been able to amass. The level of diversity that we see from the backgrounds of the individuals to what they brought to the table…has been tremendous”
The Capstone Projects, noted Murray-Brown, “Allowed the mentees to take things that were mainly theory and turn them into actual practice so we could see the development the individuals achieved from beginning to end.”
Fellow mentor Caroline Chambers, a trustee with Comerica Charitable Foundation, also applauded the mentee program. “The content here is exceptional. I loved the fact the mentees had access to a coach. For the mentor it was so manageable from a time perspective. Because the content was so great it motivated me to want to participate and be present. I loved it all the way around!”
The mentees were exuberant in their accolades about the CMF Mentoring Program.
“This program was very vital to me in learning more about executive presence,” said Carol Gardner. “It taught me what I needed to do and work on and how to develop that.”
Putting lessons learned into play to assist a new, fledgling effort to bring the arts/opera to Detroit area schoolchildren in conjunction with The Arts League of Michigan and mentor Oliver Ragsdale Jr., is the exciting project developed by mentee Kelly Cleaver.
“This (mentee program) has been just an incredible experience that has helped focus my efforts and abilities so I can work strategically with others and really make a difference in my community,” said Cleaver.
Mentee LeNesha Debardelaben excitedly described the learning experience she is having working for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and how the mentee program has helped her gain valuable insight into community philanthropy.
“I can’t begin to tell you how this (mentee) program has opened my eyes to new ways of doing things; how it has strengthened my skill set and made me more confident in what I am doing,” she said.
Mentees were awarded graduation plaques by Debbie McKeon, CMF’s senior vice president, member services, and Natosha Tallman, CMF’s project coordinator, Learning Services.
For more information about the 2015-’16 CMF Mentoring Program, contact Tallman at: (313) 566-2444 ext. 218.
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