Can collective action by companies to prepare at-risk students through skills-based volunteering programs help halt the dropout crisis in the U.S.?
This is the second in a six-part series highlighting innovative trends in skills-based volunteering from pledge companies of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions in pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America by 2013.
By Sue Stephenson, VP, Community Footprints, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company
One in four public school children drop out before they finish high school. For African-American and Hispanic students, the likelihood of graduating is closer to 50 percent. Many of these students don’t have access to positive role models, cannot envision a career, and don’t feel connected to their communities. Tragically, young people who drop out are much more likely to be unemployed, incarcerated or live in poverty.
To help address this dropout crisis, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, along with America’s Promise Alliance launched Succeed Through Service, a pro-bono skills-based volunteering program to better prepare at-risk students for a successful future.
Creating the Blueprint, Choosing a Partner
In early 2009, while evaluating a number of our existing hotel-specific youth engagement programs at The Ritz-Carlton Hotels in New York, Jakarta, New Orleans, Singapore and Phoenix, we were struck by the great amount of positive feedback we were getting from students, teachers and employees.
The question we wanted to answer was: how do we scale the individual programs to create a brand-wide systematic approach to youth engagement?
We chose America’s Promise Alliance as our partner, recognizing that the combined core competencies of both organizations would enable us to develop a strong curriculum that could help at-risk students flourish. Research showed that we needed to include a balance of career exploration, life-skills and service-learning to make the most impact.
With this in mind, we formulated a curriculum based on multi-cultural career and life-skills training models and incorporated modules focused on community impact. That led to the creation of the Succeed Through Service blueprint, which paired our employees with at-risk students to teach them critical life and career skills while introducing them to the importance of giving back.
Employees in the Classroom: Operationalizing Succeed Through Service
The Succeed Through Service curriculum took six months to develop. In advance of the program being launched at all Ritz-Carlton locations around the world, we worked with the hotels to identify schools or children’s organizations in low income communities that would be the most effective partners. In the U.S., the program is now deployed at 38 schools and has been culturally adapted and introduced at an additional 42 schools and children’s organizations around the world.
Essentially, the Succeed Through Service curriculum brings students to the hotels and takes employees into the classrooms. At the start of the school year, the students arrive at their Ritz-Carlton partner hotel where they are welcomed by a “wall of applause” as they enter through the main lobby – reinforcing a message to the students that they are important and valued.
The first phase of the program introduces the students to the critical aspects of being successful in the workplace with presentations that highlight the importance of hard work, commitment and a positive attitude.
Back in the classroom, Ritz-Carlton employees teach valuable life skills, including front desk and concierge employees engaging the students on the importance of eye-contact, a great smile and a firm handshake; restaurant teams introducing dining etiquette; chefs teaching students the importance of healthy eating habits and how to safely handle food; and trainers coaching students on effective collaboration and group presentation skills.
During the final phase, Ritz-Carlton employees help the students plan a community volunteer project, which tackles issues such as homelessness, child literacy and environmental conservation. This phase highlights the value of students giving back to their communities. The most recent Succeed Through Service Student Challenge, linked to Global Youth Service Day, rewarded the students’ contributions to their own communities, from Arlington, VA and New York to Orlando and Beijing,through a series of grants.
By mobilizing our professionals to coach at-risk students on life-skills, career exploration and the importance of service, we aim to give youth hope and the tools they need to be successful in school, work and life.
In total, Succeed Through Service has already benefitted more than 9,000 children.
To enable Succeed Through Service to reach more students, the entire curriculum will be made available on a non-proprietary basis to other companies. This will hopefully be a catalyst to inspire other businesses to get involved in helping at-risk youth in their own community.
Impact through Strategic Skills-based Volunteering
At the recent Billion + Change forum held at the White House, nearly 200 companies who have pledged to create or expand a skills-based volunteer program convened to recognize and discuss skills-based volunteering as an innovative strategy to solve urgent challenges facing our communities.
Hervé Humler, President and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, a pledge company, participated on the CEO panel to discuss the community impact and employee engagement benefits of a skill-based volunteer program and the need for leaders to be actively involved in local efforts.
“By harnessing the skills, knowledge and experience of our employees to inspire and engage at-risk youth we are supporting schools in their mission to see young students flourish and remain in school – and we are mobilizing our workforce to give back to their local community. Joining A Billion + Change has helped us intensify our Succeed Through Service youth engagement efforts and challenged us to look at how we can expand the reach of our pro-bono efforts to make a greater impact," he said.
To learn more about Succeed Through Service and The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, follow us on Twitter @RitzCarltonCSR or take a look at the Succeed Through Service website.
About the Author:
Sue Stephenson is Vice President of Community Footprints, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company's social and environmental responsibility program. Reporting to the President & Chief Operations Officer, Stephenson is charged with expanding the company’s global efforts through a series of multi-faceted initiatives focused on child-well-being, hunger and poverty relief, and environmental responsibility.