“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

For 30 years, Associated Black Charities (ABC), the Baltimore region’s only African American philanthropic organization, has worked to coordinate leadership on issues that impact Maryland’s communities of color using outcome-driven interventions and public policy.  In 2012, 10.2% of African American and 6.7% of Latino workers were unemployed compared to 5.6% of white workers. African American and Latino workers were also the highest percentage of low-wage earners, 14.1% and 23.6%, respectively. These workers often do not have access to the necessary technical skills and social networks to advance into jobs with living wages and employer provided benefits. ABC’s More in the Middle (MitM) economic framework was designed to foster economic inclusion and growth by providing a link between social networks, job access, and career mobility. To that end, Associated Black Charities is on an aggressive pursuit to Change the Future.

The Volunteer Career Mentor Program (VCM) was launched in July 2014 to provide a hand-up through structured mentorship to low-wage workers in hospitality, health care, and other industries, who are currently employed but have been unable to increase their wages. With the assistance of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), our essential partner and program design funder, a network of mentors were provided and matched with 27 mentees. Over the course of a year the mentors supported them in the uncovering the hope hidden deep within. The mentees were guided through a professional development and career advancement curriculum, designed specifically for low-wage workers of color, which included individual coaching sessions with their mentors. Mentees were offered not only new insights into their capabilities and career advancement skills, but also access to a network of professional relationships.

Partnership with AARP is one of the hallmarks of VCM’s success. Mentors add the greatest value to this endeavor. Financial support from United Way of Central Maryland was funding that made a difference in allowing ABC to implement all aspects of the VCM program. As we move forward into the second year with an expanded program, we celebrate our successes and are ever mindful of lessons learned. Not only have we increased the number of mentor/mentee matches, but we have also broadened our network of employers beyond hospitality and healthcare. We have brokered strategic partnerships with workforce providers who see the impact of the VCM on their workers’ productivity and growth.

If we are to create a greater African American middle class – More in the Middle (MitM),  we must recognize it is a journey beyond just getting a job – it will require increased knowledge, increased skills and increased access – career mentors can be a valuable tool for persons who are motivated and want to begin that climb.