Last week, I had the opportunity to visit i.c.stars, a Chicago-based workforce development organization and social enterprise intern program, my son Nick is currently attending. I had no idea opportunities like this existed in our city, which I later learned, Columbus was the first expansion city of the program! I, even more, was surprised to find out that their internship program provides an opportunity for underprivileged, change-driven, future leaders, to develop skills in business and technology through career readiness and job shadowing. Their program has 300 learning objectives over the length of three, 16-week projects; earning the interns as much as 1,000 hours of hands-on practical business experience and social media expertise!
I was invited to be a guest for their daily "High Tea", which is described as:
“An innovative volunteer opportunity for busy senior executives to make a strong impact on young technology talent. High tea leaders share their journey to success, impressing upon our interns the importance of perseverance and setting short and long term goals. This inspirational hour is one of the greatest strengths of our training program.”
This weekly volunteer opportunity offers CEO's and business leaders the ability give back and be the change they want to see, through sharing knowledge, best-case business practices they've learned and challenges they've overcome professionally and personally. Naturally, I was honored that my son and the Executive Director of the program, Kim Gayle, invited me to attend. I was unsure what to expect, yet, I must say, I was beyond impressed with the interns and the foundation of the program.
The High Tea Experience
Upon arrival, I was greeted and taken to the "high-tea room," where everyone was seated around a conference room table. I noticed there was one seat not yet occupied at the head of the table...waiting for me. The atmosphere was relaxed: the lights were low, and there was real tea (to my surprise) served; in real tea pots, with real tea cups and saucers..they even had little sugar cubes and cream!
As each person poured their tea, they introduced the person sitting on their right. Their introductions included sharing what they enjoyed about the person, their professional goals, and aspirations and what their fellow intern planned to do with the knowledge gained from the program. Once each person finished their introduction, the pot was passed for the next introduction, until it came full circle back to me. What a cool concept to witness!
When it was my turn to speak, I shared my journey as an executive [and] survivor; I described the mission and determination behind the success of my non-profit organization Battered Not Broken, Inc. Afterward, the interns asked sharp, professional, as well as personal questions; it was a great dialogue, and I was more than happy to engage.
The highlight of the hour was the opportunity to see (first hand) my son Nick's passion for the program, alongside the amazingly talented, and compassionate people he is working and learning with each day. Even more extraordinary, was the opportunity to share one of the most rewarding experiences not only as a professional but also as a mother. As I sat at the table, I could sense my son was just as proud of me…as I was of him.
At the end of our discussion, I was asked:"What do you want your legacy to be?" My Answer:
"To be known for not breaking, for not giving into my circumstances; and for helping others to find their voice and strength in theirs [circumstances]."
Upon parting, I was asked to sign the wall of inspiration where other "High Tea" guest had left behind words of wisdom to keep the interns motivated on their journey to success. To have my words "The Power is Within, Keep Being Powerful!! written alongside the wisdom of other CEO’s (some of them millionaires), gave me goosebumps.
A Thoughtful 'Thank you'
I am honored to receive such a very thoughtful thank you and follow-up email from one of the host interns name Richard, describing the impact of my visit, which truly touched me.
I highly encourage other professionals and business leaders looking for ways to give back and get involved in the most amazing and rewarding volunteer experience ever, to contact them!