Numerous mentoring programs around the country regularly match businesses with kids. The varied programs are critically important and often show positive results.
But few, if any, of these initiatives involve the head of a company in a year-long effort to broaden the horizons of at-risk students through the world of business. In an ambitious effort to prepare vulnerable children for rewarding careers in the future, Risen Christ School (RCS), a 335-student, K-8 grade school located in the Powderhorn Park area of Minneapolis, created an innovative program, "Imagine the Possibilities."
The one-of-a-kind program pairs top executives from about two dozen companies with up to six students in grades 7-8.
The business leaders/mentors expressly design a project related to their field to be presented over the course of the school year to their group of six students. One of the prominent executives leading this year’s program is Shorewood’s Jerry Finnerty, CEO of Corporate Incentives of America.
“I am very excited to design my program around teaching these young people what it takes to build and grow a business,” said Finnerty. “I hope to provide my students with some tangible insights of what it takes to be a leader and to understand how that will serve them in the workplace.”
Finnerty graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1972 with a degree in Business Administration. Following his first job of keeping track of agency expenditures for the State of Minnesota Budget Division, he created Corporate Incentives, which provides promotional marketing services to medium and large corporations.
More than 95 percent of RCS’s students come from families who are living either at or below the poverty line. Many of these students will become first-generation high school graduates. Because these students have limited contact with the world of business, the school believes they would benefit from personal interactions with business leaders. "Imagine the Possibilities" allows experienced executives to contribute their knowledge and leadership to positively influence kids who might otherwise never reach their potential.
“The approach is both innovative and creative," said Fran Rusciano Murnane, RCS’s director of advancement and "Imagine the Possibilities" program manager. "Business executives engage with students on many levels, creating opportunities for developing new insights and gaining knowledge that can influence, inform and enlighten other students.”
Student participation includes field trips that demonstrate the application of what is learned from each business executive, which help youth understand the importance of their education in preparation for future careers. Funded in part by an inner-city education grant from the GHR Foundation, RCS’s "Imagine the Possibilities" will result in a myriad of benefits to both students and their mentors.
In the initiative’s first year, Imagine the Possibilities received an award for Best Program of the Year from the Minnesota Independent School Forum (MISF) for its academic achievement. To punctuate that success, all of the business executives who participated during the initiative’s first year are entering into their third year, committing to recreate their programs and continue to mentor Risen Christ School students.
Finnerty is an avid pilot and member of the Yankee Flying Club out of the Crystal Airport. He is also a member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Club and Lyndale Neighborhood Association.
Finnerty and his wife live in Shorewood.