Life Changing Mentorship Program Helps Detroit’s Young People

In Detroit, the Winning Futures mentorship program uses four building blocks to change the lives of young people in that struggling city: trusting relationships, energizing experiences, unforgettable life lessons and winning futures. The group’s mission is to be “an exemplary business-education partnership that inspires and prepares young people to be self-reliant and successful through life skills, strategic planning, mentoring, and scholarship programs.”

For students like Dorota, the program has been life-changing. “It inspired me to think ‘I actually am good enough. I actually put the negative thoughts aside,” she says in a video.

Joe is another student whose life was turned around by Winning Futures. After being kicked out of high school, he was “aimless and angry.” He committed petty theft and was sent to jail. He ended up connecting with Winning Futures and his mentor, Mike Fitzpatrick, changed everything. For Joe, the mentorship not only kept him out of jail and set him on the right path — in this case, into an apprenticeship at Fitzpatrick’s manufacturing company, which also helped to pay for continuing education.

“I could tell that Mike was really generous, he really cared,” Joe said, “he was really genuine about how he felt, the things that he did for people.”

“If you align yourself with good people around you, people of high character,” Fitzpatrick said, “both your peers and the adults, your mentors, make sure that these people have your best interests at heart, so make sure you keep the toxic people out of your life.”

The program has changed Joe’s life. “It’s really given me the motivation to see, to realize how much I’m actually capable of,” Joe said.

Fitzpatrick has helped nearly 50 young people over the years. Like Joe, Ben was also headed for jail when he found the Winning Futures program and Fitzpatrick. After an injury, Ben turned to violence and drugs, and was sorely in need of direction and a positive influence to help him find it. “There hasn’t been anyone who had that much interest in me, that cared so much for me,” Ben said of Fitzpatrick and Winning Futures.

Sam Cupp, a Detroit-area entrepreneur, founded the program in 1994. His first mentee, Kristina Marshall, is now the organization’s president and CEO. Today, the program matches mentors with 1,400 students from sixth through 12th grade, based on gender and career interest. The program features a competition for summer internships, essay contests, a scholarship and college readiness programs.

Board member Lyndon P. Williams said that Winning Futures, and mentoring generally, is important because it means “making sure (mentees) have a certain sense of self-worth, a sense of excitement about their future and having someone to validate that, having someone to answer those questions that they need to have answered.”

While some have doubted that a mentorship program could work in Detroit, Williams points to Winning Futures’ 90 percent high school graduation rate. “We have thousands of stories,” he said, “of going from dropping out to ‘Ok, now I’m not going to drop out,’ to ‘I’m going to graduate’ and now ‘I’m going to be successful.’”

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.