Can you remember a mentor who made a meaningful difference in your personal and professional life? This could be a manager who supported your development, a friend or family member who bolstered your confidence, or a role model who demonstrated success through their actions and their words.
Mentors have a way of leaving a lasting impression on those they influence and inspire. But what does the mentor gain from the relationship? Rich Products associates Donna Becker and Jessica English, who volunteer as community mentors, insist that it is a mutually beneficial experience.
In May 2022, Donna Becker, manager of logistics services, began mentoring a college freshman through Say Yes Buffalo, a program serving students who, as members of under-resourced communities, face many barriers on the road to a high-quality education. Say Yes mentees are identified by their teachers as students who are capable of excelling in higher education—all they need is structured guidance and support.
“This experience has opened my eyes to how much I’ve taken for granted in my own life, how blessed I’ve been, and how much we can do to help others,” said Becker, a Rich’s associate for nearly 30 years. “I’ve been inspired by the stories of so many students in the Say Yes program, their determination to rise above adversity, their commitment to investing in their own growth and development, and their pursuit of higher education.”
For 12 hours per week over the course of two years, Becker worked with a young Tanzanian refugee, who was one of four mentees working at Rich’s. After adapting to a significant language barrier—and with the support of Rich’s team members and other mentors—Becker and her mentee sparked a connection. The young student found her voice and the confidence to ask questions, all while enhancing her growth and development.
“When I think about the challenges the Say Yes mentees have faced in their lives, I am excited by the progress they are all making,” said Becker. “Most of these students haven’t had the guidance that so many of us had growing up, so we offer support and experience in the real world and teach them valuable life skills at the same time.”
The investment that Rich’s and Becker have made in members of the regional workforce is exactly what David Rust, chief executive officer of Say Yes Buffalo, says is required from the private sector to further its mission of removing barriers that prohibit so many of Buffalo’s youth.
“The level of participation and excitement that Rich’s has assumed in this program changes lives. That’s the reason why dedicated associates at Rich’s, like Becker, are so eagerly taking to training these younger team members,” said Rust. “They’re seeing the change, they’re seeing the empowerment happen, and it’s making Rich’s a stronger organization in the process. The gratifying element for us as an organization is that this program is not only the smart thing to do—it’s also the right thing to do.”
Becker is just as grateful, citing Rich’s participation as a pivotal part of the mentoring program.
“I commend Rich’s for participating in the Say Yes program, for supporting these students, for supporting us through this journey, and for reinvesting in the Buffalo economy,” said Becker. “Rich’s provided me with an opportunity to better understand my community and its needs—specifically the Buffalo Public School System—and the chance to make a difference. I am grateful for this experience and all that it has taught me.”
To keep the success stories going, Becker encourages other associates and community members to get involved as mentors. According to Becker, the opportunity for these young students to grow in a real-world employment environment is priceless.
Elsewhere at Rich’s, a different mentorship was proving to be equally as rewarding. In 2022, Jessica English, Rich’s external innovation manager, completed a year-long term as part of a three-person team of mentors who supported a local entrepreneur as part of what is now known as IC Success! The program offers free immersive business training, mentorship, and professional networking opportunities to immigrants, women, people of color, and previously incarcerated individuals starting or growing a business or nonprofit.
“I am grateful for the mentors I have had throughout my career,” said English. “Having a mentor with radical candor that cares about you as a person, but also directly challenges you and your thinking, is invaluable. It’s what has made me better in my career and as a person. Knowing that multiple people have taken the time to do this for me makes me want to pay it forward and try and do the same for others.”
English, who has been with Rich’s for five years, and her teammates brought with them a wealth of affiliations, expertise, and guidance to support DeVaughn Jones, president and co-founder of Warr Room Decompress, a mental health and wellness organization that helps people find healthy outlets for their stress, including a smash room and calming therapies.
The mentoring component of the IC Success! model is their value proposition; it is the differentiator between their program and other business development opportunities.
Mentors dedicate 90 minutes per week for the initial 12-week period, and then 90 minutes each month for the remainder of the year. In addition to establishing a new network of local professionals and growing as a leader herself, English found the program to be incredibly inspiring.
“These entrepreneurs are all doing something that I don’t have the guts to do,” said English. “It’s been exceptionally motivating and very impactful to me. It has reinvigorated my desire to push boundaries, not to play it safe, and to take risks within my own work.”
To get involved with IC Success! and its upcoming programming, please contact Juweria Dahir, director of innovation and entrepreneurship, at [email protected].