Give Back, Get Back

A group of New York City high school students are hanging out, eating pizza, and talking about Facebook. Nothing too out of the ordinary, right? Here’s the twist: the students are talking about Facebook with the CEO of a local CRM solutions provider, and his employees.

The company is Infinity Info Systems, a technology solutions and services provider based in Manhattan, and the students are participants of The Children’s Aid Society’s Corporate Workplace Program, which focuses on taking highly motivated high school juniors and seniors from underprivileged areas and closing the gap between the classroom and the real world of work. By partnering with local businesses, the program allows students to attend workshops, learn hands-on practical skills, and earn the opportunity to work with the businesses as interns.

And the benefits aren’t just for the students, either. At Infinity Info Systems, the students participated in two sessions focused on communication in the digital world. Members of the company’s staff gave presentations on topics like social media and internet security, sharing personal experiences, as well as instructional information. “When you give back, it gives you a better sense of who you are,” says Yacov Wrocherinsky, founder and CEO of Infinity Info Systems. Employees from all levels of the company volunteered to participate in the after-work event, from sales to finance to administrators.

The Corporate Workplace Program has been running for more than 10 years, and Michael Roberts, assistant division director for city and country branches at The Children’s Aid Society, estimates that the program has helped approximately 1,500 children. “It’s been a real growth opportunity for us, to give our kids a chance. But also I think the companies have really grown a great heart. They understand that you cultivate a workforce by also introducing what you do to young people that are just starting their journey,” he says. Many of the students that participate in the program eventually go on to work with the companies they’ve visited, he adds.

“Giving breeds a really great camaraderie among your workforce,” says Roberts. “Everybody from your receptionist to your CEO has something to offer that is legitimate.” And there are few restrictions on the types of businesses that can participate. The program has worked with companies of all types, from corporations like Morgan Stanley to freelance consultants.

For a business to participate, they need to meet three requirements:

  1. Supply a space and put together a presentation or workshop
  2. Provide a meal
  3. Provide an internship for appropriate and interested candidates

Roberts and his team work with the companies to make the program run as smoothly as possible. “We try and make it really simple, so that it’s not over-taxing on a company or their staff,” he says. Interested businesses, however, should be aware that participation is a serious commitment. “You want to be ready for it,” says Wrocherinsky. “It’s not like, ‘Hey, just bring them in; I’ll figure it out.’ You don’t want to waste their time.”

Some business owners have concerns about participating in the program at first. “The fear is, ‘What am I going to do with teenagers in my office? Are they going to be running around? Are they going to be talking out of turn? Are they going to come here and create havoc?’ But the kids are really very well prepared,” says Roberts.

“They’re like unpolished diamonds. Some of them are very ambitious. Give them the opportunity, and they can rise to it,” Wrocherinsky says. “When they see that they could become leaders, and then one day they could be the ones who can teach, they can inspire other kids, too. It becomes a transformational event. We can change a lot of New York’s communities.”