I believe businesses have a unique role to play in the mentoring movement. Business people have something special to share. We can help young people see the connection between academic and career success. And we can leverage our experience and resources to help develop programs that get results.
That's why First Niagara is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeastern Pennsylvania in its workplace mentoring program, Beyond School Walls. This year, 25 students from Bridgeport Elementary School will be mentored at our regional headquarters in Plymouth Meeting.
It's also why we are proud to be joining Big Brothers Big Sisters today in a summit of corporate and nonprofit leaders on the challenges our children face. The name of the summit says it all: "Our Children, Our Community, Our Future."
Some might call our involvement in "corporate responsibility," and it is. We believe we have an obligation to improve our communities.
But it could also be labeled "corporate opportunity." Mentoring programs are a good long-term investment. The future of American business depends on today's young people. Moreover, corporate volunteer programs enhance businesses' ability to recruit and retain talented employees, who are more attracted and more loyal to socially engaged employers.
Many other corporations are supporting community and workplace mentoring, and dozens of states and cities have launched programs. Over the past 15 years, mentoring programs have grown exponentially nationwide. Close to a quarter of a billion dollars in federal funding has been devoted to them since 2008, and thousands of programs now serve three million American children.
The programs have grown because they are simple and successful. Adult volunteers who build one-on-one relationships with children can make a difference in their lives. Research on Big Brothers Big Sisters has repeatedly shown that mentored children make significant improvements in their school and personal lives.
Workplace mentoring programs have been particularly successful. In the 2010-11 school year, 92 percent of the children in the local Beyond School Walls program had no unexcused absences from school; 99 percent progressed to the next grade; and nearly 95 percent had no disciplinary infractions after participating for at least two years.
At First Niagara, we have become involved in mentoring because it's the right thing to do, it's good for the vitality of the region, and that means it's good for business. We invite every corporation in the area to join us.
Robert Kane Jr. is regional president of First Niagara Bank.