Grainger: It Takes a Mentor

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Every Thursday, Brenda, a Cristo Rey senior, scours through customer requests for parts – motors, fasteners, tools and safety supplies, and organizes them in spreadsheets for her managers at W.W. Grainger, Inc. in Lake Forest. This data collection and entry work can sound tedious. But amid the sea of cubicles at this Fortune 500 industrial supply company, she’s found a mentor who has encouraged her goals and dreams, is engaged in helping her apply what she is learning and cares about her as a person.

“She’s always sending me emails and links to interesting college and career programs and encouraging me to go for it,” says Brenda, who thanks to her mentor’s prompting, last summer attended a unique, “High School Mini Medical School” sponsored by The University of Missouri School of Medicine for high school students interested in careers in medicine. “She’s someone who really seems to care and wants to help me make a difference in my future.”

“She” is Ruby Garcia. A 37-year-old Implementation Project Manager and 10-year Grainger veteran. For the last year-and-a-half, Garcia has served as a mentor for Brenda through an innovative mentoring program. The program pairs the 20 Cristo Rey students at the Lake Forest campus with adult mentors in addition to the supervisor’s students work with as part of the Corporate Work Study Program.

“The supervisors serve as role models, but we wanted to take the idea to the next level and see what we could do in actually helping them visualize their career paths and to take a hands-on interest in their aspirations,” says Carolina Ponce Delgado, GIS Accounting Manager, and supervisor of the CWSP at Grainger. She championed the mentorship program and oversaw its implementation. The mentorship program is sponsored by Grainger’s 228-member Latino Resource Group. In addition to the students’ five-days-a-month work schedule at Grainger, they meet at least once a month with their mentors and build a strong mentoring relationship through emails and phone calls.

For students like Brenda, it is doing exactly that. “I remember being in high school and wishing I had someone who could help me with that self-discovery and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life,” says Garcia, a single mom of two, who was the first one in her family to graduate high school and go on to college. She’s also one of 26 Latino women who is being featured in a soon-to-be-released book: Today’s Inspired Latina: Life Stories of Success in the Face of Adversity (Fig Factor Media).) “Brenda is really passionate about wanting to do something that is hands-on helping people, possibly dentistry, and I am trying to help her find the scholarship opportunities and clarity around that.”

It is the opportunity to create and share dreams with Cristo Rey students that inspires Enrique Juarez, a 28-year-old Marketing Systems Project Manager to mentor two students – sophomores Jonathan and Alondra.

“I wish that when I was in high school I had someone who could help guide me,” says Juarez. “My mom worked in a packaging warehouse and my dad was a forklift driver and neither of my two older brothers and younger sister were interested in the whole college/career things so I was on my own trying to sort it all out. Looking back, I feel as if I would have been leaps and bounds ahead if I had someone who I could have talked to who had walked the walk and could create a vision for me of what to aspire and long for. Now, I’m trying to be that person.”

Juarez is making a difference in the lives of his mentees – Jonathan and Alondra. “One of my dream careers would be to be a chef and Enrique arranged for me to interview a chef in Chicago about his career,” said Jonathan. Alondra adds: “He’s really trying to help us become the best we can be. One thing he really helped me with was to write a resume so I could get a summer job.”

“We hold Grainger up as a model to share best practices with our other business partners,” says Hugo Chavez, Managing Director, Corporate Work Study Program, describing a partnership that started in 2008. Students are challenged in their jobs and do department level work that brings value to their departments. Each student enjoys working at Grainger at a number of levels: performing challenging work, building strong resumes, receiving letters of recommendation for their college applications and establishing relationships with their co-workers and mentors. CRSM is grateful for the opportunity to now have 20 students working at Grainger and values this relationship.”