If life is a race, in a just society we must strive to see all of our children leave the starting line on equal footing. On the racetrack, athletes use a starting block at the beginning of a race to establish correct positioning and strong first steps. Acting as the “Starting Blocks” in the race of life, our programing helps high school students take off into the real world positioned for success.
Starting Blocks is the flagship program of Community Connections for Bright Futures, a California 501c3 organization. The non-profit was officially founded in August 2010, but operated under the umbrella of a fiscal agent for a year prior.
Since our programing began in 2009, our teaching model has gone through a number of changes. We invite you to explore this section to learn more about our history, our current model, and our hopes for the future.
Starting Blocks History
The Starting Blocks program was founded by lifetime Bay Area resident Elana Ford. After leaving her corporate career in 2008, Elana reflected on the significant advantages afforded to those who have not only received a strong education but also been taught the “rules of the game” that are rarely covered in high school. Believing that every person deserves to understand these rules, Elana began to develop programming that could address the “exposure gap” when it came to important Life Skills.
The initial program model included: a mentoring program where students met one-on-one with mentors each month to explore a variety of topics (job search, personal finance, communication, etc.); a series of Life Skills Workshops presented by Starting Blocks and partner organizations to prepare students for their mentor meetings; a database of organizations (called the Student Resource Network) offering employment opportunities and scholarships to high school upperclassmen and college freshmen; and a series of Career Panels where students could network with professionals from a number of different career tracks over the course of a school year. We also sponsored an annual Winter “Mocktail” Party where students could practice their networking skills in a festive environment.
After our two pilot years at the Berkeley High School Green Academy (2009-2011), we refined our model to focus on the areas that we believe we do best and that allow us to produce truly unique programming: supporting students in building professional networks and carrying out successful job and internship searches. Although we consider personal finance, health, communication, and other related topics to be essential, we do not believe that our programing was meaningfully different from other agencies that cover them. It is our strong belief that all students are best served if agencies focus their efforts and collaborate with one other to expand their scope rather than compete for resources.
Starting Blocks Today
As we move forward with our newly focused programming, we are focused on the creation of a printed workbook to support each of our three workshops: Resume Writing, Interviewing, and Networking. We are also changing the process by which we bring students and mentors into our program. Although we previously recruited mentors from the community to work in local high schools, we are working to build relationships with teen mentoring programs. By changing our method in this way, we create a more scalable program due to a decrease in logistical hurdles and the elimination of the need to recruit our own mentors (cutting expenses by an order of magnitude). We believe that established mentoring programs will find Starting Blocks to be an ideal partner as we provide a truly unique learning experience for teen/mentor pairs, end our workshops with suggestions for follow-up, and help teens to connect more with each other and with each other’s mentors—broadening the horizons of all participants.
In addition to developing the three workshops and reaching out to East Bay mentoring programs, it is a short-term goal to strengthen our relationships with the companies added to our Student Resource Network over the past two years. By better understanding what employers are looking for in future employees, we hope to continuously improve our workshop curriculum. We also aim to build strong relationships with HR representatives, allowing Starting Blocks to refer students to employment opportunities in a more meaningful and directed way. This need emerged from our 2011 evaluation process, teaching us that students were struggling with the self-directed nature of the online database.
Starting Blocks Tomorrow
After establishing the curriculum for our three cornerstone workshops, we have many long-term goals for the future of Starting Blocks:
First, we hope to produce two major annual events, which would be open to all Bay Area teens and young adults:
- A job fair involving the companies from the Student Resource Network. Students would be able to meet with employers interested in hiring students, making this event different from the “Career Day” more often produced, where representatives from many different companies and industries speak with students, but are not focused on providing professional opportunities for students who attend.
- An expansion of the “Mocktail” networking party we have previously produced. Both students and local adults would participate and mingle with one another over the course of the evening. All participants would come in business attire to simulate a networking function at a conference or professional gathering. This event would also serve as a fundraiser, as adults would be asked to pay for their tickets and make a contribution to “sponsor” one student’s attendance.
In addition to these events, we will be investigating ways to work with high schools and teen centers (without existing mentors) in a scalable way. By developing best practices for these partnerships, Starting Blocks could significantly increase the number of students benefiting from its programing.
Finally, we would like to explore the use of social media for re-launching the Student Resource Network and the instructional guides in a platform that allows motivated students to access the data in an easy, user-friendly way, perhaps through the development of an “app” or something of the like.