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Monday, August 27, 2007

New high school puts focus on workplace

Cristo Rey gives students taste of real employment
Terry Majors wants to make a name for himself in the business community, and he's confident he's well on his way to being successful. Making eye contact, he shakes hands firmly and confidently. He's dressed neatly and professionally in a white, buttondown shirt and tie. His shoes are well-polished. He speaks in a friendly, yet authoritative, voice about a new job he will soon start.
"It's all about choices," he says philosophically of life, as if he's been making choices for decades.
But Majors hasn't yet lived through decades; he's only 14 years old. He's a freshman at a new high school that pairs students with companies in a program that teaches the teen-agers about the business world, while readying them for college.
"We're the younger generation," Majors says, pointing out that he and his classmates will be the ones running things in a few years. He wants to be a doctor or perhaps a lawyer.
Admittedly, he says, it took him a couple of tries to learn to tie his tie.
"I'm used to it now and it feels comfortable," he said. "I have a more positive attitude when I dress well."
This is the first year in Indianapolis for Providence Cristo Rey High School, a national Catholic faith-based, collegepreparatory high school that began in Chicago 11 years ago.
About two miles west of White River State Park, Providence Cristo Rey has accepted 100 students, most of whom are 21st Century Scholars. The school will grow to about 400 students over the next four years.
College expected
And if the 19 other Cristo Rey high schools nationwide are an indication, Majors and nearly all his classmates will go to college before embarking on careers, a decision possibly made easier because they'll work in four different jobs in various industries during high school, giving them a chance to see what they might like to do and what they don't want to do.
Among the 2006 graduates of Cristo Rey schools elsewhere, 99 percent were admitted to two- or four-year colleges and 95 percent enrolled.
The majority of the students at the schools, which are typically in urban neighborhoods plagued by poverty or crime-or both-are Latino or black. Their annual family incomes barely top $33,000.
Only 2.6 percent of Cristo Rey students dropped out last year, compared with national figures that show nearly half of Latino and black students do not finish high school.
The school credits its success to getting the students interested in the business world, building their confidence and selecting motivated teen-agers who might not be up to speed on academics, but want to go to college.
"It's all about relationships," said Anne O'Dea, who works in admissions at Providence Cristo Rey. "These kids have just really been turned on by what they learn. At least they come back every day."
Local businesses see the positives, too. Among the 25 that have come on board at Providence are Eli Lilly and Co., St. Vincent Health, CSO Architects, Ice Miller LLP and OneAmerica.
Each pays $25,000 to sponsor four students who share a job at the company. The money pays 75 percent of the student's tuition; parents pay the rest, although financial aid is available.
Summer boot camp
Company representatives also teach classes such as business ethics, public speaking and conflict resolution during a three-week boot camp students went through this summer-before school even started.
A typical day for Majors during boot camp started at 8 a.m. with assembly and prayer. Four business-related workshops followed, each 45 minutes long. Then he ate lunch in the cafeteria that looks-and sounds-like any other high school cafeteria. Lunch was provided as most of the students qualify for reduced or free-lunch programs. After lunch, students attended math and reading remedial classes to get them ready for high school.
Majors, one of six siblings, took something else away from boot camp-a large collection of business cards.
"I plan to stay in touch with all these people," Majors said, thinking years ahead to life in the business world after college.
It was at the end of boot camp that students learned what company they will work for and what job they'll do there during the school year.
And the jobs are real-not made-up positions to keep the students busy, said Mary Jo Reed, job cost manager at Duke Realty Corp., and Majors' supervisor.
For example, Majors will work on job closeouts at Duke, a process where construction costs are tallied at the end of a project to ensure that the charges have been allocated correctly and that no further costs are incurred.
Majors will have his own office, phone, computer and access to Duke's computer systems, Reed explained. He'll work with project managers and those in the construction department and be included in meetings and company functions.
"We hope to teach him how the corporate environment works within one company," Reed said.
But it's a two-way street, she said.
"We hope to learn a lot from him as well. These kids haven't had the best of things up to this point in their lives. They may be 14, but many have lived the life of a 50-year-old."
Another student, Brittnee Vaughn, will work at AIT Laboratories, which provides laboratory research and testing for the health care, pharmaceutical and forensic industries.
Vaughn is thrilled with her placement.
"I want to be a crime scene investigator like on 'CSI,'" the 14-year-old said. "I'd be OK with observing an autopsy. I think I could handle it. I hope to ask the CEO [of AIT] if I can get a peek at what they really do."
Perhaps not an autopsy, but Vaughn will get a chance to see a lot of what goes on at AIT.
She'll work in several departments, assisting in laboratories and processing areas, according to June Henderson, director of human resources at AIT. Vaughn also will have contact with the quality-control unit and its certifying department.
Like Majors, Vaughn isn't at all nervous. Already confident coming into Providence, Vaughn, the eldest of seven children, gained even more self-assurance during boot camp while meeting people from the business community and learning what it'll be like to work in it.
"They talk to us like we're adults," said Vaughn, dressed as professionally as Majors and equally comfortable doing so. "I feel older when I dress like this."
"My friends think it's a lot to go to school and work," said Vaughn, who likes to play video games in her free time. "But I feel lucky to be going here."
Source: Indianapolis Business Journal - FOCUS: Workforce Development, August 27, 2007

Saturday, August 25, 2007

United Way sets 2007 goal at $39M

Denny Sponsel's T-shirt was soaked in perspiration Friday morning as he stood in the Near-Eastside park where he played as a boy.
The co-chairman of this year's fundraising campaign for the United Way of Central Indiana, he had been spreading mulch around the Brookside Park playground.
To hear him talk, the sweat might have come hitting up so many chief executives for contributions.
Sponsel, president of a local company that designs work spaces and deals in high-end business furnishings, announced Friday he aims to raise $39 million for the United Way this year. That's $2 million, or about 5 percent, more than last year's goal.
To make it happen, Sponsel said, he and co-chairman Bob Potts have visited 206 local corporate chief executives this year to make the United Way pitch.
That's twice the number of CEO visits the campaign had made by this time last year. By the time it's over, Sponsel intends to have hit up 250 business leaders.
Sponsel also said he's explicit when he's on these visits, giving people a specific dollar figure he has in mind.
"It's a face-to-face, belly-to-belly type of call," Sponsel said, "where we are saying that all of us have to do this."
United Way money supports charities in Marion and five neighboring counties. They include youth organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America, programs for the elderly such as Meals on Wheels, and centers that serve populations including the homeless and abused women.
The organization boasts that 95 percent of all donations go to programs, with the other 5 percent going to administrative overhead. Those operational costs would be higher -- 11 percent to 13 percent -- were it not for an endowment that helps offset some administrative costs.
The early returns this year seem promising.
Already, 30 local corporate campaigns have completed their work, and 27 have exceeded their goals, Sponsel said. The other three, he notes, were close. That has brought in $5.4 million, Sponsel noted, well ahead of the $3.7 million that was already in the kitty by this time a year ago.
Hitting such benchmarks -- and surpassing them -- is all part of Sponsel's approach.
He said workplace fundraisers are key to the United Way's annual fundraising drive. So he started in December, even while last year's campaign was being wrapped up.
Sponsel also doesn't see his approach as being high pressure.
"We're bolder and bolder for the right reasons," Sponsel said. "Because this is important work."
Call Star reporter Robert King at (317) 444-6089.
How to donate
By mail: United Way of Central Indiana,
3901 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208.
Online: www.uwci.org.
By phone: (317) 923-1466
Source: The Indianapolis Star > Local - Metro & State, August 25, 2007

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No quit in these older employees

Staying active and contributing can mean as much as a paycheck
Decked out in black pinstriped pants and a pink silk blouse, Connie R. Summers is an employer's dream.
She knows how to make a client feel welcome. And she's a mentor to co-workers, filled with real-world knowledge you just can't teach.
The kind of knowledge that comes from spending 60 years in the workplace.
"I'm not ready to give this up. I love having a job to do each day," said the 81-year-old employee at RJE Business Interiors on East Ohio Street in Indianapolis. "You do it because you want to, not because someone tells you this should be done."
More and more older Americans have decided they want to stay on the payroll. Some need jobs just to cover their health insurance costs. Others, like Summers, want to stay active.
About 6.4 percent of people 75 or older, just more than 1 million, were working in 2006. That's up from 4.7 percent, or 634,000, a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
In Indiana, the number of workers ages 65 to 99 has jumped 26 percent since 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There were about 955,000 employed seven years ago, compared with 1.2 million in 2006.
"There are people who just don't want to leave the workplace," said Terry Brown, economic research analyst with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. Whatever the reason, employers benefit.
"There is an awful lot of opportunity to take advantage of institutional knowledge," said Michael Jalbert, president of MRI Network, a Philadelphia-based professional staffing company. "Companies need that expertise. They also need that basic workplace knowledge."
Summers has been a star employee at RJE. Its business is furniture made to order by the customer, and its customers are high-profile. The furniture can be found in Simon Property Group's new headquarters, at the new Central Library and at Conseco, Cummins and Sallie Mae.
Summers is a secret weapon who gets the showroom ready for client meetings, baking chocolate chip cookies and coordinating presentations. She also likes to re-clean the restrooms to make sure they sparkle. She fills in at the front switchboard and stands at the door to greet customers with a hug. At all times, she is dressed to the nines in fashionable business attire.
"She is vital to our business, but it also keeps her vital," said Dennis Sponsel, president of RJE. "People have this basic need to contribute and a basic need to be challenged, and when they are missing that, something is missing in their lives."
No one has to tell that to Jim Streeter, 70, a group manager with Shiel Sexton, a construction management company.
"You can only do so many crossword puzzles," he said. "I like to keep my brain active."
After retiring from Hunt Construction a few years back, Streeter decided he wasn't ready to give up employment altogether. Today he is not only a full-time employee, but one who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
"Right out of the gates he came in with a high degree of credibility," said John Andrews, director of business development at Shiel. "People know him in the industry. People respect him. His background in the industry is something you can't duplicate."
What is even more impressive is Streeter's ability to adapt to the modern workplace. Technology is not a problem. Complicated software, not a problem.
"He's further ahead than some of the guys in their 40s around here," said Andrews.
Experts say, contrary to the myths, older workers are quite willing to learn new things. They are also some of the hardest-working employees to be found.
Gloria Bulger, 85, who has been in real estate 45 years, is the perfect example. She doesn't let a cell phone or computer listing of a house boggle her mind. She jumps right in.
When she got into real estate, she said, women and blacks weren't allowed to belong to the National Board of Realtors. She has definitely seen things change. But the basic job of making a client happy by finding what he or she wants hasn't changed, and that's why Bulger is still doing it.
"If I can help somebody, I will," said Bulger, with ReMax Real Estate Group on the Far Northside. "As long as I can limp around and hang onto a rail and get up those steps, I will do it. Why not?"
Source: The Indianapolis Star > Business, August 21, 2007

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Life's early lessons provided firm foundation

Ups and downs: Dennis Sponsel took on business ownership just before an economic downturn. But today, he says, RJE Business Interiors is thriving. He calls the experience "an incredible ride."
- Photo provided by Dennis Sponsel
  • Age: 52
  • Title: President, owner
    RJE Business Interiors
  • Community/professional: Co-chair 2007 United Way Campaign; president-elect, Rotary Club of Indianapolis; Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library Foundation board; Mother Theodore Guerin Catholic Academies board; Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Library community board; Indianapolis Downtown Inc. board
  • Personal: Wife, Cathy; four children.
I never would have thought as an eighth-grade football and basketball player at St. Philip Neri that those experiences would become invaluable to my business life decades later.
Nor would I ever have dreamed that the discipline and motivation received while attending high school at the Latin School of Indianapolis would provide so much support as challenges emerged in life.
But that's exactly what has happened.
I had the very good fortune of being raised by parents who positioned their children in front of people and situations that would benefit them later in life. These were people that knew how to be tough but smile; give discipline but care; compete but be fair. What wonderful teachings.
I entered the office-furniture industry as an ambitious 21-year- old and worked for 23 years for The Shaw Walker Co., which later merged with Knoll Inc.
The 1990 merger, on the verge of a 1991 economic downturn, served as my first very big business lesson. I got to learn how to handle tough business obstacles in a disciplined and focused fashion.
I bought RJE Business Interiors (a Knoll dealer) in March 2000 right before the office furniture industry experienced its biggest downturn in history -- a 42 percent drop from 2001 to 2003. Like others, I hadn't anticipated the magnitude of the fall, and I had just bought a business.
Thankfully, I was able to draw from my early life lessons and mentors to get through these difficult times.
Those early tough days of hot practices and seemingly insurmountable challenges came to mind often. Those early teachings that life will not always be easy, that there is always a way to come out the other end a champion, became a constant in my mind.
It has turned out to be an incredible ride.
Our company today is stronger and healthier than ever, and it has allowed me to contribute back to the very community that helped me be who I am today. I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunities and people that gave of themselves and their influence.
-- By Dennis Sponsel
Source: The Indianapolis Star > Business, August 5, 2007

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

2006 "HUG" Associates of the Year Named

We just awarded our annual "HUG" Associates of the Year." And no, the ceremony was not called "The Huggies." We want to congratulate "Aunt Connie" Summers and Tim Coulter for winning our equivalent of employees of the year. It means they have served as the best example of the RJE "HUG" philosophy of professionalism, integrity and respect shown to both our customers and our fellow staff members.