A partner in Living United

We love celebrating partners who Live United — partners like General Motors. Their GM Student Corps in our Turnaround High Schools allows students to work on community service projects while learning important life skills to prepare them for college and the job market.

Video by Charles Ashley. Story by Valerie West.

At United Way, we invite everyone to join us to Live United — and we love celebrating partners who are full-on ready to invest their time, talents and funds into Greater Detroit.

General Motors is one such partner.

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General Motors is ramping up for its third year of the Gm Student Corps, a 10-week paid summer internship for high school students.

As the school year winds down, General Motors is ramping up for its third year of the GM Student Corps, a 10-week paid summer internship for high school students “who exhibit grit, determination and leadership potential.”

Students get to work alongside GM retirees and University of Detroit Mercy college interns on community service projects of their choosing while learning important life skills that will help them prepare for college and the job market.

Matthew Ybarra, a master’s student at University of Detroit Mercy and GM intern, has been with the program since it’s inception. For Matthew, the experience has had a profound impact.

“I’ve developed incredible relationships with both retirees and students, and still stay in touch with many of them.”

During Matthew’s first year with the program, he served as a college intern with River Rouge High School. Their project was to beautify a viaduct that had become overgrown with weeds and was lacking streetlights.

“Kids walked under it on their way to school, and it was dangerous,” he said, adding that, “One of the coolest parts of the program is that it’s up to students and the community to decide what improvements they want to see.”

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During the program’s first year, River Rouge students beautified the viaduct.

During the beautification project, community members would stop by with food for the kids or honk their horns in support.

After that, Matthew was hooked. Since then, he’s been leading the program. Lockstep with him are high school principals and United Way Directors of High School Success from our High School Turnaround Initiative, which was created in part to improve graduation rates in some of the city’s historically low-performing schools.

Students are chosen from 13 regional schools, including the GM Network of Excellence, a Turnaround network that was made possible thanks to a generous $27.1 million gift made by the GM Foundation in 2010.

In just three years, eight Detroit-area parks have been refurbished; more than 425 trees, flowers and shrubs have been planted; and more than 30,000 pounds of food have been distributed.

Harper Woods High School senior Dominique Hayes has been a part of the GM Student Corps for two years. She has helped with a variety of projects, including mulching local parks, and planting bushes, putting up a fence and painting the press box outside her school.

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Dominique Hayes, a two-year member of the GM Student Corps, said the program taught her a lot, particularly about financial literacy.

An added bonus: students earn a monthly stipend for their efforts. To help students manage their money, GM offers also offers a one-day course on opening a savings account and balancing a budget.

“When I first was a part of the GM Student Corps in 11th grade, I spent all my money,” Dominique said. “I was not saving it wisely. Then when I was a member the second time, going into my 12th-grade year, I actually saved to pay for my band camp. I learned how to spend wisely.”

This work is so much more than giving kids a summer job. Interns also get to take part in curriculum from Junior Achievement, including mock job interviews, financial literacy classes and resume-writing workshops. Some of the retirees make such a strong connection with the students that they go and visit them during the school year, Matthew said.

“I feel like we’re making a difference,” he said.

Editor’s Note: Marina Csomor contributed to the interview of this story.