By: Ardell Thornton
When asked to be profiled by GumBumper I was both awed and appreciative, but I had a better idea……
This week’s feature is Chicago native Kelly Fair, Founder-Director of Polished Pebbles, a mentoring organization she created in 2009 in Chicago. I caught up with Kelly last week to get her thoughts regarding Polished Pebbles’ beginning, its biggest moments, and its future.
From the day I met Kelly, approximately five years ago, I knew that she was exceptionally bright, and that her future was even brighter. She embodies an awesome mix of leadership, vision, tenacity, beauty, and strong communication and interpersonal skills to name a few; I dare not leave out spiritual, and a devout student of physical fitness. She’s one of those people you’re proud to call a friend. I caught up with Kelly last week to get her thoughts regarding Polished Pebbles’ inception, its biggest moments, and its future.
What prompted you to create Polished Pebbles?
After 10 years of experience in education, I know mentoring works. But I know the power of mentoring intimately, because it completely changed my life. Mentoring turned me around from being a shy girl to a self-assured leader graduating with honors from Howard University, to a budding non-profit leader, to the youngest manager in research and national marketing for McGraw Hill Publishing, and recently a 2013 Verizon Everyday Hero nominee. I left my successful career in corporate America to create Polished Pebbles to unleash the life-altering power of mentoring upon more girls like me, so that they’ll know that EXCELLENCE, and NOT violence and failure is what the South Side of Chicago produces! Here is an example of the kind of experience mentoring can produce for a young woman.
“Well there you go, that’s what the South Side of Chicago produces…”
This was the response First Lady Michelle Obama had when teenaged Polished Pebbles mentee Deneen powerfully introduced Mrs. Obama at the 2011 National Mentoring Summit
Deneen wasn’t a trained speaker, or top student, but a kid with lots of potential presented with a life changing opportunity. With proper mentoring provided by Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program, she impressed the First Lady, and an audience of hundreds on a national stage.
What is your 5-year vision for Polished Pebbles?
Polished Pebbles’ success lies in it being a replicable model that works across age groups, various communities and settings. It can be tailored to work well with a diverse set of partnering businesses, organizations, educational institutions, and personnel (paid, volunteer, or interns). Our long-term goal is to continue to expand Polished Pebbles sites throughout the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and other states as well. However, the key is not just to promote the Polished Pebbles brand, but sharing with and training other programs on how to tailor the Polished Pebbles model for their communities. Mentoring works, but many programs fail, lacking an achievable model with a track record of success that can be quickly expanded, and that achieves its outcomes, thereby being fundable; we think we can assist in this solution. We’ll be beginning these efforts soon with the launch of my blog “kellyfairthementor”! It’ll be a space to share helpful tips, and information for those interested in furthering mentoring efforts in their communities.
What qualities do you seek in mentors for the organization?
We seek mentors/volunteers who are committed, dependable, and willing to continue to LIVE their own lives to the fullest, thereby enriching the experiences they’re able to share with the girls; LEARN from the girls, although they may have a lot to impart upon the girls, great mentors realize that they can learn and gain if not even more knowledge from their relationships with the girls; And, finally the willingness to express LOVE to the girls through empathy, listening, unconditional encouragement, and support are other qualities stellar mentors possess.
What needs are you working to fulfill for the organization? Who can help and how?
As you know, funding for educational and youth programs can often be scarce, so we are constantly seeking out new opportunities to recruit new corporate sponsorship, and provide more opportunities for individuals who would love to make Polished Pebbles Girls one of their philanthropic commitments. More funding would allow us to bring the Polished Pebbles experience to more girls, and equip us with the proper infrastructure to support the growth of mentoring efforts to occur in more communities.
What activities do you have planned for the participants during the 2013-2014 school year?
This year we have a calendar full of activities for our after-school programs with partnering schools and community organizations. Additionally, we are also partnering with the Chicago Chapter of Links, Incorporated, and the 100 Black Men of Chicago to provide dynamic programming to girls throughout Chicagoland on the second Saturday of every month. If there’s anyone interested in signing up a girl ages 7-17 yrs. for our Saturday programming they can find us on social media, or fill out an application at www.polishedpebbles.com .
What are some of the indicators among the “Pebbles” that tell you that they are in fact becoming polished?
Our primary goal is to make sure girls are fully equipped with the skills to be good communicators at home, at school and in the workplace. So when we talk about communication, we mean in every sense of the word. Can you introduce yourself to new people for the first time? We call that shining.” Many of our girls and their parents also report changes in knowledge and awareness about different career opportunities, and more awareness about their self-esteem and how to improve it. Many of the girls also report that as a result of the program they experience more hope about their futures, improvements in their overall attitudes, improved abilities to manage their anger, and conflict resolution with peers.
It takes vision, ambition, tenacity, selling and communication skills to create and sustain an organization such as Polished Pebbles. Where did you acquire those qualities and skills, and how do continue to develop them?
Of course as an undergraduate student at Howard University we were constantly mentored and developed in a variety of programs such as the Ronald McNair program. I also received a lot of training as a graduate student at University of Iowa. Tons of internships and volunteer experiences also played a role, and of course work………..go to my bio for references, e.g. McGraw Hill.
What are some of your proudest moments within Polished Pebbles?
Three statistics that exemplify our success:*
Exponential Growth! Since being founded in 2009, Polished Pebbles has grown from serving 2 girls at our inaugural meeting to having served over 500 girls through 15 program sites at numerous Chicago Public Schools, UChicago Charter Schools, The Chicago Housing Authority, and communitybased sites. We have served girls throughout the Chicagoland area, particularly in impoverished and crime infested communities. The success of the program has allowed us to receive contract renewals, extensions, and referrals from many organizations including our partners listed above.
Program impact leads to invitation to speak for First Lady of US! Despite 13 years in mentoring, Bloomingdale’s Department Stores interacted with youth primarily through mentoring programs at their school, and never had ventured to include store tours and interacting with students on store property. That all changed with their partnership with Polished Pebbles in Chicago. The success we had with our “Brown Bag Apprenticeship” Job Shadowing program in Chicago, other Bloomingdale’s markets nationally felt impelled to also start mentoring programs in their areas. In recognition of Polished Pebbles’ impact, Polished Pebbles mentee, Deneen Borner, was asked to introduce the First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2011 National Mentoring Summit in our nation’s capital.
We went global! Due to the strength of many of our partnerships we received support in making connections to establish a pilot of the Polished Pebbles South African Virtual Exchange Program. It was created to empower the girls of Polished Pebbles to become more tech-savvy and gain cultural awareness by introducing them to the similarities between experiences of African Americans during the civil rights movement in the U.S., and South Africans during the fight to end apartheid. This pilot program consists of 6th-8th grade girls that participate in our program at the Chicago Housing Authority’s Dearborn Homes in the Bronzeville community.
When asked of women whom I admire, you, particularly as an awesome young person, come to mind. Who were your mentors growing up and why?
I’m a huge fan of Melissa Harris Perry of MSNBC. I think it’s awesome that a black woman has a weekly political affairs show on a major network. I want more of us to know about her, and support her show. I love her work, because she’s honest. The topics, her guests, and her approach really speak to the current African American experience, and I feel like there’s someone out there who is really speaking for me. Additionally, I think she’s a great role model. Yes, I’m a product of mentoring. I’m a product of the benefits of career development too! I had been blessed throughout high school and college to have really strong mentors, particularly work supervisors. They really pulled me in and schooled me. You cannot get away from mentorship.
What would you like to say to any young girls who are reading this? To parents of young girls?