ST. CLOUD, Minn. – BIG Partners, a collaboration of three local organizations, won a 2023 Innovation Award Thursday from the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) for its innovation approach to mentoring St. Cloud area students.
The GSDC presents four Innovation Awards each year to non-profits and for-profit organizations that develop new products or approaches that benefit the Greater St. Cloud region and beyond.
The program launched just a year ago when Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota, Independent School District 742, and Granite Partners formed the B, I, and G in BIG Partners with the goal to strengthen educational, college, and career opportunities for students facing barriers. Inspired by Ayan Omar, Director of Equity for St. Cloud Area Schools, and structured as an extension of the BBBS model, the program provides deep, one-to-one mentoring of select high school students by professionals from Granite Partners and local Granite Companies, including DeZURIK, GeoComm, Microbiologics, and Rotochopper. The collaborating organizations bring their own areas of expertise and have found the program rewarding.
During the 2023-23 school year, 13 students from St. Cloud Tech and Apollo high schools were paired with mentors and given opportunities to:
- Explore paths to technical and community colleges, four-year educational institutions, military service, and apprenticeships
- Visit local businesses and hear from area business leaders
- Develop key career readiness skills and learn about local opportunities
- Network with business and educational leaders to build connections
At the end-of-year celebration, participants shared what they had learned – and it was clear that being part of BIG Partners was valuable not only for the student mentees, but for the mentors. Many of them exchanged notes of appreciation, and made plans to stay in touch over the summer.
The partnership between the three entities – BBBS, ISD 742, and Granite Partners – makes BIG Partners innovative, creating a valuable mentoring experience for local youth with high potential while also offering professionals, as mentors, a community engagement experience that offers insight into next-generation talent.
“What’s innovative about the BIG Partners mentorship is we’re not reinventing the wheel,” Omar said. “We are taking ideas that have been in place for many years, and we are approaching it a little differently.
“It has been a meaningful and impactful collaboration between education, nonprofit, and business organizations, and we hope it has made a big difference,” said Shelly Bauerly Kopel, partner at Granite Partners.
“It’s important for our community that our schools, private businesses, and nonprofits work together,” said Jackie Johnson, executive director at BBBS of Central Minnesota. “Our hope is to see this BIG Partners model replicated by other businesses in the community and to serve more kids.”
Watch the GSDC Innovation Award video here.
Blattner Company and NETTwork Manufacturing won the for-profit awards at the luncheon, and GREAT Theater won the second non-profit award.