IRVINE, Calif. - Employees at Ford’s Irvine headquarters in California recently reached out to their community in a very special way that helped bring hope to the lives of 100 at-risk middle school children.
They teamed up with law enforcement and mentored the students in conjunction with the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (GRIP), a program designed to keep young children in school and out of gangs.
GRIP is led by the Orange County district attorney’s office and its goal is to take a proactive approach to reducing gang involvement by focusing on young children between fourth and eighth grade before they are lured into a gang either through a family member or social situation.
Nearly 70 Ford employees split into groups and met with children from 11 local middle schools once a month from September through December. They organized creative car-related projects for the kids to work on, brought in new vehicles for them to see and sit in, and shared some of their own life experiences.
“We showed them a life outside of the community they have, and we did it through the common language of cars,” said Joe Margraf, manager, Market Area Network Development, West Region. “Our goal was to encourage the kids to stay in school, be on time, do their homework and really plant the seed that there was a larger opportunity out there for them if they simply stayed in school.”
Margraf’s group included Designer Greg Hutting. Their project for the kids at Shorecliffs Middle School in San Clemente, Calif., was to design decals for a Fiesta Rally car.
“We showed them a few Ken Block Gymkhana videos for inspiration and then worked with them to bring their vision to life using some of the visualization tools we use in the studio,” said Hutting.
Henry Ford III, great-great grandson of Henry Ford and Lincoln Area Manager, West Market Area, also participated in the program.
“It’s amazing. You really develop relationships and you want the kids to succeed,” he said. “That’s what made this so much fun. We felt like we were involved and that we were somehow trying to making a difference in giving these kids a positive influence and showing them that this was something that they could aspire to.”
As an incentive for positive behavior, perfect attendance and staying out of gangs for the duration of the program, Ford promised the students a tour of the Irvine design studio. Of the 110 students who started with the program, 100 met the challenge, according to Tracy Rinauro, an assistant district attorney in Orange County who leads the GRIP program.
“These are kids who have tough lives. Many have siblings who are in jail or parents who are in prison,” said Rinauro. “On the day that we had the big event at the Ford studio, the kids were crying as they were hugging their Ford mentors goodbye. It had a huge impact.”
Rinauro said Ford’s involvement with the children also impacted the law enforcement officials who sat in on the mentoring sessions.
“Police officers sometimes see the hardest things in society. They watch kids get murdered at 11 and 12 years old, and it can be very demotivating and hard to deal with,” she said. “When they see people like the Ford employees give of their own money and their own time to try to keep these kids safe, it’s really inspiring.”
Kenny Moe, principal of the Shorecliffs Middle School, said he was grateful for Ford’s participation.
“It’s people investing in the community. I really love that concept,” he said. “These kids have every chance to work at Ford down the road and they had no idea that it was even out there. And I’ve got to tell you it gives these kids hope.”
Hutting and Margraf say they were impacted personally by the experience.
“Developing a relationship with this small group of kids has truly enriched my soul, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it,” said Hutting. “It focused my perspective on the things in life that are really important and reminded me to appreciate many of the things I take for granted every day. It also makes me very proud to work for a company like Ford that encourages us to get out and make a difference in our communities.”
Margraf, a 30-year Ford employee, says the program enabled him to witness “the best” of Ford Motor Company.
“I think the employees that participated in the program not only came away with a better sense of community but a better sense of what Ford Motor Company is supposed to be when we talk about Go Further,” he said. “I applaud the company management here – Tom Brewer and Freeman Thomas – for letting it happen.”
Ford is currently discussing the possibility of participating in the program again next year, and Rinauro says she couldn’t be more pleased.
“I wish all America could see this,” she said. “When private businesses take responsibility for the community’s safety and partner with law enforcement, huge things happen and it changes the way we operate as a society.”