August 19, 2019
Interviewed by: David Snow

Mentoring At-Risk Girls, the Women of Tomorrow

Gretchen Perkins, a private equity executive at Detroit private equity firm Huron Capital, discusses her work with Women of Tomorrow, which helps low-income girls improve their lives and plan for college.



Mentoring At-Risk Girls, the Women of Tomorrow

Kerensa Butler, RSM: You and I have talked about your involvement in an organization, Women of Tomorrow. Can you tell me more about your organization?

Gretchen Perkins, Huron Capital: Sure. Women of Tomorrow is a mentoring scholarship program for at-risk high school girls, and we’re in over 50 high schools in the metro Detroit area. I’m at an inner city Detroit high school, and I mentor with another professional women, who’s an attorney at General Motors.  She and I mentor a lass of 25 at-risk high school girls, and they’re deemed at risk for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes it’s drug use in the home, abuse in the home, might be learning disabilities or special needs. It might be violence. These girls have a very difficult life, very difficult life, in a very under resources school, and we mentor. The purpose of it is for us women to come in, and present different career opportunities. We bring guest speakers in of all sorts of different careers that these young woman have never even thought was a thing, and even possible, and show them what that kind of Day in the Life is like, and we preach to them about the importance of grades in your freshman year, in your sophomore year.

You can’t blow that off. Employers really need to see grades, and you need to get into college if that’s your path. We also do scholarships at the end of the year for either college or trade school. If you want to go to cosmetology school or massage school, some sort of education certificate based next level learning that’s going to help pull these girls up out of their existing circumstances. We talk to them about the importance of not having babies too young because it’s really expensive, and it can derail your life. It’s a great program. Really rewarding. One of our girls in our class, we had our awards banquet last month, won a thousand dollar scholarship, and that goes a long, long way.

Another message we give these girls is you are from the inner city, if you had grades, and you’re very low income, you can go to college. There will be plenty of money for you.  Scholarships from a college cover room and board, and tuition, but they don’t cover the cost of a laptop. They don’t cover clothes, and things like that. Ours is the money to help keep these young woman in school because studies have shown that minorities drop out of college, not because they don’t have the funding for the core  There’s so many more things that you need to pay for other than tuition or room and board.   We’re in a few geographies now, but I would encourage every professional woman who’s listening to this to get involved in some organization in your area.

There’s going to be an organization that’s very similar, that helps at-risk youth, and needs professional women to come in, and help these young women see a way out of their circumstances. All the stuff we just normally do, and did as high school kids entering college, these young people don’t have examples of that. They simply don’t know, and I would just say as a call to action, I’d encourage all of you to get involved in some way. It’ll be, obviously, beneficial to your mentee, but I will tell you also, it will be a powerful network of powerful women you’re hanging around at different functions that you go to, which also pays benefits. So it literally is, a win-win.