General Motors Chair and CEO Mary Barra announces GM will invest $50 million into Detroit-based nonprofit programs that expand access to education and employment opportunities and strengthen city neighborhoods, during a fireside chat with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and WJR-AM’s Lloyd Jackson. (Photo Courtesy of General Motors)
By: Donald James, Special to the Chronicle
It’s a given that General Motors (GM) is in the business of making and selling automobiles for a profit, something the giant automaker has done since its inception in 1908. Yet, for GM, the business and longevity of manufacturing cars are not enough, as the company has historically made and kept commitments to empower underserved people and communities, especially in Detroit.
In keeping with its vow to create a smarter, safer and more sustainable future for all, GM announced in mid-September 2021 that it was investing $50 million into Detroit-based nonprofit programs focusing on expanding access to education and employment opportunities while strengthening Detroit communities.
“As the home of our world headquarters for more than a century, Detroit has always been a priority for General Motors,” Mary Barra, GM’s chair and CEO, said at a press conference held at Durfee Innovation Society on the city’s west side. “Our new commitment will help break down barriers and promote growth through education and economic success.”
GM’s funding initiative, in collaboration with the City of Detroit, includes four local organizations named at the news event: $1.25 million to Human-I-T, $1 million to Detroit at Work (People Plan and Community Health Corps), $1 million to United Way for Southeastern Michigan (Ride United), and $750,000 to Beyond Basics’ literacy education programs.
Pamela Good, Beyond Basics’ co-founder and CEO, said GM’s $750,000 investment will help her organization better serve youngsters (K-12) through Beyond Basics’ impactful one-on-one reading tutoring and literacy enrichment programs implemented while students are attending school. Most of the students served, according to Good, are students from eleven high schools in Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). And through Beyond Basics’ Family Literacy Center, located in the Durfee Innovation Society, literacy education programs for adults have been established. .
“GM has been a fabulous partner with us,” said Good. “The company has supported us for many years. They started out funding some of our work at grade schools, and when we communicated a need for a family literacy center and additional high school support, GM funded that as well. Our mission is to spark a movement for literacy by working with children in public schools and vulnerable communities, especially in Detroit.”
Megan Thibos, director of economic mobility, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, feels the same way about GM being a fabulous partner. GM’s $1 million investment will help fund United Way’s Ride United, a program designed to help Detroiters overcome transportation barriers to stay on the job. Thibos said the program’s participants can request Uber or Lyft rides to get to job interviews and critical pre-employment appointments like drug tests or physicals. And there’s backup transportation offered during the first six months of an individual starting a new job.
Since its October 2019 launch, Ride United has provided more than 3,000 rides for more than 500 people. While the program has been focused on Detroiters, the new investment from GM, said Thibos, will substantially expand services to help participants with transportation needs who live in all three counties: Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. The new investment will also help United Way develop additional components to Ride United to address more complex underlying transportation barriers.
“GM was one of our earlier supporters when we launched Ride United, so it’s sort of their investment in helping us expand the scale of the program,” Thibos said. “We are super grateful to have the additional investment from GM that will help make sure that transportation is not standing in the way of people getting to work.”
General Motors’ million-dollar investment in Detroit at Work’s “People Plan” and “Community Health Corps” has been well–received. According to
Nicole Sherard-Freeman, the City of Detroit’s Executive of Jobs, Economy, and Detroit At Work, the contribution from GM supports two programs: Get Paid to Learn a Trade! and Learn to Earn.
“Get Paid to Learn a Trade! is the City’s initiative that pays Detroiters $10 per hour up to 20 hours a week to earn a credential that will put them in a position to get a job that pays $15 an hour or more,” said Sherard-Freeman. “There were ninety Detroiters supported through Get Paid to Learn a Trade!, specifically paid from GM’s investment.”
Sherard-Freeman said DTE’s Tree Trimming Academy, which opened in the spring of 2021, is one of the initiatives that Detroit at Work is supporting with Get Paid to Learn a Trade! Of the individuals who have completed the academy, job offers were tendered to 100 percent of the graduates.
“GM’s investment is also helping to sponsor 25 Detroiters who are going through our Learn to Earn program,” said Sherard-Freeman about the Detroit at Work partnership with DPSCD. “The program pays Detroiters a stipend to quickly earn their high school diploma or GED, which will prepare them to move into training, jobs and career opportunities.”
Sherard-Freeman also points to GM’s investment, which is helping 50 low-income families through the City of Detroit’s Community Health Corps (CHC). According to Sherard-Freeman, CHC has revolutionized how the city helps its most vulnerable residents connect to vital services for basic necessities, employment, education, help with their homes and health programs.
GM’s $1.25 million investment funding to Human-I-T, a nonprofit social enterprise, will significantly assist Detroiters.
“We’re focused on creating equitable opportunities for people who are experiencing a digital divide,” said Padric Gleason, Human-I-T’s communications manager. “Our mission is to shrink the digital divide and allow Detroiters to stay connected to a digital support system, including internet connectivity, devices, tech support and digital literacy skills to create greater access to education and employment.”
Gleason said in 2020, Human-I-T, thanks to GM’s funding, partnered with DPSCD to provide tech support that resolved just over 17,700 tech support issues DPSCD students, remote and in-person, faced during learning challenges in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gleason explained that his organization is about achieving digital inclusion, digital equity and providing digital opportunities.
General Motors’ investment, said Gleason, has been tremendous.
“GM supported us in 2020, our first year in Detroit,” said Gleason. “We opened a warehouse and hired 30 people to work on our team. This year, we’re aiming to take that to the next level. Our three-year vision is to create up to 155 new tech jobs and really make Detroit a national model and leader in digital inclusion.”
GM has an elite leadership program that Jennifer Jambor, Human-I-T’s manager of special projects in Detroit, feels can assist Human-I-T in becoming such a leader.
“Some senior managers have been lent to us by GM,” said Jambor, “and they have come into our warehouse and evaluated our operations and logistics so that we are able to do an excellent job in narrowing the digital divide for Detroiters.”
For GM, its $50 million round of funding is the latest example of the automaker’s commitment to Detroit. In 2020, the company announced a $2.2 billion investment to retool, upgrade and expand its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, now called Factory ZERO. The plant, dedicated to manufacturing electric vehicles, will eventually employ more than 2,200 team members, a substantial number of which will be Detroiters.
“General Motors has been a part of this community for the last century, providing good-paying, middle-class jobs for Detroiters,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “GM’s commitment solidifies the company’s investment in the people of Detroit, ensuring Detroiters have the skills they need to access these kinds of opportunities for years to come.”