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Bridges to Brighter Futures

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From Michael Bzdak, Director, Corporate Contributions, Johnson & Johnson

No matter where you live, you have the opportunity to play a role in the education and development of young people. Many of my colleagues at Johnson & Johnson are active in youth programs in their communities around the world ranging from sports to science to the arts and to the environment. Often, volunteer opportunities are linked to the organizations we support in many of the communities where we have offices and other operations.

I have had the privilege of serving as a volunteer mentor to a number of high school students in New Brunswick, New Jersey through the Bridge to Employment (BTE) Program, a partnership between Johnson & Johnson and the Academy for Educational Development. BTE was founded by Johnson & Johnson in 1992 to stem the high school dropout rate and address a projected shortage of health care workers by opening teens’ eyes to their own potential and guiding them toward promising careers in health care. BTE has helped thousands of students with mentoring and coaching over the years.

In my eight years of mentoring, I have seen profound changes in the students as they progress through high school and into higher education. The first cohort of students in New Brunswick will be entering their senior year of university this coming year. In this time, I have witnessed incredible growth among the handful of students I still see regularly.

Beyond New Brunswick, the BTE program engages with hundreds of other students and dozens of schools and other organizations in 10 communities around the world. In each site, Johnson & Johnson employees have committed their time and talent to guide students in their career plans and dreams, such as my colleague Conrad Person who recently blogged about the impact of mentoring on his own career. As the global manager for this program, I often attend end-of-year sessions where the students give academic presentations related to health care issues or specific disease states. These events are always impressive and emotional. Why emotional? Emotional because the students are clearly in control of difficult material and perform well beyond our expectations…Emotional because the bonds that have developed between the students and employees are deep and strong... Emotional because the students are clearly on their way to realizing their dreams.

While the BTE program is designed around successful and proven school-to-career models, the real beauty of the program is found in the local collaborations that form to provide students with opportunities and exposure to parts of the world that are invisible to them. The BTE program in Bogota, Colombia is a wonderful example of a locally designed effort. Our partnership with the Politecnico Internacional grew out of relationships developed by local Johnson & Johnson management. This program provides students, such as Catalina Munoz, with incredible opportunities and inroads into the health care job market in Colombia.

Although we measure outcomes over all of the programs, there is nothing more powerful than seeing students overcome adversity to live their dreams of becoming a doctor, nurse, or public health professional. Equally powerful is the dedication of employees to these students and to education in their communities. My colleagues in Inverness, Scotland, for example, were recently recognized by the UK government for their superlative dedication to science and technology education in northern Scotland. There is no doubt that BTE can help students realize their dreams. There is also no doubt that BTE provides Johnson & Johnson employees, like me, an opportunity to participate in affecting the lives of young people.

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