In August 2020, MCAN awarded $10,000 grants to ten organizations in the ten days leading up to MCAN’s 10th birthday. These 10th Birthday Grants provided $100,000 in funding to community organizations across Michigan whose services aligned with MCAN’s mission of education equity for low-income students, first-generation college-going students, and students of color. As MCAN's 11th birthday approaches, last year's grantees are sharing how the funding has helped them serve their communities, as well as their organizations’ overall successes in the past year.

This week, Jessica Ledesma from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce shared how the 10th Birthday Grant supported the launch of its Building Bridges Through Education Fellowship.

In 2019, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce launched the Building Bridges Through Education (BBTE) initiative, at the intersection of education and workforce development. As the talent gap in Michigan continued to grow, with thousands of job openings remaining unfilled, we felt that the best solution was to invest in and grow local potential, which will lead to long-term impact.

BBTE’s goal is to advance Michigan Latinx college talent by bridging college and career through industry connections and professional development, in order to help grow a dynamic and inclusive workforce in Michigan. We do this by preparing high-potential Latinx college students with the tools and opportunities needed to reach their career goals, while also educating and encouraging businesses to invest in their communities by creating job and internship opportunities.

The BBTE Fellowship is designed as a competitive, two-semester-long fellowship, offering exceptional identity- and asset-based professional development co-led by industry partners. The fellowship is divided into four cohorts: business/STEM, health professions, nursing, and social/public service. Fellows gain access to tools and resources that strengthen their skills through hands-on experiences that enhance leadership, expand their network, and ultimately produce top Latinx professionals. Launching this fellowship allowed BBTE to move from a 12% internship/job placement rate during its first year to a 72% placement rate during its second year.

During the historic year of 2020, Latinx college talent persisted despite a worldwide pandemic. Powered by the West Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the BBTE initiative persisted as well, and it utilized the learnings and success from year one of the initiative to launch the Building Bridges Through Education Fellowship with the support of the MCAN 10th Birthday Grant. Our impact could not be possible without the investment, commitment, and active partnership of our nonprofit, for-profit, and philanthropic sponsors.