‘The Wow Factor’

WCMA Teams Up with Detroit PAL to Help Kids Dream Big

Dec 08, 2016

Story by Ron Russell
NTC Communications
Photos by Rodney Drewery

Staffer Earnistine Paige uses WCMA’s hands-on learning approach to teach communications skills.

WARREN, Mich. – Twelve-year-old DeAndra Tigner is happy she didn’t sleep in Saturday.

Otherwise, she would have missed out on a workshop at the UAW-Chrysler World Class Manufacturing Academy (WCMA) that made her feel better about herself and her future.

At the end of an unforgettable day, she had learned important lessons about teamwork, leadership and other life skills that will help her establish and achieve her goals as she grows up.

“I learned that being a good leader is living outside your comfort zone,” said the sixth grader and Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) participant. “I stepped outside of mine today. I enjoyed working with other kids, and I made some new friends. It felt good and I’m really glad I came.”

DeAndra was one of 51 boys and girls from PAL who felt the same way after attending a Youth Empowerment Workshop entitled Teamwork Makes the Dream Work, held on Dec. 3.

It was part of a series of workshops this year for 12- to 15-year-olds organized with the help of UAW Local 1264 and the FCA US Sterling Stamping Plant, which have been supporting PAL for the last four years.

The fast-paced event was a combination pep rally, reality check and unique interactive educational experience at WCMA, a state-of-the art training facility for FCA US workers and a model for the auto industry.

Enthusiastic WCMA volunteers rose to the occasion. They appeared to have as much fun as the kids – maybe even more.

PAL alumnus Ed Daniels stresses value of education.

Instructors employed hands-on learning activities that included a visit to the 3-D theatre, a puzzle challenge, Nerf basketball, a Lego simulation and a game of “Simon Says” to teach the importance of effective communication, teamwork and leadership skills to succeed in life.

“This was an opportunity for these kids to dream big and reach for the stars,” said Dana Cooper, Director of Youth Enrichment for Detroit PAL, which seeks to build character through participation in athletics as well as academic and leadership development.

“The wow factor was phenomenal. Most of the kids haven’t had this type of eye-opening experience that exposes them to the real world of manufacturing and to learn first-hand about the UAW, Fiat Chrysler and the academy.”

Ed Daniels, a center manager at Sterling Stamping, set the tone of the workshop. He shared valuable lessons he learned as a PAL member in 1983 and 1984 that helped him excel in college athletics and later as an FCA employee.

He started working on the line at Sterling Stamping in 1997, but soon took advantage of an opportunity to join management and eventually rose to his current position.

This is a great day for PAL,” Daniels told the kids. “I’ve experienced a lot of the things you guys have. Sports gave me an outlet and taught me that if you work hard and work collectively as a team, you can achieve success.”

    Lions’ team members conquer Lego car simulation.

Daniels excelled in college athletics, earning a football scholarship and NAIA Division 2 All American honors as a quarterback at Langston University, an historically black college in Oklahoma from which he graduated in 1995. He was good enough to attract interest from several National Football League and Canadian Football League teams, but he never realized his  dream of playing as a pro.

“It was beyond devastating,” Daniels said. “I had to make a big-boy decision as to where I was in life at 25. What I had to fall back on was my education. You need to have a balance between sports and education. A good education will carry you throughout your life.”

Armed with a degree in accounting and a 3.7 grade-point average, Daniels focused his competitiveness on a career in the auto industry, and the rest is history.

“You have to outwork the guy next to you, just like in athletics,” he told the kids. “Commit yourself to something, and be as good as you possibly can. You, too, can achieve success, because PAL gives you an opportunity to be part of something great.”

Reinforcing PAL’s emphasis on the benefits of athletics, the kids were divided into four teams: the Lions, Tigers, Pistons and Red Wings, each overseen by group leaders from WCMA.

They competed hard, as though they were on a football field, baseball diamond, basketball court or hockey rink. And they rooted for each other to help fulfill aspirations of being the best team on that particular Saturday.

    Olivia Thompson takes a spin between learning activities.

Group leader Frenchie Rippie-Stotts, a UAW WCM Facilitator, was the biggest fan of the Lions. She huddled with team members, fired them up and joined in their robust chants of “We are Lions!” and “1-2-3 Lions!” as they rotated between activities in the WCMA lab.

“I love making a difference in kids’ lives – that’s what I do,” said the energetic Rippie-Stotts. “I’m always a cheerleader for the kids. Once you get them involved, they can take ownership over their lives. They can make it happen.”

So it went throughout the day. The kids never lost sight of the workshop’s primary purpose. Victory was measured by empowering moments – not winning or losing.
Listen to what they said.

  Nate Martin (left) bonds with Landon Harris.

• Marcus Peterson II, 13, a freshman at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Mich. – “We learned what it takes to be a good leader and having a Plan B based on a good education if playing a pro sport doesn’t work out. We also learned about being responsible for our actions.”
• Olivia Thompson, 10, a 5th grader at the Foreign Language Immersion and Cultural Studies School (FLICS) in Detroit – “I had a lot of fun and I was proud of myself for being on a winning team for building the car out of Legos. We won because we worked together.”
• Maya Thompson, 12, a 7th grader at FLICS – “I learned about leadership and teamwork. A leader is only as good as the team they are part of. You can be the head on a body, but you can’t do it alone.”
• Emmanuel Brooks, 15, a 10th grader at the Early College of Excellence in Detroit – “I liked the puzzle game – I had to really think to solve it. I learned the importance of organization, something I’m not very good at. I also liked the challenge of putting the Lego car together. If I had communicated better with my teammates, we probably would have won the game.”

UAW WCM Coordinator Nate Martin, a PAL alumnus, said hosting the workshop at WCMA was a perfect fit since many staff members, including Rippie-Stotts, have previous experience mentoring schoolchildren.

“That’s why everyone’s so motivated and why working with PAL is another opportunity for the UAW and FCA to give back to the community,” he said. “I came up through PAL and know what an awesome program it is.”

The Youth Empowerment Workshop Series is the brainchild of Latoshia Smith-Halty, WCM Focused Improvement Joint Lead and UAW Communicator at Sterling Stamping. Previous workshops on other topics were held earlier this year at Sterling Stamping and two other Detroit area FCA US plants, Warren Stamping and Warren Truck Assembly.

“Detroit PAL is a great organization that makes a vital contribution to the youth in our community,” Smith-Halty said. “I’m almost in tears to see how far we’ve come with the workshops. This program has become more positive for the kids each year we’ve done it.

“I feel like a mother who has watched my baby mature into a healthy 4-year-old, and it’s still got room to grow. It warms my heart.”

Further information about Detroit PAL or how to participate in its programs can be obtained by contacting Dana Cooper at (313) 833-1600, ext. 204, or dcooper@detroitpal.org.