Winning Futures Provides Guidance for Michigan’s Youth

By: Toni Cunningham | December 29, 2012

While I have never participated in a professional mentoring program, I have received my fair share of informal guidance throughout my 22 years of life. Having a mentor, whether formal or not, allows you to gain wisdom that only experience can provide.

Kristina Marshall, President and CEO of Winning Futures, a mentoring program in Warren, knows that firsthand. Sam Cupp, founder of the organization, mentored Marshall during her senior year of high school.

“Going through Winning Futures made me realize that I needed to connect my strengths, talents, skills, interests, and passions together when determining my career,” Marshall said.

Through her work as a Winning Futures volunteer and mentee to Cupp, Marshall found herself changing majors in college to better mesh with her true passion—helping young people and making a difference.

“I took my resume to Sam and told him I would like to be the first program director of Winning Futures,” Marshall said. “(After I graduated), Sam hired me to create and run programs. Two years later when he began retiring and selling his companies, I was named President and CEO.”

Marshall credits Cupp’s guidance and mentoring with her ability to learn business and people skills, both of which are imperative in her line of work.

“One of Sam’s greatest strengths was that he could build a great team of individuals to run a company and then he got out of the way. For the last 15 years, that is what I have worked to do at Winning Futures,” Marshall said, noting that after Cupp’s untimely death this past June, she is privileged to keep his project going.

Cupp, who also served as CEO of Hamilton Chevrolet in Warren, founded Winning Futures in 1994 after being mentored himself following his troubled teen years. Today, Winning Futures has impacted approximately 22,000 students and awarded over $1.6 million in scholarships to local youth.

David Hamilton, Sales Consultant at Hamilton Chevrolet, shares Marshall’s admirable depiction of Cupp, and of Winning Futures. David’s grandfather, Gene Hamilton, mentored Cupp when he was in high school.

At its beginning, Gene helped Cupp fund Winning Futures, and eventually, Cupp became David’s mentor. After experiencing and benefitting from being a mentee, David decided to become a mentor himself.

“From my perspective, the ultimate goal of the organization is to enable young people to be successful with whatever they want to do,” Hamilton said. “The ultimate goal is to get them to believe in themselves.”

He says Winning Futures is unique due to its emphasis on structure, for example, helping mentees set a five year strategic goal plan and assisting them in recognizing their strengths and weaknesses (all while having fun!).

“The most important thing is the personal relationship developed between the mentor and mentee,” Hamilton said. “As a mentor, it’s critical to gain the trust and respect of the mentees you’re working with.”

Over the years, Hamilton has met hundreds of Winning Futures graduates and not one of them has ever had a bad word to say about the organization.

“With Winning Futures, I’ve probably met the most selfless people I’ve ever met in my entire life,” Hamilton said. “(It’s) a group of people that continue to burn brighter and create a better community for all.”

If you have a sunny disposition and are interested in helping turn a child’s life around, why not become a mentor? You might be surprised to find that it will benefit you just as much as it will them.