What does the global business management philosophy of a multibillion-dollar corporation have to do with mentoring at-risk teenage girls? For Georgia-Pacific’s Artie Jeffery, pretty much everything.
When you talk to Artie Jeffery it’s not a discussion. It’s a heart-to-heart.
Maybe it’s her voice. So authentic, so real. Or perhaps it’s because Artie is so genuinely interested in listening. And when the conversation turns to the subject at hand, her work with young ladies in foster care, things really get good.
“Growing up I remember having pivotal, positive influences in my life — those who offered me their time and nuggets of wisdom,” Artie begins. “So I decided that’s what I wanted to be in the lives of those who didn’t have it. I knew a woman who provided housing for homeless kids. They needed mentors. I raised my hand.”
Fifteen years later, she remains deeply committed to helping young women who are part of the foster care system. Sometimes she’s building self-esteem. Sometimes it’s about developing life skills. Sometimes it’s about just hanging out. Sometimes they tell her they just want to know what it feels like to just be a kid.
In her office, Artie displays a collection of handcrafted mementoes that her girls have given her over the years.
She calls them “my girls.”
“A lot of times my girls are marginalized. There’s a stigma attached to kids in foster care,” Artie acknowledges. “They get messages from other people that they’re ‘bad kids’ or they’re not able to learn as well as others. Or they can’t be a success in life or have the life they want and dream about. Yes, some of them have unique challenges, but they’re still just regular kids. Understanding that goes a long way to being able to reach them and to help them understand that someone cares.”
And Artie is all about reaching people, even at her day job. As a training and development administrator she keeps employees up to speed on the company’s Market-Based Management® (MBM®) business philosophy. She’s a true believer. She’s seen the benefits of MBM in her life as well in her business.
“Most company vision statements get framed and hung on a wall somewhere. But chances are, the average employee won’t be able to articulate it to you in a way that is meaningful to their own lives,” Artie observes. “MBM is way more personal. At least it is for me. It’s very holistic because I can definitely apply it in my life.”
A large part of MBM is about finding ways to apply its 10 Guiding Principles. Things like humility, fulfillment, and value creation.
One of the most important for Artie as she works with her girls is the principle of customer focus. It states: “Understand and develop relationships with customers to profitably anticipate and satisfy their needs.”
“I see my girls as customers. I’m there to serve them in some way that profits them. It’s also profitable for me — since it’s so gratifying to see their lives changed. Developing that relationship comes with understanding who they are. And just as importantly, who they’re not.
“A lot of my girls have grown up in dysfunction and homelessness, many on the streets. So they can immediately spot you if you are a faker. It’s on you to actually get smart like them. When I first meet with one of my girls, they can come off as, well, angry. I mean, I get a reaction of ‘What are you here for? You say you’re here to be there for me. But people have promised that all my life, and look where I am.’”
“I’m a mentor. But I don’t know it all. That’s where humility comes in.”
“I’m a mentor. But I don’t know it all. That’s where humility comes in. You lose a prime opportunity to communicate and connect with a kid if you go in automatically thinking they’re a certain way before actually getting to know their story. You could be right. But you could also be wrong. Using humility allows you to really get to know that child and discover the best way to interact with them,” Artie relates.
“It’s really important for people to deal with their life based on the reality of what it is. I’ve learned to just be myself and be as honest as I know how to be when they ask a question. Hope is never lost. But it is important to offer them, always in a loving way, very clear expectations and realistic scenarios of outcomes, both positive and negative. That said, my main message always goes back to ‘but you don’t give up on your life, no matter how the current situation turns out.’ They need to know that they can persevere through tough situations.”
“I tell my girls to embrace who they are. Young people need to be free to explore their talents and discover that ‘thing’ they love without being stifled.” Artie smiles. “One of my girls wanted to be a DJ. So I said ‘Ok, let’s see what you got.’ She turned out to be very talented. Immediately my mind went to — how else can I encourage her? I’m here to help her find a way to use these skills, to feel a sense of fulfillment with other avenues as well.
“Some of my girls have gone on to college when it wasn’t even a dream of theirs because they didn’t think they could. Or they’ve joined the military. One is working in the field of social work. Another is managing a business. They haven’t gone back into behaviors that they practiced early on or were rescued from, nor are they simply looking for handouts. They’re not repeating vicious cycles. They feel good being productive members of society. They’re thinking ‘I can do this and I can be successful.’ That’s value creation!” Artie exclaims.
“Before, many of my girls didn’t have a lot of hope that their future could be different than past options like homelessness, stealing, prostitution, dropping out of high school and doing drugs. But now, they’re gaining skills and self-confidence. Now they’re going to work and exchanging their time to earn a wage that helps them to create a living legally and in a way that they can be proud of. That’s something for them to feel really good about. Heck, that’s something that I feel pretty good about too.
“In a world of many voices that want and need to be listened to, I’m glad that I get to hear some of these voices and provide direction in a positive way.
“To be a light.”
From a couch on the top floor of Atlanta’s Georgia-Pacific headquarters where she works, Artie discusses the success stories that have come about for many of “her girls.”