'I Have a Whole Different Outlook.'

January 1, 1999
New York’s Lower East Side can be a scary place for the uninitiated. Most of us fear what is different from what we know, and most of us don’t know the intricacies of homeless vagrants, battered wives and at-risk youth coping with life in the inner city.

For Kenny Bolton, however, New York’s Lower East Side wasn’t scary—rather, it was a place of awakening.

An internship program broadens a manager’s perspective.
Bolton, who today is the district manager for United Parcel Service of America Inc. (UPS) of the East Bay in Oakland, California, spent four weeks in 1983 immersed in the New York urban community as a participant of the UPS Community Internship Program (formerly the Urban Internship Program). Atlanta-based UPS developed the program in 1968 as a manager development tool. Each year, UPS sends approximately 40 mid- to upper-level managers to one of four locations run by nonprofit agencies. The goal: to create a management team that’s sensitive to the needs of individuals from every community in which the company does business. Says Lea Soupata, senior vice president of human resources at UPS: "Our founder, Jim Casey, believed you couldn’t understand someone’s problems unless you were in their shoes."

In addition to making them better managers by virtue of better understanding people and their plights, the company believes managers who are in tune with the increasingly complex needs of a diverse workforce and customer base are better able to guide the organization into operating strategically.

Bolton’s internship was with the Henry Street Settlement, a 100-year-old organization that works with more than 25 local social services agencies. Through the organization, Bolton helped out at a battered women’s center, tenant court and food kitchen. He even rode with a New York City police officer. "The Lower East Side gives you a pretty good idea of how many people get through life," says Bolton.

Although Bolton had been involved with community service work through the Catholic Youth Organization for 16 years before his internship, the Henry Street Settlement assignment gave him a new set of sensitivities. "When I came back from New York, I had a whole different outlook of what could be problematic," he says. He began to recognize the challenges and barriers to success that many people face each day—challenges ranging from navigating public transportation to working multiple jobs as a single mom to support three children.

Community involvement has become a way of life.
Today, Bolton continues to be active in the community. "When I came to California, I moved to Oakland rather than the suburbs because I wanted to live in the environment," he says. He got involved with the YMCA and has since joined the board of directors. He dedicates at least three hours a week to his volunteer activities, often spending up to 10 hours a week when engaged in his favorite activity of coaching basketball to at-risk teenagers.

Bolton has also encouraged others to get involved, as well. His three daughters, now 29, 25 and 21, have all sought out volunteer activities through their lives, from being Big Sisters to working at nursing homes. And Bolton’s UPS division recently received the Soaring Eagle Award from the Port of Oakland for its dedication to community involvement. People from the division have adopted a school in Oakland, developed an after-school athletic program and volunteered as mentors.

Convincing others to get involved is merely a result of walking the talk, says Bolton. "By my own activity, what I reap from it and how I treat them, that shows them why it’s important," he says. "Once they do it, they find out how good it is."

For Bolton, it has been very good. "It makes me a better person," he says.

Workforce, January 1999, Vol. 78, No. 1, p. 112.