Mentor makes a difference

Several influential local men mentored and helped push LaVandez Jones to succeed in college and his career.

Today, the 25-year-old associate manager at Nielsen Co. in Guangzhou, China, is making the same impact on dozens of local high school students. The Avondale native is in town for the first time in two years for the seventh Richard Grote You See Potential conference at the University of Cincinnati.

Each year, the conference provides 25 motivated but financially-disadvantaged young people from Purcell Marian, Elder and St. Xavier high schools two days of intensive leadership training. Besides hearing seminars and presentations by political, business and community leaders and UC students, students will complete a case study to determine how non-profit organizations can use social media platforms such as Facebook to engage local youth.

“Social media is a main form of communication for these kids. If we can get them to think about how they can get involved in Cincinnati charities and civic organizations, then we can really see them making change in the next five years,” Jones said.
Jones and Stanley Wells, both Avondale natives and 2003 Walnut Hills High School graduates, founded the conference in their freshman year as Carl H. Lindner Honors-PLUS scholars at UC’s College of Business.

The conference is for students like them, “who came from the inner city and were smart, but needed opportunities presented to them,” Jones said. Wells is also in town for the conference. He’s now based in Chicago and handles sales for General Cable’s Latin America division.

In junior high, Jones came under the wing of his father’s cousin Tom Jones, an Avondale community leader who ran for Cincinnati City Council in 2003.

“He’s a fearless guy. He takes on challenges and isn’t afraid to put himself out there. That has been one of the good examples for me,” he said.

That relationship led to friendships with the late Frederick Suggs, a well-known magazine publisher, and former Cincinnati City Councilman Sam Malone, who pushed Jones to enter the challenging Honors program.

“They really gave me soft skills development,” Jones said. “Putting on a tie, learning to shake hands and look people in the eye – that’s because of them.”

In college, Mitchel Livingston, UC’s vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer, counseled Jones through his majors in marketing and finance and co-op job at Nielsen. And a relationship with a UC donor, the late Richard Grote, led to funding for the conference in 2005. Jones and Wells have since attracted speakers including Mayor Mark Mallory, Richard Farmer of Cintas Corp., U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot and Covington developer Bill Butler. Several conference participants now lead the annual planning effort for You See Potential.

“We get these high school students into college and we hope that we impress them enough that they will commit their time,” Jones said.

This weekend’s conference begins with a keynote address from UC President Greg Williams and includes leadership development seminars; career exploration talks by a TV reporter, urologist and financial professional; and an executive roundtable with a hedge fund consultant, the CEO of General Cable North America, an L.A. lawyer and a Hong Kong trade consultant.

“We want to give students some good leadership training and get them in the presence of good mentors,” Jones said.

Jones will use his experience leading Nielsen market research projects for Procter & Gamble brands to prepare students for the case study. In China, he’s spent three years analyzing responses to P&G’s new product launches, helping to improve products and forecasting future sales. Today, he’s a manager of the baby care account.

“The impact of social media on P&G brands is one of the big questions for P&G,” Jones said.

Students will spend time throughout the conference developing their recommendations for local nonprofits. At the end of the conference they’ll present those findings. And Jones will take the best ideas and share them with the charities.

“We hope to leverage social media to inspire these kids to take a more active role in the community,” he said.

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