As Vice President, Office of the Chairman for American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM), John Salter has lent consistent support to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM) over the years. In fact, ours is one of the primary organizations to which American Axle devotes their time, talents and resources year after year. However, decades before he became one of our most unwavering executive partners, John Salter was Club Member 494 at Boys & Girls Clubs in Royal Oak, Michigan, where his father served as Executive Director.
John credits the Club for exposing him to a wealth of experiences and life skills that helped shape him in his youth. “For my brother and I, it (the Club) was something that we really looked forward to, not only to see my father, but also just all the activities, the relationships, and the structure that it gave us in our lives.” With such strong and meaningful personal and professional ties to Boys & Girls Clubs, Salter is an invaluable source of insight as we embark upon our two-year mission to reimagine Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan.
While he recognizes the importance of keeping some of the vital components and programming that made the Club experience so impactful for him, John is also a strong advocate for creating new and innovative means of engaging with today’s youth.
We recently sat down with John Salter to explore his thoughts on how to strike the right balance between retaining the old and incorporating the new as we #ReimagineBGCSM, here’s what he had to say:
Q: Let’s start at the beginning, going back to your personal experience as a kid coming up in the Clubs. One of the things that really stood out when we first spoke is that, after all these years, you’ve still held on to your Member Identification Card. What did “Member #494” mean to you?
A: It was a badge of honor. Every single day we’d walk in and we’d have to check off our number and it was something I was proud of. I was proud to be a member of the Club. Everybody always asked about joining the Boys Club, and it wasn’t overly expensive.
Back when I was growing up, the Club was very competitive with regards to sports leagues, and there were ceramics classes and archery. The life skills that we got at the Club were something I wouldn’t have gotten just running around the neighborhood with my friends. It gave me structure.
Q: Many people don’t know that the Clubs offer programs geared toward the interest and needs of Club members. Can you speak to the significance or importance of Boys & Girls Clubs programs that were in place when you were a member?
A: You know, it’s funny, I still have the ceramic Christmas trees that we used to make in the ceramics class at the Club. They went out of style for a while, but they’re back in now. I could probably sell them on eBay for tons of money. I used to make a Christmas tree every single year and I really wasn’t much of an artsy person, but the Club exposed me to a lot of those different things. We had a woodshop and all kinds of things that we never really got to do at home or at school – we got a chance to do it at the Club.
Q: Can you talk about the mentorship you got out of the Club?
A: Absolutely. The guys that worked at the Club back then were like, 18 to 25 years old. They were former Club members and we really looked up to them and emulated them. They were great athletes, they were good at ceramics and archery. These were the guys you wanted to be. They taught me a lot of important life skills. I still stay in touch with many of them.
Q: As we reimagine the Club experience to meet the needs of today’s members, how can we retain some of those good foundational things while incorporating new strategies to engage today’s youth?
A: Life skills now are different than they were when I was growing up. I’m 53-years-old years old. For kids nowadays, computer programming is a life skill. Whether it’s Fortnite, coding classes, or something online that they want to do, we have to give the kids the programming they’re looking for, things that will engage their attention spans so they’re not running the streets.
Also, we have to teach practical life skills like how to balance a checkbook, how to manage a budget, we need to explain to kids what taxes are; Maybe we make it into a game to make it interesting. And finally, I think would be impactful for our kids is early job training. Maybe they are job shadowing at different companies throughout the summer and throughout the year. That way, not only are they getting on-the-job training, but they’re developing relationships that they can use for networking in the future.
Q: You’ve touched on the importance of technological literacy and on-the-job training as real, bankable skills for today’s youth. What practical training would you implement for Club members who might be interested in becoming one of the more than 25,000 associates employed by American Axle?
A: Well, number one, I would highly recommend getting a college degree. I understand that school isn’t for everybody, but education is. So then I would say to look at an Associates Degree or a Technical Trade. What you need to do is to find a way to differentiate yourself and put yourself in a situation where you can become marketable. The more tools you can put in your tool chest, the more job options you’re going to have, the more you can accelerate your career.
Q: What are some of the intangible assets that will give our youth an edge in the job market?
A: I think there’s a lot of overlap in the values between the Boys & Girls Clubs and a company like American Axle. We have a “lean forward culture” – that’s just a culture of accountability and teamwork. These are the values that I learned as a youth at the Club.
Q: American Axle places a high value on making a difference in the communities where associates live and work. Why do you think that giving to Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan is so important for American Axle?
A: Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan has always been one of our key community partners and that’s something that won’t change. BGCSM was very important to American Axle founder, Dick Dauch and his wife Sandy, and that legacy has been passed down to our current CEO and chairman, David Dauch.
There is a very clear payback for this investment. If we are going to turn around our cities and some of the neighborhoods in different parts of the State of Michigan, it starts with the kids. The Club gives us a way to reach these kids where they are, to give them hope and direction, and show them that if they work hard, stay focused, and do things the right way, they can not only help themselves, but they can transform their communities.