At that time, 19-year old Kamerer was in transition and sleeping in his car. Times were tough, and he needed work. Recognizing his potential, Price offered him a job. Fast-forward to present day, and Kamerer is married, supervising a department, and supporting a family as a valued Colbert Packaging employee. “Colbert taught me so much more than how to just have a factory job,” he said. “I learned about integrity and workplace pride, and that changed my life!”
Mentoring Kyle and seeing the results sparked Price’s passion and interest in finding a community service program to help change lives in Elkhart’s underserved community. When he learned about the Elkhart Urban Enterprise Association (EUEA), a new relationship was forged as he joined the Board and now serves as President.
The EUEA was started in 2012, with a mission to improve the quality of life for Enterprise Zone residents, roughly covering 2.5 sq miles of the city’s most challenged area. It awards $1,000 scholarships to aspiring local students in a work exchange program, and Colbert Packaging has benefited from the enthusiasm of students it has sponsored over the years. “You reap what you sow.” says Price. “When we give back to the community, it’s also an investment in our company’s future.”
The paid interns help with summer coverage by filling scheduling gaps for vacationing employees or with whatever is needed as customer demands arise. They learn more than their assigned task – they also learn the principles of a good work ethic, along with solid business practices and teamwork.
“We try to teach them more than the job,” says Price. “For example, some may get a chance to operate a CAD machine. Others may be invited to a business meeting. Some end up supporting our quality department.” Students are coached about how to dress for a presentation, and the importance of a firm handshake and making eye contact. While these may be considered ‘soft skills’ by some, Colbert believes it all adds up to Colbert PRIDE.
Cody Cox, a 2019 Colbert intern, reflects, “I had no idea this summer job would be so fulfilling. I learned so much about myself and what it means to be a productive worker, and how it feels to know I worked hard each day and gave it my all. I’m sure I will apply many lessons learned to my future career!”
The Elkhart business community agrees. Levon Johnson, President of the Elkhart Chamber of Commerce states, “Engaging the youth in our cities and towns is important for any community to be able to continue to grow and thrive. Passing on our collective knowledge and experience to the next generation so that they can have the opportunity to expand and enhance both is critical for a city like Elkhart. Through mentorships, apprenticeships, internships, and scholarships we are showing the youth in our community that we are invested in them and their importance to our community.”
Price adds, “We incorporated the model of Colbert’s business practices, ‘PRIDE,’ as our proprietary investment in the program.” PRIDE is an acronym for Product Quality, Responsiveness, Integrity, Dependability, and Employee Excellence. To shore up the program’s perpetuity, in addition to the EUEA scholarship program, every year Colbert welcomes an intern from Elkhart Central High School in its design department, to support their vocational education program for seniors. Each summer, before the current intern leaves for college, he or she names their successor for the position from the upcoming class. This year, amid COVID challenges, Colbert employed 11 local and college students to assist with pandemic-related demands, and supported aspiring youth during mandatory school furloughs.
Colbert’s full-time workforce benefits from the EUEA program, as well. By taking on mentorship roles, employees are learning and practicing leadership in action. Colbert’s newest facility in Kenosha, Wis., is also involved in mentoring students by participating in the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s Youth Apprenticeship program. In this program, employers hire high school juniors or seniors for a one or two-year apprenticeship. During the apprenticeship, the student continues toward high school graduation and takes courses related to the profession as a way of enhancing what is being learned on the job. Through participation in the Youth Apprenticeship program, Colbert is able to educate local students in their chosen field, and promote careers in the folding carton industry. To date, Colbert has hired 4 YA’s in graphic design, structural design (Engineering Drafting), and manufacturing.