Kelly Fair, Founder of Polished Pebbles Mentors Our Future Leaders

June 17, 2013
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Be Bold.

This two-word phrase is something that I learned early on in my professional career – and it applies differently to each individual. These words, acted upon respectfully, can lead to opportunities, relationships and life ventures that you may have only thought possible in your head.

Bold embodies courage, strength and persistence. ‘Being’ is a point in knowing who you are and what you will and will not accept.

I see these personality characteristics within entrepreneur Kelly Fair, founder of the Polished Pebbles Mentorship Organization that incorporates group mentoring, after-school programming and practical experience. There’s a radiant fearlessness about her presence that pushes forth the need to act on something she’s passionate about.  A calling, ‘to do.’  These characteristics transition into the groundwork of Polished Pebbles.

Polished Pebbles, a non-profit program formed in 2009, takes on the act of boldness within the full ranks of communication. Kelly created the acronym S.H.I.N.E. to instill and teach girls the steps taken to demonstrate a proper self-introduction.




Nod Your Head.

End the Conversation.

“Our primary goal is to make sure girls are fully equipped with the skills to be good communicators at home, at school and in the workplace,” informs Kelly. “So when we talk about communication, we mean in every sense of the word.  Can you introduce yourself to new people for the first time? We call that shining.”

Once a shy child, we’re talking the smart student with good grades and all the correct answers coiling her vocal chords, yet remained mum, Fair still held an attraction to communication and a head full of great ideas with an eagerness to work and learn.

“I was the girl that had really good grades, had a great home but I just lacked that confidence. ‘Is my hair too bushy?, my clothes aren’t right, what if I fall?’,” she discusses openly as we converse in Hyde Park’s The Sip & Savor Café.  “That stalled me.”

It’s not abnormal. Research has proven that girls tend to take a dive in self-esteem once they hit the fifth and sixth grades.

What permeates with Kelly Fair and in turn has made Polished Pebbles flourish, is her determination and work ethic.

Kelly Fair, Founder of Polished Pebbles.

Once the shyness peeled, during her time as a student at Howard University, she found herself at HBO working as an intern … her freshman year. Personality blossomed. Intellect and work ethic led her path to great business connections and life lessons.

The thread pulling it altogether: Mentorship.

“I’m a product of mentoring. I’m a product of the benefits of career development,” Kelly declares. “I had been blessed throughout high school and college to have really strong mentors. Particularly work supervisors.  They really pulled me in and schooled me.”

Every successful person and success story you read and/or hear about has something in common: they didn’t get to where they are alone. There were special individuals pieced into their lives that helped them mature and grow deeper into the person they were designed to become.  They have and still use those guiding lights professionally and, if it applies, personally.

Whether you recognize it as such or not, we have all been mentored at some point – directly or indirectly. “You cannot get away from mentorship,” Kelly quips.

Three C’s:

Deneen Borner of Polished Pebbles at National Mentoring Summit with Michelle Obama

Since its 2009 inception, Polished Pebbles has mentored 500 girl’s ages 7-17 and produced 15 programs in schools across Chicagoland.  The organization serves girls at the University of Chicago Charter School, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on the south and west sides, and also work in the community mentoring girls in Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), Dearborn Homes in Bronzeville, and Trumbull Park Homes in the southeast area.

Trust, the grind is not all glamorous. “It’s tough,” says Kelly. “But I know how important it is for kids and you can not wait until high school.”

From planted and resourceful connections, Kelly was able to partner with grand corporations such as Bloomingdale’s, IIT and Microsoft, to name a few, to provide Polished Pebbles active career experience in addition to instilling concrete communication skill sets on all levels – from neighborhood conversations to business deals and pitching ideas.

The vision is labeled as the Polished Pebbles three ‘C’s’:  communication, career and community.

In its first partnership with Bloomingdale’s Department stores, which was a connection brought on through Mentoring USA, a national partner with Polished Pebbles introduced to Kelly by Susan L. Taylor of Essence Magazine, mentees are invited to take on a role within its working culture.

“We created what we call a “Brown Bag Apprenticeship”, shares Kelly. “Part of the exchange is the girls go to the store, which is something that had never been done.  They go on a store tour to learn about the retail industry and then they shadow.”

The construct of the program allows girls to put their S.H.I.N.E. communication skills to practical use. The job shadow is exciting because the young ladies are put to work as employees.  Their assignments introduce and lead them to take on every level of the business inclusive of Public Relations, Human Resources, Security, Cosmetics, and more.

“Brown Bag Apprenticeship”, Polished Pebbles at Bloomingdale’s

“That’s just one model and we replicate that and tailor it for Microsoft [and other business partners]. The girls did marketing presentations on how they would sell the Nokia phone to various markets and demographics,” says Kelly, adding, “We also expose girls to IIT careers. It’s just planting a seed. You may want to be an engineer or not. I’m really committed to making sure that we expose the girls to different career avenues.”

It doesn’t end there. After a day of work and grind, taking the girls out to eat easily turns into a social etiquette experience. A beat is never missed when it comes to the opportunity to teach and mentor.
At its core, Polished Pebbles is really a community program and not just a girls program. Kelly and her team have reached out to residents to incorporate them in fundraisers, events and programs.

“Community is important to us so we also want your parents involved. We’re figuring out different things to do, especially in our CHA site. We had a community dinner, awesome! The first year we had about 50 people show up, plenty of community residents,” she exclaims.

Another reality begins to settle in.

“But out of those 50 people, maybe two or three of them were actual parents. So it’s still a real struggle. One of the things we did was hire residents (Parent Liaisons) as part of our community partnership with the CHA to support the Polished Pebbles initiative through chaperoning and making sure everything was ready for the program.”

This model is still in working development.

In addition to gaining life skills in communication, career and community, the girls feel a connection in the shape of love and trust. Studying the culture of schools, community and the girls who are products of these environments, it’s noticed that collectively, a lot of girls feel a lack of trust.

“Kids just want to know, can they trust you? You have to stay consistent,” warns Kelly. “When you’re working in the community and really seeing where some of the issues are, a lot of girls talk about a lack of trust of anybody and what that says when you really get down to the heart of it is, you’re not understanding the benefit of relationships.”

Kelly extends the question: What are some small things that you can do to demonstrate to these girls that you love them?

Every bit of effort helps. Polished Pebbles hosts community events, fundraisers and outings that align individuals with the mission of the organization.

It truly does not matter what career field you’re in or what roads your life has journeyed; it’s the authenticity of your heart and actions that matter to these girls. Volunteering your time and just showing that you care, means the world.

And with all of her achievements, struggles and successes, Kelly Fair remains humble and true to the genuine mission of Polished Pebbles. It’s the love.

Kelly Fair with Dearborn Homes Polished Pebbles, Polished Pebbles Workshop

“I never started this to be, ‘All hail Kelly Fair, she’s the best woman in the world’, no. And nor should volunteers and staff. It should be a very purposeful effort to make sure that we put in front of  the girls and youth a cross-section of women and men from their community and also from the surrounding Chicago communities who echo the same values.”

With all that being an entrepreneur and working for the betterment of youth and communities entails, Kelly smiles and states, “The beauty of this ride is you get to see how many people, if you ask them, really really want to do something.”

How would you like to help the Future Shine?
Donate to the Polished Pebbles here!

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