Sabin Blake ‘99 has had a unique opportunity during his career at General Motors -- he’s been able to turn his passion for volunteerism and community involvement into an actual role and department within the company.
Blake, Community Outreach Manager for General Motors and the teamGM Cares program, began his career with GM as a 17-year-old freshman co-op student in the Buick marketing division. His experiences at Kettering -- both academically and through participating in many extracurricular activities -- prepared him for a wide range of opportunities in his career.
“Co-op absolutely prepared me,” Blake said. “I was able to hit the ground running when I graduated. What I learned in the coursework at Kettering, along with the leadership experiences I had in student organizations, provided a core foundation. My organization, time management and process skills were all built during my time at Kettering, and I use all of those without exception today.”
Blake, a Flint Southwestern Academy graduate, earned a degree in Business from Kettering. While he was a student, he participated in many aspects of University life, including Kettering Student Government, Student Alumni Council, various clubs and even played a role in bringing concerts and guest speakers to campus and to the Flint community. He was an R.A. in Thompson Hall and participated in and organized service projects in Flint. He also used his ties to the city to help students from outside of the area get acclimated to Flint.
“I was in an international student unit in Thompson Hall, so I was able to show a lot of those students around town,” Blake said. “My mom was really everyone’s mom -- she’d cook for students all the time and we really became a big family.”
When Blake studied abroad in Germany, some of the students he’d looked out for on campus repaid the favor when Blake was in a new environment.
“Those relationships were reciprocated when I did study abroad,” he said. “My experience was so much richer because I wasn’t just a tourist there, I went to the homes of some of my friends.”
After graduating, Blake used those experiences and skills developed at Kettering in a variety of sales, operations and marketing roles for Mercedes-Benz and General Motors. He had the opportunity to work on the East Coast in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania and most recently, prior to his current role, served as the Brand Marketing Manager for Cadillac.
“I had the opportunity to work in sales and marketing, get experience living outside of Michigan and I had the chance to launch vehicles and guide brand strategy,” Blake said. “Those were all dreams of mine. I’ve been fortunate to have great assignments.”
Blake’s passion for volunteerism never waned during those assignments, though. In his spare time, he spearheaded volunteer projects and helped recruit fellow employees to participate. In 2010, a commitment from the GM Foundation to the United Way in support of struggling high schools committed not only major funding, but also GM’s talent to help turn around schools to raise graduation rates.
“We wanted our GM employees to use their skills to help these students as mentors and tutors,” Blake said. “At the time, there wasn’t a formal, company-wide way to talk to employees about volunteer opportunities. GM has a long history of community service and volunteering, but there was not an organized brand around our program to communicate, report and measure results.”
That’s where Blake’s unique background, with his mix of marketing and leadership experience as well as his significant community organizing and philanthropic experience, made him a perfect fit. For approximately four years, he spent time in both worlds -- “I was a brand manager during the day, then led volunteer efforts on nights and weekends,” he notes.
That volunteer role eventually materialized into GM to creating and formalizing a new role.
“To have the opportunity to turn this into an actual job and department … it’s a dream come true,” Blake said. “I’m personally passionate about giving back, but I also love being able to help transmit the immense talent from inside of GM to positively impact communities around the country.”
Projects undertaken by the group include large-scale diaper and school supply drives, neighborhood stabilization and cleanup projects and supporting education initiatives through a variety of programs and partnerships.
Along with significant service projects around the United States (including partnering with Kettering University’s ‘Service Saturdays’ program to complete projects in Flint last summer), the group also manages GM Student Corps, a paid summer internship program for high school students to work on service projects in their own neighborhoods.
“GM retirees and our college interns work with the GM students Corps as mentors,” Blake said. “Along with completing projects that benefit their communities, GM is also helping these students with personal empowerment, finance and other life skills throughout the summer.”
Although Blake and his team manage projects all over the country, his Flint and Kettering roots keep him particularly excited about the opportunities he has to work in the Flint area.
“It feels fantastic to see the things going on with Kettering’s campus,” Blake said. “I love the spirit of connecting the University and the student body with the community. Students sometimes go to college and get isolated in a bubble on campus. The experience is so much better when students can learn about the fantastic things available to them in Flint. The College Cultural area, a thriving downtown, places that have been abandoned my entire life are now open and functioning. I’m proud to see it happening.”
Blake is also proud of the role GM has taken in Flint’s revitalization efforts. GM has also played an active role in assisting Flint during the water emergency, including activating hundreds of employees as volunteers to work with local agencies on water distribution, test kit assembly and neighborhood canvassing and leveraging GM expertise in waste reduction to come up with solutions for the influx of plastic water bottles into Flint.
“There’s such a great connection between Flint and GM,” Blake said. “Flint is our birthplace. We still have a huge workforce in the Flint area, and the city continues to play an important role for GM.”