Alumni Profile • Steve Ribbens '79
Real stories, real impact

Steve RibbensSteve Ribbens ’79 lives in the shadow of Columbine High School. The crisis that occurred there in 1999, and the more recent one at Minnesota’s Red Lake High School, he said, play out a turmoil that is not unique to those schools. “The reality is that there are kids in crisis every day in every school. It’s news to the public, but teachers deal with it every day.”

Ribbens has spent almost 20 years as a high school teacher, administrator and coach, and another five years as director of Denver’s Youth for Christ chapter. After a few years in the corporate world, he’s back “in his element,” he said, in schools, working to reach kids struggling with choices that will affect the course of their lives. Now his teaching tools are three screens — 12 feet high by 43 feet wide — and three projectors.

In January 2004 Ribbens and a friend formed the non-profit Companies for Kids in order to bring multimedia character education programs to school assemblies — programs created by a group in Texas called Motivational Productions. Ribbens had seen a lot of school assembly programs over the years — “a lot of them bad,” he said. But from the beginning he knew Motivational Productions’ multimedia shows would have a strong and positive impact on kids.

“Every teacher knows you’ve got to get and keep kids’ attention to teach them. These programs do that with current music video clips and movie clips — all fast paced. That’s the hook. Then they tell kids real stories they can relate to. That’s what gets to them,” Ribbens said.

Like the story of Randy, a high school senior who wanted to try heroin just one time. His parents and brother talk about finding Randy dead in his bedroom. Or the story of Jessica, told by her best friend, of the one drag race that turned tragic.

There’s positive stories, too. Like the one of Dameon the school outcast who emptied his bank account to help pay for the medical bills of his favorite teacher’s son. The teacher talks about how Dameon’s actions catalyzed a movement of student generosity that spread to schools nationwide.

Motivational Productions' multimedia shows

These are the stories in The Power of One, a program designed for high school students. CPR: Children Practicing Respect is a multimedia program with a similar format created for elementary students. Thanks to a $300,000 grant from the Daniels Foundation and a few corporate sponsors, Companies for Kids has brought these two multimedia programs — free — to over 132,000 students in school assemblies across Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.

As a result of seeing The Power of One, students at Wheat Ridge High School in Colorado — who over a few months had lost three of their own to tragedy — began a series of monthly activities to reinforce the program’s positive character traits. Students at Denver Christian raised $11,000 in three weeks for a family in crisis. Testimonials to the power of these programs abound. “Kids learn their choices can make a profound difference in the world,” Ribbens said.

A West Michigan native, this father of two sons hopes to find sponsors to help him bring The Power of One, CPR and new programs to his home state. “These programs make a difference in the lives of kids and really encourage them,” he said. “That’s what I want to be about.”