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Youth Voice: A Leap of Faith

Shirley Toy

I was walking down the halls of my high school on a typical school day when Mrs. Maxwell, the career teacher, made a quick announcement about the workforce development program Genesys Works over the intercom.

She did not go into detail, but she said to meet in her classroom if students were interested in learning more about the program, gaining work experience, and earning an internship. I decided to find out what this program was all about, and I loved everything I heard.

Even though I applied immediately, it felt like a goal that was far from attainable. I never anticipated that I would be accepted into the program or even get an interview. I was a shy, unexperienced, and introverted teenager yearning to kick-start my career path.

But I decided to take a leap of faith. And the moment I clicked “submit,” there was no turning back.

What I Learned

I spent eight weeks of my summer break participating in Genesys Works’ IT training in the afternoon, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Every day, I would learn about various IT skills, from troubleshooting to performing hands-on activity, and we would go straight to professional skills training after IT.

For example, we learned how to do an elevator pitch and build a resume. And I’ll never forget an exercise to help us get out of our comfort zone by yelling at the Chicago River during rush hour, attending team-bonding events, playing a game of Around the World with my IT instructor, and realizing that I would be interning at real estate company GGP during my senior year of high school.

The most valuable skill that I gained was learning how to write an email professionally. When I was an intern, emails were part of my daily routine and one of the main modes of communication. I use this skill to this day.

What I Overcame

The biggest challenge I faced in the program was the fear of the unknown. There were many times when I thought about giving up, when I doubted myself. I was also afraid of not getting an internship because the program is so competitive. The burden was lifted off my chest when I received an email saying there was an opportunity for me at GGP. I was so excited, yet nervous.

Looking back, Genesys Works is the foundation that opened many doors of opportunities for me. Because of my time with Genesys Works, I am now a student ambassador for the college success program Bottom Line and a mentee with the Genesys Works and Accenture mentor program. The work experience I have gained through my internship played a role in my success with my current employers and as a university student. Needless to say, none of this would have been possible, and I would not be where I am today, without Genesys Works.

To this day, joining Genesys Works was the best decision I have ever made, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

This story is part of a series highlighting 2016 Youth Opportunity Fund community partners. Led by the Citi Foundation and America’s Promise Alliance, the Fund – now in its second year – supports innovative, scalable programs that place low-income youth on a path to college and career success. To date, the Fund has provided $6 million to support 24 organizations, reaching more than 7,000 youth.

For more stories about Youth Opportunity Fund grantees, visit our Medium page.