More Than What’s on Paper: Returning the Favor

July 20, 2018


By Iyesha Thornton

Genesys Works, Class of 2012


“Congratulations on your acceptance to USC! We invite you to join us for our annual Chicago kickoff!”
I read as I sat, shell-shocked and confused, over such a small piece of paper. College acceptance letters were supposed to come in large envelopes, I thought as I read the invitation for a second time. It was the middle of April and I was beginning to think that my dream school had rejected me because I had yet to hear from them. I read the invitation three more times before calling the University of Southern California’s admissions office to confirm my acceptance. I was reassured that my large-enveloped acceptance packet must have gotten lost in the mail. I felt an immense and endless amount of joy, relief, and happiness. My hard work had paid off.

Being raised on the west side of Chicago was not easy. I endured homelessness at a very young age and I was often made fun of by my peers for taking my academics so seriously. However, my determination never wavered. I studied and worked hard to get accepted into Whitney M. Young, a selective enrollment high school. Once there, I did everything I could to stand out among the best and the brightest in the city.

At the end of my junior year of high school I was introduced to Genesys Works. I was attracted to their program because of the opportunities to better myself professionally, academically, and mentally. As part of the program, I was required to complete an internship. The summer before I began my internship was not easy. I was required to learn at an extremely fast pace and participate in activities that challenged me to step beyond my comfort zone.

For my internship, I was placed at Polsinelli, an AmLaw 100 firm with more than 800 attorneys in 20 offices. I was the youngest employee at the law firm, and, at first, I felt like my age put me at a disadvantage. But, with the support of Genesys Works’ staff, I showed my co-workers that I could be trusted to deliver great work and exceed their expectations of me.


Genesys Works provided me with the tools that I needed to succeed; tools that otherwise would have taken me years to acquire. I was once afraid to walk into a room and talk to complete strangers. Now, I do so with ease, navigating professional networks with a firm handshake, steady eye contact, and a smile.


Since leaving the Genesys Works program, I have successfully graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and a minor in Computer and Digital Forensics. I am now a Day Coordinator at a residential facility in Chicago.

In my role, I work with boys ages 11-14 who have a history of trauma, behavioral issues, and academic problems and provide the supports they need to overcome these issues. My time at Genesys Works has taught me how beneficial having a solid support system can be. My own personal experiences allow me to connect with and support these young boys on their journey to success.

The Genesys Works staff challenged me to be the best version of myself and I feel incredibly honored to be doing the same thing in my own line of work. Paying it forward feels very satisfying.


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Our program alumni are accomplishing great things. You can read more about their collective achievements in our third annual survey of alumni. Read the 2017 Alumni Survey Summary by Dr. Nidhi Mehrotra.

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