HOUSTON — A program here in Houston is helping teenagers from low income families get a taste of the American Dream.A good job and a steady paycheck is changing lives and keeping these teenagers on a path to success. The program is called Genesys Works, and the idea is providing marketable employment skills for hundreds of students who might otherwise be stuck in a cycle of relative poverty.
Wintress Cloud wants to study architecture, and she’s getting a jump start.
“I’m learning about professional skills and communication skills,” she said.
A rising senior in high school, she is learning engineering drafting in a downtown high-rise from a coach who knows the ropes.
“He’s basically teaching us all of the commands, all of the features, everything that we need to know in order to be efficient,” Cloud said.
Cloud is one of more than 100 students this summer learning computer, accounting, and design skills at Genesys Works, a non-profit program that is changing the lives of some of Houston’s poorer students.
“We have so many students who don’t realize that they can fit into the corporate world,” Sharon Jacobson said. “And it’s needed because the way to break out of a cycle of poverty is through having a profession.”
Jacobson is the executive director of the program that started in Houston in 2002.
For eight weeks each summer, the students learn professional skills, before most of them qualify for yearlong paid internships.
“I’m involved because the only way that these young students are going to reach their full potential is if we create these different specific types of opportunities for them,” Jacobson said.
With the help of corporate partners, Genesys finds the jobs and then pays the students to work at those companies according to how well they perform, giving them real life experience even before college begins.
“I’m getting the experience that I need to work in a corporate office,” Cloud said. “I mean, working in an environment is foreign to me, and so when I go out to get a job when I am done with my education and everything, I don’t want to be shocked.”
Rafael Alvarez calls himself a social entrepreneur. He left a good paying job in the corporate world because he had an idea seven years ago that he could help disadvantaged teens find their way into the corporate world.
“I put two and two together and the next thing I know I am quitting my job and starting what was then Genesys ITS and is now Genesys Works,” Alvarez said.
After going through Genesys Works, Evers Moreno will be the first person in his family to go to college. He starts at Texas A&M in the fall.
“The experience that I have, the knowledge that I have, that’s opening these doors for me in order to have that future that I want,” Moreno said.
And, the program is spreading. Last year Genesys opened a campus in Minnesota. Next year, it’s Chicago, and in 2011, multiple cities.
“One thing leads to another, so our plans have changed,” Alvarez said. “Our plans have become much bigger than they were before, but the vision and mission of the organization has stayed the same.”
The program has even caught the attention of the White House, where just last week, President Barack Obama honored Genesys Works, allowing recent graduate Vanessa Nunez a chance to speak about its success.
“It almost seemed surreal,” Alvarez said. “When the president opened the door of the Oval Office and welcomed Vanessa and I? and shook our hand, and we saw at the end of the day he’s a nice guy.”
There is nothing surreal though about the effect one man’s idea is having on so many lives.